“Colorwork” in the Fibre Art Industry

TL,DR: Racism is inherently evil, and it sucks. It has NO place in my space. If you object to that, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Likewise, if you’re part of the “keep politics out of knitting” crowd.

So much has happened in the last several weeks. There has been a long past due discussion of racism and lack of inclusion in the fibre arts industry, and it’s got the community in turmoil. I haven’t made a full-fledged statement on it yet, other than sharing some posts of others, but I wanted to take a moment to let you know where I have always stood, and will continue to stand, on this topic.

The Dragon’s Den (blog) and the Dragon Horde (on Facebook) have always been meant to be inclusive spaces. I don’t blog often, but I am far more active in the Facebook group. I want everyone to feel welcome, regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, level of skill, or fibre philosophy. That being said, I think there is always room for improvement, and I’ve lived by the mindset that when you stop learning and growing, your heart and mind start dying.

I think it would help to have a bit of background: I started public school in a small suburb of Orlando, and my school included children of many colors. One of my best friends was a black young lady named Shelly. Children are not inherently racist; THEY MUST BE TAUGHT TO BEHAVE IN THAT ABHORRENT MANNER. When our family moved to Indiana, we were in a small town that had zero people of color (POC). None. So for many of my formative years, I had no opportunity whatsoever to interact with POC. I didn’t really feel animosity or fear or any of those other typical reactions of white people, but I did often feel awkward, not sure if those POC felt animosity or fear towards me. So I would smile to strangers in the larger nearby city, but generally not strike up conversations. Who knows how many marvelous friendships I missed out on because I was hesitant to reach out?

Fast forward to the present: I have spent most of my adult life in Terre Haute, a good-sized midwestern city. It is not a particularly progressive city. There are definite biases that are part of the systemic internalized racism with which we white people have been indoctrinated, but there’s also sometimes blatant outright racist garbage. A city to the south of us is a KKK stronghold. There is an automatic tendency towards self-segregation, with “good” neighborhoods generally meaning moderately affluent white neighborhoods. It’s not all that unusual to see the confederate flag on a truck or a yard.

Because of this, I had very little opportunity to develop relationships with people of color until college. Even there, students were likely to self-sort. It makes sense, I guess. Humans have a tendency to gather with people like themselves, with shared life experiences – birds of a feather, and all. But the experiences of POC are so fundamentally different than those of white people, we can never truly understand. However, I have managed to make some great friends of POC throughout my adult life, many of them in the fibre community.

I’m not saying this to get pats on the back, for I don’t in any way consider them “token” friends. I’m just setting the background for what I’m about to say. I’ve always kind of internally thought of myself as “not racist”, but I’ve rarely been vehemently, vocally anti-racist. That’s simply not enough. It’s time for all of us, starting here and now, to do the work necessary to change the system. There are so many ways that I can do better, and this current discussion on Instagram and other platforms has not only brought about more understanding, but it’s offered so many great resources for those of us white people wanting to do better, and actually make a difference, but not really sure how best to start the process. We have no excuses to not educate ourselves. I’m ashamed to say, I was one of those people who used to think that racism was mostly in the past, mostly isolated incidents, and the exception to the rule. Until Ferguson. I was horrified to learn that all of those statements are very, very wrong. That was when I started actively trying to educate myself.

And this is what I want to say to my fellow white people. It’s not enough to not be openly racist. That’s just the bare minimum that a decent human being can do. But you don’t have to be a tiki-torch bearing white supremacist to have racism in your heart. In fact it’s pretty much impossible to avoid, since that’s the system in which we grew up. If we really want to change the system, and leave this world better than we found it, we’ve got a LOT of work to do. I’ve just started the journaling challenge, “Me and White Supremacy”, and already can see that it’s shedding light on the tiny, unconscious ways that we (and I myself, specifically) continue to perpetuate racism. Even unintentional harm that we inflict on POC is still harm. So I would suggest that you go through this challenge as well, but only if you are willing to be completely honest with yourself. Nobody knows what’s in your heart but you. And no one can change what is in your heart but you. If you truly want to do better, this is one resource that can help. Be forewarned, it can be pretty damned uncomfortable, facing down some of the garbage in your heart. But if you’d like to grow beyond “I’m not racist” and get to actively being anti-racist, it’s a good place to start. Racism should NOT be a legacy we pass down to our children. I’ll be continually adding more resources below, as I learn of them.

As I’m getting a bit rambly, I’ll close with this: I’d love to hear from some of you who have already worked through the challenge, or who have benefited from other resources (there are a LOT out there). I’ll leave comments open as long as they remain civilized. Hate speech will instantly be removed. Defensiveness is not productive. Comments along the lines of “not all white people” or “reverse racism” are also not helpful. I’m talking about respectful, effective dialogue. That’s how we learn to see things from another’s point of view. Let us do the work now, so that we can pass on a better world to our descendants.

With much love and obstinate hopefulness, Karen

Resources for Introspection: (Note: this is just a place to start.)

Some of my personal favorite activists, crafters, and hashtags: Some have participated in the inclusion conversation particularly eloquently, and some are simply delightful POC makers to follow. I’m not by any stretch trying to replace or usurp what Jeanette is doing with the POC Designers and Crafters List. (Many of these people have invested a HUGE amount of emotional labor over the last several weeks. I offer my utmost thanks to them, and hope that they can attend to self-care and replenish their reserves.)

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