It’s been anything but a quiet week in the knitting community. Karen Templer, from Fringe Supply (the purveyors of the boring AF $65 project bag and roughly the same rich-white-lady-minimalist-aesthetic as GOOP), wrote a breathless blog post about how brave she was for making the decision to go to India. (Read it. Please. And then do something I almost never recommend—read the comments). Are you back?
When people of color oh-so-gently pointed out that the tone of her article was imperialist and racist, Karen got defensive. She then pointed out that her brown friends said it was okay, so it was okay (WRONG, KAREN), and that she was sorry if anyone was offended, but she didn’t mean to be offensive, and that was really what mattered (WRONG AGAIN, KAREN.)
People of color started speaking up with truth and passion and holy fucking fire. Things have been said that needed to be said about the knitting community—that it isn’t all rich white ladies but you wouldn’t know that from publications or lists of vendors at fiber festivals. And that racism: overt and covert, is still very much at work in the crafting world.
Of course, Karen had her defenders. “But she didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings!” “Knitting is my happy place and I come here to be safe, not to hear about politics! I’m disappointed and unfollowing [sad face emoji].” “This bullying of Karen has to stop!”
(Literally all I can hear right now is Bey singing “MIDDLE FINGERS UP.” )
At some point- and I’m going to go ahead and say we are past that point-denying the existence and power of white supremacy is just willful ignorance. It’s not a matter of education or “listening.” Countless brilliant books have been written on the subject in recent years. People of color speak up over and over and over again. Choosing not to hear the pain of others is a conscious decision. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
The Sentient Sunkist Can (thanks, Anna!) currently occupying the Oval Office is throwing a massive temper tantrum that is keeping children from getting fed in order to build a wall to keep brown people out of The United States. The fact that a Sentient Sunkist Can was even allowed to darken the door of the Oval Office after eight years of a brilliant, leveled, measured, compassionate, competent, deeply kind black man is in and of itself a sign of the power, sway, and stupidity of white supremacy. But it’s not just those bad racists over there that are the problem: the literal Nazis marching in Charlottesville aren’t the whole story.
All of us—all of us—with white skin benefit in ways, large and small, from white supremacy. If this is news to you, this classic article is a good place to start.
White supremacy is real and pervasive and shows up in the most well-meaning of white folk in countless ways (myself included). White privilege is made invisible for white people— the illusion that the playing field is level is just that, an illusion.
It takes courage and a willingness to call our deepest-held convictions about ourselves (BUT I’M NOT RACIST! I HAVE A BROWN FRIEND!) into question.
It requires empathy and compassion and curiosity and listening and then action.
It requires not being a defensive asshole when a person of color tells you that your privilege is showing.
Once you see white supremacy as the rotten scaffolding that holds up systems of power and oppression you can’t unsee it. If you are a feminist, you may have some practice with this.
What’s at stake for people of color is their lives.
What’s at stake for white folk is our souls. “You shall know the truth,” Jesus tells his disciples, and “the truth shall make you free.” Free. Not comfortable. Not warm and fuzzy. Not safe or sound or at peace with your life decisions in a cozy little knitting bubble. But free.
And being free is an essential part of our humanity. “Don’t be a garbage human” is one of my friend Anna’s favorite sayings. Mine is “White people, don’t be shitty.”
Here is a non-comprehensive list of some ways to not be shitty. I welcome all suggestions/addendums/critiques!
- Educate yourself on race, white supremacy, and systemic racism. There are so many good books out there.
- Between The World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
- If you are a Jesus-y type-America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privlige, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
- Also if you are a Jesus-y type, anything by James Cone.
- Don’t expect your non-white friends to assuage your feelings of guilt or discomfort OR to offer you praise for being a not-garbage human. That work is on you.
- Buy some of the fine folks doing hard work a coffee: Korina, Ocean Rose, Sukrita, Tina
- I’m doing this.
- Listen first, but then do something about it. Faith without works is dead, y’all.
- Don’t be a white moderate.
- Support yarn businesses run by people of color. Maybe buy something from them and not from me. Here are JUST A few to get started:
Visuvios Crafts (Atlanta-based, talented as hell, also both knits AND crochets)
Baltimore-based Neighborhood Fibre Co.
I sit in an uneasy place with this. Republica Unicornia exists in some (large, even) measure because of my white lady privilege. I look an awful like other indie dyers, I am welcome in all kinds of spaces to hawk my wares, I am in a position where I can undertake the not-inexpensive task of starting a business. I am in that place because of my social class and education, which was accessible to me because I was born into a middle-class white family, which was middle class because their parents were able to buy homes in the 1950s and weren’t kept out of neighborhoods by redlining. I could go on, back through the generations, and point out the ways in which my white skin, which provides no actual biological advantage (in fact, it just makes me prone to sunburn and skin cancer), but it provides me social advantage after social advantage.
And I worry that even by writing this I’m somehow (even unintentionally) vying for a spot on the Woke White Lady Olympics podium.
But I believe, deeply and to my core, that the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves is the work of being a human being.
Don’t be shitty, y’all.