Let me tell you about my experiences at my son’s school. For three years now, I have been at the school gates most mornings and afternoons, yet I am almost never approached by another parent, except for two other mums I am friendly with. It’s not a coincidence that both of those mums are also women of colour. With the exception of a few (to be fair, lovely) parents of schoolfriends, the rest ignore me completely. I suppose the other mums will think of me as being unfriendly or unapproachable, and sometimes I am busy or running late. Often I will tell myself it is because the other parents have known each other since their children were in the nursery, and so we are the newcomers. But is this really enough of an excuse for being more or less shunned each day? These parents are the most privileged in our society, their children attend fee-paying schools, they holiday abroad and live in wonderful homes. Is it ok for them to remain in their bubble of privilege and not even take the time to step out of their comfort zone to say hello to someone different to themselves?
Sometimes I blame myself for being introverted, for not making the effort to participate. It’s just not in my nature to just go up to a crowd and join in. Also, I am honestly too busy to care much, and making friends with people who aren’t interested is very low down on my list of priorities. I have a full, happy and interesting life for which I am grateful. I recognise that I have the privilege of education and financial security, even if I face an invisible barrier in nearly all my interactions with the world.
But every so often, something sparks a conversation online which brings me back to this realisation that I am seen as being different. I have seen this played out a few times on Instagram, in the sewing, interiors, minimalist fashion and now the knitting community.
I admit, I was shocked at the outpouring of anger at Karen Templer’s recent blog post and what some have described to me as ‘shaming’. I wanted to understand what people found upsetting about it. I have been helped in this by various people including @su.krita and @sofia_reading as well as reading comments and Stories from @thecolormustard and @ocean_bythesea.
As a piece, people felt it portrayed India into something alien and ‘other’, to be feared in some way. It brought up feelings of anger at white privilege and colonialist attitudes towards travel. Others understood it to be about stepping out of a comfort zone, to take an adventure into the unknown and found the reaction bewildering.
Much more has been said and discussed on Instagram regarding the blog post, and there are other people better placed to discuss that. It has brought about a whole-community discussion on the way people of colour are treated, and how much harder they have to work to be recognised and heard. I am always aware that I will be one of very few non white women at a craft event. Several people mentioned to me that they were shocked to find how white their Instagram feeds were. @su.krita told me about her difficulties in trying to make her LYS more inclusive of people of colour. When she asked for support for using hashtags for Indian knitters, she was told that they should include everyone. This brings to mind the reaction some white people have to ‘Black Lives Matter’. Saying ‘all lives matter’ does not account for the huge discrimination and disadvantages people of colour face in so many spheres.
I have had many messages from people who have said they want to show their support but are afraid to say something wrong. Some of the language used has been polarising, and it can prevent people from stepping forward and joining in with the debate. People who have been hurt must be given a safe space to be able to say what they need to without fearing defensive reactions or abuse. At the same time the overall discussion needs to be respectful and to move forward with solutions which help everyone to create a positive change. I received a message I found thoughtprovoking. It said ‘I think privileges are complex, and as much as I want to explore mine and my biases, I wish I could count on others not to use their lack of privilege I hold as a reason to judge and crush me while I am still learning’.
I also hear the people who say they want Instagram to be their safe space to retreat from the outside world and its challenges. Yes, it is true that white people may have the privilege to not have to confront realities that are painful to other people. I do wonder whether we all do this to some extent. We are after all not confronting the realities of starvation in Yemen, or families living in abject poverty in Britain. On some level, we all need a place of sanctuary. The difficulty is that for most people, they never take themselves to a place where they have to face uncomfortable truths in the first place.
My friend @sofia_reading recommended several resources to start with, for anyone who wants to educate themselves on the issues facing people of colour, and confronting white privilege:
White Fragility by Dr Robin Diangelo – on the specific issue of white people’s unintended complicity in racism
There is also a Youtube video here https://youtu.be/Dwlx3KQer54
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Remi Eddo Lodge (and her podcast)
Follow people engaged with and using their platforms to discuss these issues such as Rachel Cargle.
When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color by Mamta Motwani Accapadi https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ899418.pdf This has some useful strategies for healthy difficult dialogues
I was also recommended this course by Layla Saad : Me and White Supremacy Workbook a 28 day course for those who want to understand White Privilege.
I encourage everyone to learn more and face uncomfortable realities. Seek out people of colour who need your support, champion them when needed and always, let them be heard and be part of this community.
Makers to follow now:
I have started the hashtag #inclusivemaker and would like this to be a tool for us to engage with other makers of all backgrounds. Others you can use are #diversknitty, #pocwhosews #sewincolour.
This is a huge topic and I know Rabya Lomas from She Flourished talked about this and was met with a wall of silence from her mainly white female followers which upset her even more but I also think the more we stick to our own communities and don’t make an effort to interact with others the more isolated and echo chambery we will be.
