With great anticipation, yesterday I carefully worked my way through the newest catalog from Plow & Hearth, the mail order retailer out of Madison, Virginia. The title of the catalog is “Welcome Home for the Holidays!” and it features all sorts of holiday goodies such as wreaths, candles, fireplace paraphernalia, and winter garb for men and women.
The only problem with the “Welcome Home for the Holidays” theme is that, apparently, only white people are welcome, at least at the homes targeted by Plow & Hearth.
After twice contacting them about the absence of African Americans and other minority models in their catalogs, we were hoping that they had finally seen the light and would present a more realistic and diverse view of American homes. Not in this catalog. We meticulously counted pictures of 24 models. Not a single one had the faintest resemblance to any African Americans we know, including our half-white President-elect, Barack Obama. In fact, there were no Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, or anyone who did not look like they were direct descendants of Mayflower Pilgrims.
They all pretty much looked like this lady pictured here. . .
I checked some of my other mail order catalogs — LL Bean and Lands’ End, for example. Somehow those companies managed to find models with minority backgrounds. Other circulars that I get — Sears, Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s, also prominently feature minority models.
What’s sad about Plow & Hearth is that their discrimination appears to be deliberate. They were told that their marketing practices were not acceptable. Once, a few years back, it seemed they had learned their lesson, but now it appears they have returned to their “whites only” policy.
To give you a sense of the history of this controversy, below is an excerpt from a prior post about racial discrimination at Plow & Hearth. It was written by my co-editor at HCQ, Frank Marafiote. At this stage, I am not sure what the solution is. While they now seem interested in saving trees — they are supporting a campaign to “reforest America” — they seem to have little interest in ending discrimination in this country.
Perhaps the reforestation campaign is really a subconscious desire on their part to return America to the “good old days” when blacks and Indians were slaves and white colonialists from Europe ruled with impunity.
Plow & Hearth Sells Racist Sterotypes
by Frank Marafiote, Co-Editor
The Hillary Clinton Quarterly
I don’t normally go counting the number of black or Asian people in the catalogs I receive. But as a customer of Plow & Hearth I began to notice that not a single person of color appeared in the catalogs they were sending me. I counted up the photos and the number of whites versus anything else. The score was 100 whites to one African-American child. So I wrote a gentle, questioning letter to Peter and Peggy Rice, owners of the company. (See copy below). I received a phone call soon thereafter from a kind woman in their marketing department, who admitted that there were some problems with diversity in the catalog, but that the Rice’s were certainly not racists and that the catalogs would soon show greater diversity in the models it used.
A year later, I am still getting their catalogs and, in fact, the situation has gotten worse, not better. The recent Holiday 2006 catalog hasn’t a single person of color. If anything, the models appear whiter and blonder than ever. It’s a marketing production the Klu Klux Klan would be proud of!
So I called the company. I ended up speaking with a telemarketing supervisor named Kyle. He took great offense at my accusations, especially given his background as an “Hispanic and Native American.” While I thought it noble that the Rice’s employed “black folk” and other ethnic groups to work behind the high walls of their direct marketing empire, the “face” they present to the outside world is still one of pure-white Americana. Kyle, I suggested to him, was no better than the black sharecroppers who worked the Master’s fields while all around him society continued on in its racist ways. Kyle was not impressed with my analogy and hung up — not the most professional way for a customer service supervisor to handle an unhappy customer.
So, what is to be done? I have looked through several other recent holiday catalogs and the story is quite similar: very blonde, very white WASPS and nary a black, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American in sight. For me there is only one solution: DON’T BUY FROM RACISTS! Maybe when they understand that not only minorities, but white people as well, are offended with their Nazi ploy to get us to part with our cash will they call up a few modeling agencies that represent beautiful people who happen to come from places other than England, Germany, Denmark, or Sweden!
If you care to write to the Rice’s, their address is listed below.
October 25, 2005
Peter and Peggy Rice
Plow & Hearth
PO Box 6000
Madison , VA 22727
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Rice:
I have been a customer of yours for a few years. I’ve bought some lighting, a bookcase, and some other items. Your products and my house are a perfect match. I like to keep a traditional, country-looking home.
Being traditional, however, does not mean being bigoted or racist. As I went through your Holiday 2005 catalog, I started to notice that all of your models were white. I decided to take a count. Out of 101 images of people or parts of people (hands, ankles, etc.), everyone appeared to be white with the exception of one child in the back of the catalog. (I have conceded that an argument can be made that Santa Claus is traditionally white.) A ratio of 100 to 1 is not exactly the ratio of African-Americans in this country, not in New Hampshire , and certainly not in Virginia .
I would guess that where you are and in the city that produces your catalog, it is possible to find African-Americans or Hispanic models. Why don’t you use them? Unless you are deliberately excluding them and are indeed bigoted or racist, I don’t see why you wouldn’t. I would bet that it would not hurt sales and might even open up demographic markets you have not considered. At the very least, it will allow people like me (a white, over-educated son of third-generation European immigrants), to believe I am buying from a progressive, self-aware organization.
I hope you will consider making some changes to your catalogs.