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 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.