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Three weeks ago, Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd. Outrage over his death sparked protests around Minneapolis and throughout the world. As a resident of Minneapolis, it feels like change is really happening. It’s up to us to make sure change happens, to stay vigilant and to work toward a better, more equitable society. My lot in life is a result of privilege, and I need to do more to help those who haven’t been afforded the same chances.

So what does this have to do with woodworking? That’s a great question. As a company invested in inspiring and supporting makers, we cannot be OK with the status quo. You know just how powerful and fulfilling woodworking can be, and we want to empower everyone to be afforded the opportunity to have that same feeling. We want to teach and inspire all.

As woodworkers, we’re skilled at building things, fixing things, making things better. Do you need a place to sit? Here, I made a chair. Are your dovetails a little gappy? That’s no problem. Some thin wedges, maybe a little glue and sawdust, and they look much better. It’s time to help fix our society.

If you look through the pages of Popular Woodworking (or any woodworking magazine)*, you’ll see mostly* white hands and faces in the pictures. You’ll likely also see almost* all men. This lack of diversity is unacceptable. And we’re going to change it.

How’d we get here? Research indicates most of our readers (hobby woodworkers) got into woodworking as a result of owning a home. You buy tools to fix stuff around the house, and then you wonder what else you can make with them.

Looking at the demographics of Minneapolis (where I recently also bought a home), there are some pretty clear lines between race and homeownership. Minneapolis has a history of redlining. When they built the interstate, I-94 destroyed the historically black Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. Once redlining had concentrated minorities in certain sections of the city, I-94 cut North Minneapolis off from its adjacent neighborhoods. Similar stories have played out across the state and the country.

This leads to the state of Minnesota today, where only 25% of the state’s black population owns a home, versus about 75% of the state’s white population. (As a whole, about 65% of people living in Minnesota own their homes.) Homeownership is the primary way generational wealth is built. This is just one example of systemic racism that is present at all levels of American society.

I don’t believe Popular Woodworking can single-handedly change that, but it can be one of many voices working toward a more just world. It can be a voice that listens more, that owns up to its faults, that encourages its audience to change for the better.

With the full support of our parent company, Active Interest Media, we’re going to seek out and feature more makers of color online and in our magazine. We’re going to feature some projects for people that aren’t homeowners. We’re going to be actively anti-racist. We’re going to do our best to help create the world we want to live in.

But there are more urgent needs too, right now. And to that end, I’m raising money for Minneapolis’s Northside Funders Group to help rebuild North Minneapolis, and I’m matching donations up to a total of $1000 (out of my own pocket) through the end of June. Make your donation here. Forward me your email receipt from your donation (send to azoellner@aimmedia.com). I’ll match it (up to a total of $1000). I’ll update this post if we meet that goal.

And please, reach out to let us know how we’re doing, if there are makers we should work with or if there are things we can do better. I know we won’t get everything right, but it’s more important to make progress and fix mistakes than to wait for the perfect opportunity. My email address is azoellner@aimmedia.com. I want to hear from you.

Update: We met our $1000 goal on Sunday evening 6/21/2020. I made my $1000 matching donation this morning (6/22/2020). Thank you for your support!

 

*Language and phrasing is important – when I initially wrote this, a few readers rightfully pointed out that by hedging words and looping in all woodworking magazines, I was deflecting responsibility from what we’ve done in the past. In that spirit, I’ve made the changes and am working each day to be better in supporting more positive change regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.


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Showing 10 comments
  • Herqueville

    Dear Mr. Zoellner,

    Your editorial is seemingless well-intentioned, and on the surface generous in nature. I am an immigrant to this country (France), and find VERY tiring the mass of disparaging comments aimed at the United States by Well-intentioned and Generous people whose view, influenced by Group Guilt, is lacking balance and fairness. Case in point: no mention of excesses by protesters.

    I am sorry to say that your shallow view does very little to advance the cause of Equality, and nothing to heal the Nation at this critical and infinitely sad time.

    Popular woodworking is no longer on my reading list.

  • Frankorfanello

    Andrew, Like others I was surprised to see this type of comment here. I support your goal and look forward to seeing you put the thought to work. Over the years I’ve occasionally thought about the lack of diversity in woodworking, whether in the pages of magazines, on the floors of trade shows, or in classes. While I thought about it I never did more than that. I’;m glad you’re trying.

  • Rudy49

    While Mr. Zoeliner makes a number of good points in his editorial he also makes a number statements that I find troubling and, possibly, sparked some of the contrary statements above.

