An Intention of Inclusion

“ … Nothing can be changed until it's faced.”

- James Baldwin, quoted by Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika in Seeing White Part 13

If you are at all connected to the fiber/textile world online, you are most likely already aware of the explosion in conversation around diversity, discrimination, and inclusion that has been going on, and expanding outward. (If not, here is a summary of how it started on Ravelry.) At first, I admit I was disappointed to read about prejudice happening in a community I’m a part of, and to realize how little I was aware of it. Now, I’ve come around to thinking that being exposed to this reality is a needed opportunity to engage more fully and to do better, both for me personally and hopefully for the broader community. I’ve read and listened and learned (some, no doubt I have much more to learn), and I would like to offer both some resources that have been helpful to me for any other white folks who may be able to use them (below), and more importantly, any help I can to BIPoC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) who may be able to use it.

For BIPoC reading this, if I can help you, either with textile skills like knitting, spinning, natural dye, etc., or advice and/or networking for teaching, writing, or other things I do, just let me know. I don’t have all the keys by any means, but I’ll be happy to share what I know. Please contact me here.

For my fellow white people, I want to heartily recommend the podcast series Seeing White from Scene on Radio. It was recommended to me by my aunt, who has done a lot more thinking around race than I have, and I later found out that it’s also used by a meditation/mindfulness teacher I respect for anti-racist work. Listening to this series was amazingly eye-opening for me. I knew about slavery in US history, about segregation, and discrimination against BIPoC for housing and jobs … but I was also brought up to believe that all people are equal, and at least in unspoken messages, that if we are just nice to each other, everything will be alright. I did not learn about how all these forms of prejudice are tied together, or that the white men who founded our country were explicitly setting up a system to benefit people who looked like them, at the expense of everyone else.

As Robin DiAngelo puts it in Part 14 of Seeing White, “I cannot tell you how transformative and liberating it is to start from the premise, ‘Of course I’ve been thoroughly conditioned into a racist worldview. Of course I have a racist frame of reference, and investments in this system, and I have patterns. Of course, that is unavoidable, and while it wasn’t my fault, I do have to take responsibility, because to not do that is to actually collude.’ ”

In my teaching and writing, I’m constantly asking people to think more deeply about where the textiles we use every day come from. I now understand more than ever why that is uncomfortable—at the bottom of it, it means I’m asking people to consider and acknowledge which other people and ecosystems have been exploited in order for us to have these things. I think it’s totally fair that I’m now being asked to consider those questions from this different angle.

It’s not fun to think about my environmental impact, but doing so is ultimately empowering, because I can use the knowledge to make better choices. And not surprisingly, in a similar way, I’m finding that by looking more closely at the institutional racism around me, I feel more like I can make a difference to help change it. When an organization I care about, which has clear issues with a lack of diversity, sends me a survey about their future (this happened recently), I can share my concerns. I can bring a better internal framework to conversations, emails, my own work … and adding this piece, thinking about racism more deeply, has somehow unlocked an ability in myself to bring up some of the issues I really care about when someone asks me for advice or an opinion—which is great.

I took some time in between episodes of Seeing White to process things, and I’ve been alternating also listening to:

On Being, which is my all-time favorite program/podcast. Talk about deep conversations. For me, some of them have been actually life-changing. There are some directly related to challenging racism, and also a whole lot of conversations with brilliant BIPoC, everyone from civil rights leaders to poets. And it’s full of gems in unexpected places, like recently this poem, Ode to My Whiteness by Sharon Olds.

What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito, which I stumbled across on NPR. It’s full of honest conversations with BIPoC musicians and celebrities, a lot of laughter, and they aren’t afraid to ask the occasional very deep question. I hope there is another season coming!

You can tell that I currently have a lot more life space for listening than reading. But I also want to mention the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I read a while back, is great, and changed how I think about what it might be like to be Black in America.

I’m pretty sure that people who read this blog like their fiber arts mixed with some searching questions about life and society, but just for anyone who’s gotten this far and is still thinking, “I just come here for the sewing,” I think Jacey did a good job in this post on the PLY blog of talking about why that isn’t really helpful.

And, although this is a place where I tell my stories, this issue isn’t really about me, so comments are closed. Please engage the broader conversation elsewhere. With love to everyone!

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