Yes you should make an effort but so should others and at the end of the day we’re all humans just in different coloured packaging but the insides are just the same.
I’m sorry about the school gate issue – it can be very cliquey and as someone who rarely did the school pickup due to work commitments I’ve experienced the discomfort of standing alone whilst everyone else is chatting away in groups.
I really appreciate your calm summary of the issues and the list of resources available. I agree with the person you quoted – it is hard to learn and participate in an atmosphere of anxiety.
I’m bookmarking the blogs of people I follow in Instagram as half the time it doesn’t occur to me that they might have one unless I already found it pre-insta. So I’m pleased to discover yours ? your photo arrangements are so beautiful.
I really appreciate your thoughtful and nuanced perspective. Thank you for writing this and for sharing those links.
As I mentioned in my Instagram message, (re-posting here as others might agree as well) ~ “I have no easy, succinct, or amazing solution. Except that “this” is it!! Open, honest, kind, inclusive, and welcoming discussions will bring us all together in awareness and better understanding of one another’s lives and hearts!” Well done, you!! Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together and share your thoughts and resources with us!
Great blog post, Atia! ❤️
Thanks so much for this Atia. I saw the saga unfold on Instagram and felt so conflicted because I definitely do my best to call out racism in life offline but online I always feel like it’s not my place to say something or if I do I’ll get it wrong and hurt people unintentionally.
A big thing I have learnt is that I have more learning to do! Thanks for this thoughtful piece and the resources you linked. ❤️
Whoever left the quote you shared sees me and how I feel too. I recognize in myself the desire to know better and do better, but (thanks to anxiety) totally shut down when the conversation gets heated and confrontational. I’m also an introvert who will chat with people I know at school pickup, but am too quick to think that those standing alone are doing so by choice and resolve to reach out and chat more. Thank you for your time and perspective. <3
Thank you. I found your post via TheLittlePomegranate who I found today also.
As a middle class white woman married to a white man and with a young white boy it’s important for me to open my eyes and learn more, especially so I can teach my son well and show by example. I will be clicking through your links and looking up the insta profiles… and making sure to walk over and say hello to anyone by themselves at the school gates.
Hello, thank you for your text! Can you please write name of the video? The link doesnt work.
I need to educate myself because after few hours on instagram I still didn´t get why the article was offensive for some people. I am a little sad because lot of people were angry about it but didn´t find anyone who would try to explain it. I found also opinions that if you don´t know already you are an ignorant. In that way I am an ignorant. At least I was till now. So I hope I will understand better in near future.
So far I am glad that I hear lot of people saying outloud that they are overlooked or badly treated. For me as a white woman it is a good reminder to watch myself (and people around me) to not act like that unintentionally.
English is my second language so I hope this comment is understandable in a way I meant it.
Greetings from Prague!
Thanks for the thoughtful post and the links. I am listening.
Thanks for taking time to write this and share.
Good for you to address such a difficult issue so calmly while you must feel anything but calm inside. It is significant that posts like this are rarely posted by white women for which I feel ashamed. There is a reluctance to come out of one’s comfort zone & engage with someone different. I would love this divisiveness to change; at our local FE college we see girls in mixed friendship groups enjoying being together in their shared environment & hope these relationships will not only last but be templates for them to engage with others throughout their lives. Thank you.
Thank you so much for this post.
As a white european I’m learning, trying to do my best. Very difficult in a world, a society that is so hateful to others (immigrants, other religions, other culture, other colour, …) All over Europe the ultra right is getting stronger and I’m scared. We all are people, one mankind with different colour, personality, talent. Please, let us live in peace We all need that.
(Sorry for my poor english. I live in Belgium)
Thank you for this thought provoking post and list of beautiful makers, you included.
Thank you. As a middle class white woman I am conscious that I am privileged in so many ways – but this debate is making me very aware that I am too complacent and need to learn more. I often fear that it isn’t my place to say something – and partly because I fear unintentionally making hurtful or unhelpful remarks. Humaira’s comment above about the ‘wall of silence’ shows that saying nothing is just as bad though. And if we don’t say anything, then it doesn’t change. It must change. So I am saying I am listening, that I am learning and I add my voice in support.
I found your post so interesting and wanted to just add some of my own insight. I have experienced the very same thing at school pick-up. The only difference is that my skin matched the other white mothers’ skin. So I am not so sure you can attribute what happened to you as related to race. Perhaps those women share some of your characteristics- shy, in a hurry, maybe they didn’t realize you felt left out. I also am the only white person in my workplace. I am often surprised by how often their race is an explanation for when things don’t go right – since as a white woman I have the same problems. So while there are many white people with prejudices, I encourage you to explore situations and consider all the possibilities. And then point blank ask. It went so much easier for my workmates when I openly acknowledged our differences – and that I didn’t always understand cultural differences.
