I am SO GRATEFUL to Rose@transmutationknits for their work this weekend and for providing clear details/analysis/being generally awesome. Go buy Rose a coffee.
Yesterday, the website Ravelry took a bold step.
Here is the statement from their website.
We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry. We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is unambiguously support for white supremacy.
There is a full explanation of their policy here and I highly recommend reading it. To be clear: Ravelry isn’t saying you can’t be conservative in your politics or vote Republican or that you have to be a raging liberal to chat about knitting. The scope of the ban is extremely limited: y’all can talk about Trump all you want, just not here.
There is a backstory to this that isn’t making it into the news outlets. This is a synthesis, and by no means comprehensive. Life is complicated.
A pattern designer dropped a pattern for a rainbow hat at the beginning of June that said “God is Love” with explicit language that this wasn’t for Pride, and some nonsense about taking back the rainbow (#straightpride #whattheacutalfuck). This pattern was reported for inciting hate speech on the site and Ravelry took it down. This designer has been problematic in the past, and had patterns removed from the site before, and so, presumably in order to further their own sense of misplaced victimhood, this person posted a pattern for a Trump-themed cowl. An individual reported this pattern as inciting hate speech. Ravelry’s means of reporting patterns is confusing, and so this report went directly to the designer, who reposted it as a public comment. (The designer posted this particular comment and not any of the others, which indicates a level of calculation). What followed was a volley of digital harassment against the individual who reported the pattern.
Members of the fiber arts community (primarily queer and BIPOC folx) applied a considerable amount of pressure and Ravelry responded quickly, going further than making reporting anonymous and outright banning pro-Trump content on the site.
This is a fabulous step, for sure, and was greeted with cheering, including by me. Given the fact that so many other social media platforms have enabled the rise and normalization of far-right hate speech and actions, and the world would have been a better place if Twitter had axed itself circa 2015 for the good of humanity, it’s powerful to see a space that means so much to me take an actual stand. The unequivocal stance from a platform that connects me to my craft and career felt like validation of what I’ve been saying all along. Mango Mussolini (as we call the current occupant of the White House in the Republica Unicornia) is not business as usual. It’s hard to believe that when NPR reports this president’s actions in tone of mild shock and with total seriousness, like it’s at best mildly unusual and not a total fucking disaster that could kill all of us.
So, yes, I cheered. It’s good to see a company I care about not engage in both-side-ism, when I think that is a lot of why we are in this mess in the first place. Good people on both sides, my ass.
But it is a big mistake to think that banning pro-Trump content on Ravelry is the end of it, like we have arrived at full inclusivity and it has been made clear that this kind of aggression will not stand, man.
Over the last months, the fiber arts community has been wrestling with racism, accessibility, inclusivity, and inequality. This is my elevator pitch when people ask, but it isn’t the whole story.
I say that like it’s been a team effort: What I mean to say is that the labor of this has been borne, disproportionately, by people who have the least amount of power and the most to lose, and all the while being challenged, gaslit, minimized, harassed, and threatened by the people who have the most power and the least to lose. This was true this past weekend, too.
This latest step that Ravelry has taken has stirred white ladies who believe that their First Amendment rights have been impinged upon by the Vast Leftist Political Correctness Fascist Communist Brigade (hint: they haven’t, because y’all, read your Constitution), but also by self-identified “moderates” who express queasiness about “censorship” and “knitting getting too political.”
Having been taught for so long that “free speech” is sacrosanct no matter what, I admit that I felt a little twinge when I first read Rav’s announcement. But language is never neutral, and “free speech” becomes hate speech when it impinges on the life/liberty/pursuit of happiness of another human. (And if your version of life/liberty/pursuit of happiness disregards the safety and well-being of another human being, then I would highly recommend you reevaluate your priorities.)
The kind of “free speech” being practiced in this case is really hate speech. It belongs to the privileged who can put those words into the kind of action that puts the lives of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people at risk. There are human beings in concentration camps at the US border and children literally dying because of the policies borne of this “free speech.” White folk don’t like to admit that we have power because we don’t necessarily feel powerful. But ignoring these power dynamics can be deadly. My right as a white person to say whatever the hell I want is flat-out not worth the life of another human being.
I don’t think most people—even the folks who knit ugly-ass Build the Wall hats—would self-identify as white supremacists or fascists. They just “want to keep our country safe,” “protect free speech,” “allow for diversity of opinions”, “maintain law and order.” But coded language is full of the same violent potential as overtly racist speech. And I’d argue it’s even more dangerous, since its cloak of “civility” lets it enter into polite spaces (like, you know, knitting forums and Instagram comment sections).
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an unapologetic leftist and I have been since the age of sixteen, despite growing up in a family that was anything but. My grandparents were early fans of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, and the kind of vitriolic hatred of “liberals” that is now mainstream was ever-present in my childhood. (Indeed, I am writing this while staying with my parents in Northwest Florida, aka “Trumplandia”, and I am waiting with bated breath for the moment when my dad reads about Ravelry’s announcement on the Fox News website and the yelling that will inevitably ensue).
But I also grew up in a town in which progressive politics and social justice were as much a part of the fabric of the community as high school football is in other parts of the country, and politics were practically a sport in my high school. But there was more than that—my hometown’s particular blend of leftist magic was faith-based: Reform Judaism had a lot to say about welcoming the stranger, using power and privilege in service to others, and the reality of structural racism and sexism. In school, I was taught to be deeply suspicious of totalitarianism and fascism in all of its forms, since my community knew all too well how those stories ended. It was never just “words” or “politics.” It was real life. And it is now, too.
All this to say exactly what many of us learned as children: words matter and actions have consequences (like getting kicked off of a private knitting platform). Inactions have consequences, too, and the silence on all of this from some quarters has been deafening.
This is not the end—Trump is a symptom of white supremacy, not its cause, and I am sure that Ravelry’s actions will futher galvanize white people to cry about their “oppression” and “victimization” at the hands of “bullies.” Friends are having to take steps to scrub their contact information from the Internet in fear of retaliation, harassment, and violence. Safety first, y’all.
And for those of us with buckets of unearned white privilege: now is the time to step up. Ravelry took a good first step under pressure, but it’s not the end. If you see something, say something: online, sure, but also to your friends, family, coworkers. I’ve let stuff slide in the interest of “being polite,” but that just normalizes this kind of speech and behavior. Confront and affront, as the brilliant Sophia@sophiatron says.
And, as always, I cannot express enough gratitude to the humans who have been doing this work all along in order to make the fiber arts community truly inclusive: to all who have experienced trauma and threats, who have worried about their family’s safety and who have used energy they did not have to explain things they should not have had to explain.
It’s important to remember in this, like in so many things in the last months, the work has been done by members of marginalized communities. This “victory” that a large number of cis het white ladies (myself included) are lauding was won by other people (some who are also cis het white ladies, for the record!), and so I want to lift up the work of
And also the folks who have been busting their asses since the beginning of the year, especially:
Go give these brilliant humans a follow on the Instagrams, buy them a coffee if they have a Ko-Fi account and for the love of all that is holy, respect their spaces. I have chosen not to link directly to their accounts as a way to make it a little less convenient for them to be harassed by the wider Internet.
Take a break, hydrate, pet an animal, whatever. There’s still a lot of work to be done.