    “My lot in life is a result of privilege”:

    What, you just get up every morning and all the good things just happen? What about all of the ‘priviliged’ who are not successful? What about all of the ‘unprivileged’ people who are successful? You know, Michelle and Barak Obama, Herman Cain (former president of Godfather’s Pizza and presidential candidate), Ben Carson (world famous surgeon,. presidential candidate, and now secretary of HUD), Clarence Thomas (Supreme Court Justice) Senator Tim Scott, Thomas Sowell (internationally acclaimed economist), and countless others.

    How did they overcome their lack of privilege? The same way those successful people who have experienced some level of privilege: focus, dedication, and hard work. They also had supportive people in their lives who encouraged them to persevere through adversity.

    The concept of privilege is complex and requires more time and space than we have here to fully explore. But the reality is that privilege exists in every society and all people experience various levels of it. However, it is what you do with the privilege you have rather than the privilege itself that results in success or failure. Let’s support helping everyone got the most with what they have and getting more.

    “This lack of diversity is unacceptable. And we’re going to change it … we’re going to seek out and feature more makers of color online and in our magazine.”

    I think the lack of diversity is concerning but I also think you are late coming to the game. Many other woodworking publications have including women in their line up. William Ng has a very popular woodworking YouTube channel.

    I think the concern here is that you will feature someone just because they are a POC, woman, or some other minority rather than for what they can bring to the conversation. I would have been more encouraged if you had said something like, “Help us to find people, POC or women, or ???, who can bring interesting projects, styles, perspectives, and culture the art of woodworking.”

    “We’re going to be actively anti-racist.”

    What does that mean? Are you talking about a person’s mind-set or heart issue or are your referring to a set of behaviors? How do you know when someone is racist? Can you read their minds?

    While most would agree that a white man beating on a black man is racist, is it always? What about a black man beating on a white man? What about a man being denied a job or promotion just because they are white or a man or both. What about a black congregation that refuses to let white people join (it has happened)? What about a black preacher who teaches that all whites are evil and a scourge on the earth?
    Will you be anti-racist for all forms of racism in all directions?

    What will you do? What steps will you take? Will you focus on changing people attitudes, their behaviors, or what? There are laws on the books that prohibit racist behavior so what will you add to that aspect of racism? What will you do to change hearts and minds? Will you be inclusive in your solutions?

    It was suggested in another comment that woodworking be taught in minority neighborhoods by, “us old white men.” That was immediately derided as perpetuating the problem. But if that is what you have to work with, why not? As other people are available, incorporate them. How else to better heal the divide than to bring the races together and help them to grow together.

    I guess my feeling is that, with one exception that only addressed a local concern, you gave us platitudes. In my opinion, platitudes never helped anyone. I will be interested to see what actions you will undertake that does not point fingers of blame but help us to link hands together to lift each other up.

  • rayhart

    I have to admit that I was surprised at your post. Pleasantly surprised. I didn’t expect to see a heartfelt response from a woodworking magazine. Thanks, and be sure you keep your word. It would be easier to do nothing and kick the can down the road like so many others.

  • Garett

    I support this move, and wish you luck in achieving the goal of increasing the diversity of those in the pages and in crafting

  • Chris-Moore

    Your virtue signaling is asinine

  • VincentWilson

    I am an African American man. I make furniture for a living, in an open-air workshop on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my daughter and my oldest son. We mostly make beds, dressers and nightstands from local Hawaiian hardwoods like Koa, Mango, Ohia, Monkeypod and Rainbow Eucalyptus.

    Almost daily, over the last ten years, I’ve asked my now 25-year-old son, to go online and review proper techniques and safety measures before doing something new like the cuts he made yesterday with a dado stack on the radial arm saw.

    Among the countless videos, articles and forum posts that I have had him watch, review or read in those ten years, I have had almost no expectations that he would ever see anyone who looks like himself.

    So, the woodworking section of my Google AI-tailored news feed was literally the last place I expected to see an article about the death of George Floyd.

    Thank you.

    I will email you. What happens next is everything.

    Mahalo,
    Vincent Wilson, Big Island Beds

  • sanandak

    Thank you. This is a far-sighted and needed step.

  • Infinidean

    I support this move.

  • MarkAldrich

    Thank you. In this world where so many of us are powerless to even make an effort, you are standing head and shoulders above, giving us a beacon to look up to.

    It has been several years, but I have re-subscribed to your magazine because of your attitude.

    Mark Aldrich

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