Hi Linda, thank you for your message. As you will have seen, I also have given other reasons why it may be the case that this happens to me and the other mothers who have not been befriended, and am certainly not one to blame everything on racism. It is more subtle than that, there is a barrier which has developed and I think that my appearance and perceived differences must come into it on some level. If you have a chance to read some of the experiences posted on Instagram you will see that many people have experienced this kind of subtle behaviour change which they have rarely challenged or have become so used to that they hardly notice it. That said, discussing and acknowledging differences are key to people understand each other better.
Thank you for speaking out. Your blogpost is thought provoking…
hi Atia – thank you for this post, and for all the links here and via your instagram stories. It’s really helped educate me. Honestly, when I read Karen’s blog post, I didn’t see anything offensive at all. I’m a POC, and when it all “kicked off”, as it were, I felt really confused – what was I missing? And it took a lot of reading before I understood – so thank you (and everyone else who has spoken about this and their experiences). I am a POC, but I think I’ve been rather protected by my priveleged life experiences – I went to a UN school, and have always lived in really diverse, multiracial environments, which actually meant that I was lucky to never really directly experience overt or subtle racism or exclusion. But I understand now. So thank you.
Shivani, like you I am also a POC that grew up in a rather protected and diverse environment. In some ways, we are very lucky. In others, we are perhaps at a disadvantage. I, too, have learned a lot this week. I’m eager to keep learning.
I am a middle class, middle aged white woman from the UK, and I’ve been astounded at the reaction to Karen’s post. I’m currently in Canada on a two-week vacation. We don’t make many long-haul trips these days, and before we left, me and my husband felt very apprehensive. Going all the way to Canada felt a bit like going to Mars. If I bothered to blog, I might have said so. Should Canadians feel offended? (I hope not – I love your country!).
In the YA writing community we’ve faced a similar issue of #ownvoices. Those white writers who have tried to be more inclusive by including POC characters in their books have been attacked for cultural appropriation. Only POC writers should write POC characters, it’s argued. So you end up with white writers only creating white characters in their books, making many books less diverse (and yes, I know the answer is to promote more BAME authors and thankfully there is a lot of movement on that in the UK). Karen wanted to go to India to broaden her horizons and expose herself to another culture; I suspect a lot of people will now conclude that the safest thing to do is stay at home.
With the UK in the grips of genuine xenophobia and racism – and yes, there is a lot of it in my home community – we urgently need more awareness and action. But I am not at all sure that calling out Karen so harshly is the way to do it.
A great post indeed! Thanks for sharing.
I love this post! You were very clear about your experience, without apologizing or overemphasizing. I am a white woman, grew up in an upper class family in the Seattle area and attended a small-ish Christian private school from K-12. Super sheltered and oblivious to what privileged even was. I wasn’t raised with any overtly, or even subtle, racist ideas or language but I also wasn’t given any opportunity to explore diversity and get to know other experiences. The absence of intolerance does not necessarily breed tolerance on its own, if that makes sense. I am ashamed to say how old I was when I actually started to understand just how privileged I was, and just how sheltered my childhood was! I got interested in foreign policy about a decade ago, or rather the effects of US foreign policy and I’ve yet to hit the bottom of my disgust for what its caused and how oblivious most people are to what is going on. Martin Luther King Jr was a particularly astute civil rights activist, in that he understood that the oppression felt at home is intrinsically link to the oppression our government wields abroad. It’s sad how alienated he became after speaking out about the Vietnam War. Not many people have the courage today to call the United States the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, never mind a black man in the early 1960s!
I still find myself hopelessly tongue-tied about race and wondering if my privilege is showing when I talk to people of different ethnicities. Am I saying the right term, am I committing a privileged no-no? It’s never intentional! When I start to feel that way, I want to stop and blurt out “if I say something stupid and contrary, will you tell me and explain why?” But I’m pretty sure I’d scare everyone off, lol.
At the end of the day, I try to be as plain as possible, without overthinking it. Kids sure have a way of walking you to that point, with all their honest simplicity. My four year old asked a mover at our apartment building the other day why “his face had black all over it?”. His skin tone was considerably darker than she’d probably seen in our way-too homogeneous neighborhood, or maybe she just started noticing differences like that more consciously now, if that makes sense? At any rate, I guffawed and said “Because that’s what color his skin is!” He pointed at me knowingly and with a smile said “That’s a good answer”. We had a good laugh and I decided we should hit the library for books on how skin gets it color, and also stories that represent lots of colors and cultures!
Anyhow, that was a lot of random stuff but I really am glad to have read your perspective. Please continue to write, I have much to learn and share to help make connections between all our different experiences and realities!
(BTW, I found your blog by way of a IG pic of a gorgeous dress you made for your daughter, back in 2017, I think the fabric was from the Lavish line. Amazing dress, beautiful girl – the colors look incredible against her skin and hair!)