The last week on social media within the knitting/crafting community has left me with a blank page in my head ready to be filled. At first I was leaving it blank as I felt it was my place as a white person to just listen to what was being said and to learn. I did not want to jump in with half-formed thoughts and empty sentiments on issues of racism within the knitting community. As the days have rolled on though, I have found myself getting more frustrated with, angry at and saddened by what people have had to say. I am also delighted that people of colour have told us to sit up, listen, cop the hell on and stop acting like a bunch of privileged spoiled brats. What we are being asked to do is not hard. To be honest I think what is being asked of us is the bare minimum – stop acting like the world was made for us and othering people who don’t look exactly like us.
My first point of entry into this discussion was though @su.krita on Instagram. I’ve been following her for a while now as we have similar fibre interests. Through following her I knew that when she had something to say it was worth listening to. I commend her for sticking her neck out and not being willing to be silenced by those who told her that she shouldn’t have taken offence. Karen Templer’s article was offensive, the flipancy with which she wrote about colonisation was disgusting. The horrors of colonisation have been well documented and having to read it being used as the centre of some kind of thoughtless joke turned my stomach.
I also come from a post-colonial country and I know how the pain of that doesn’t go away just because a few generations have passed. Ireland didn’t come out of it unscathed, millions of people did die, but we weren’t ripped from our home countries, enslaved, murdered and gunned down because of the colour of our skin and it’s my belief that due to the colour of our skin the legacy of racism towards the white-Irish has all but disappeared. For many people of colour this is still their reality today and the perceived justification for these atrocities has always been based in illogical fear. Therefore when Karen wrote about being ‘afraid’ to go to a country that wasn’t predominantly white, how can we expect there not to have been a reaction? To assume otherwise is insulting, ignorant and, in this day and age, saddening.
What added insult to injury was that Karen then invaded Sukrita’s space and felt totally justified in telling her how to feel and how she ‘should’ have read the piece. What kind of disingenuous, pandering, privileged white BS was that? I couldn’t believe she felt she could police someone’s reaction to her writing. There was no willingness to listen and learn, instead she went on the attack, ‘you should have read it like this, I was only being lighthearted. I’m a nice person, how can you think I’m being racist?’ Argh! She has since come up with an apology, which in my opinion was completely hollow and a fickle bid to keep followers. She is not the only one out there who will make empty promises and then continue on as if this subject never happened either. This is how white people have navigated the world for too long, our bubble is way too comfortable. The problem with this type of complacency is what has allowed the rampant spread of right-wing politics across the world go unchallenged and left us in the disgusting state of affairs that we have today. Sickening! So the question is, how do we begin to solve this problem and promote awareness and engagement?
All I can do is tell you about my efforts to address the issues of race within my own life and hope it helps someone in some way. In order to open myself up to other people’s realities I didn’t feel I needed to put the onus on people of colour, or anyone else, to show me the way. I simply made changes to my life I felt necessary in order to strive for a better world. We can only understand our place in this world if we educate ourselves on how other people experience our shared space. How I do this is by not assuming that my experience of Ireland and the wider world is the same as everyone else’s. Don’t get me wrong, I naively lived in a bubble for a long time. I have made a few smaller and a few larger changes over the years to step out of this bubble, mostly due to friendships and relationships with people of colour and from witnessing the racism, both subtle and overt, they’ve had to endure.
The smaller changes were easy, I just made sure that the literature, art, popular culture and other areas of the arts I consumed were not fed to me through a white lens. Seriously, it’s very easy to watch a TV show, film, read a book, enjoy comedy, music, etc that is written by and/or where the protagonist is, a person of colour. If you want to know about their experiences of the world it is there in full colour or on pages in black and white. It is not being hidden from us in any way, people of colour are telling their stories and it is up to us to decide if we want to listen and learn – Google exists, there are no excuses! I urge you to listen to them, because the only way to change things for the better is to see that though there are some differences in experience, people’s fundamental wants and needs are the same regardless of colour. Unfortunately we have created a world were some people have to fight harder to make that a reality. As white people, we may sometimes be uncomfortable with what we hear or read, but isn’t it about time we felt a bit uncomfortable? It brings to my mind the SNL sketch “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black”: though comedy, it had a serious point to make about when Beyoncé brought out her ‘Lemonade’ album. Beyoncé was no longer going to pander to our fragile white sensibilities, thanks be! I have to say I prefer her music since that album, but even if I didn’t, she was now saying what she wanted to say and wasn’t keeping it to herself for our sakes anymore.
Another move I made was to enrol my daughter into an Educate Together primary school (Educate Together schools in Ireland are multicultural, multi-denominational, multi-ability schools). This has enriched our lives greatly. I have had the pleasure of having kids and parents of many different races, nationalities, religions, abilities and genders in my home over the years. My daughter can accept that not everyone’s experience of the world is the same but there is no weight put on that when forming friendships. Seriously, open yourself and your home to people and your world will be a happier, more interesting place.
I did make one dramatic change in my life which may seem drastic to some and to be honest I know that I was privileged through circumstances to be able to make it. This is probably not a change most people will be able to make, but by telling it people may become more aware of their surroundings. Just over six years ago we were looking for a new home. We found a nice house in a picturesque middle sized Irish town, it seemed perfect. I was very wrong. We didn’t settle, mostly because the town was ridiculously cliquey. At first I thought this was just my personal experience of the place but as I looked more closely at where I lived one thing was striking and that was how White it was. Seriously, we could count the people of colour in the town on one hand, and what drove it home was when I visited my daughter’s secondary school for a parent/teacher meeting (there weren’t many school options in the town). When looking at all the many class photos hanging on the walls, there was only one black child pictured. However, there were recent photos of school drama productions featuring children in black-face! Seriously! To be honest I was shocked and appalled, but unfortunately not surprised. It was time to move- how many families had decided not to live in this town because they too had felt unwelcome? This lack of diversity in a commuter town in Ireland these days is, thankfully, unusual. We moved to Dublin, which though not perfect is becoming a more diverse city everyday which makes it a wonderful place to live.
I suppose my whole point in writing this is that in order to live in a better world we must follow the rules of the safe cross code: Stop, Look, Listen, Live. I’m so glad this discussion on social media is being engaged with by so many people. I realised when I started on Instagram that if I only followed white knitters the algorithm would only suggest to me white knitters, so I used different languages and hashtags to find people from all over the world. It worked, I am regularly suggested knitters from many different backgrounds and countries. I hope with hashtags like #diversknitty and the fact that people are now consciously finding and following more knitters of colour that the algorithm will now change for them too and enrich their experience of the crafting community.
As an endnote I would like to say I know this is a sensitive subject to most. If there is anything I have written here which causes any type of offence I am very open to a dialogue and to be engaged with. Here’s to the hope for a more open, safe, loving crafting community. X