Listening for Change: on #diversknitty

Julia Farwell Clay has written a blog post called Listening for the Voices You Can’t Hear. In it, she speaks about diversity, inclusion and race and representation in the world of knitting. She reflects on what we privileged white ladies of knitting can do about the fact that our industry, at its top levels, is still predominately white and why that is a problem:

I’m a middle aged white lady comfortably represented in the knitting world around me so it’s my privilege and responsibility to listen and amplify that call for Diversity. I have welcomed the choices some knitting magazines have made towards casting non-white models… Meanwhile, Dyers and Designers and Teachers and Shop Owners and just regular knitters of color still haven’t achieved a complimentary visibility equal to the percentages they occupy in our industry.

– Julia Farwell Clay

The lack of representation of knitters of colour is the driving force behind Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s film, Knitting Ain’t Whack, made as part of her MA in textiles as a creative response to a brief titled “Identity”:

I created the character Lorna HB who is a knitting, rapping MC. I’m keen to break down the stereotypes associated with who knits.

– Lorna Hamilton-Brown

This conversation about who knits and who doesn’t knit also informed Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s dissertation title, Myth – Black People Don’t Knit: the importance of art and oral histories for documenting the experiences of black knitters. The title for the dissertation comes from Lorna’s lived experience of being told by a white academic at a knitting conference “black people don’t knit – they crochet”. Being erased from history is all too common an experience for black people – and especially for black women. Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s amazing dissertation goes some way towards putting the stories that have not been told back into the frame. It’s enormously important:

The question “do black women knit”? is possibly asked due to the lack of visibility of black knitters. I am not alone in wanting to debunk this myth. On the 16 October 2016 user “gillyffish” posted a message on the social media site Tumblr. It encouraged black knitters and spinners to use the hashtag #KnittingWhileBlack to raise visibility and awareness. ‘Knitting is an art that is visually dominated by white parties, let us show the world we are out there.’

– Lorna Hamilton-Brown

The call for representation continues in other hashtags. If you’re not an instagram user you might not have seen the current conversation that’s evolving around the #diversknitty hashtag as a means to achieve greater representation and visibility on social media. Julia reflects that this year Rhinebeck felt more inclusive and diverse and that maybe hashtags which have helped knitters of colour to find and see one another have contributed to this. One of the privileges of being white is that we never have to think about whether there will be people like us present when we attend events and social media may have played a role in making Rhinebeck feel safer and more inclusive for knitters of colour… but maybe, rather than being instigators of long overdue change, hashtags like #diversknitty and #blackpeopledoknit are symptomatic of it. Magazines are doing more in terms of hiring models of colour and PomPom magazine’s magnificent cover for issue 26 was well received everywhere, testifying to the fact that there is a collective thirst for diverse images in the knitting community.

PomPom Magazine, Issue 26

Visible, high profile, positive change like this is fantastic, but there is still a great deal of work to do. Change needs to happen at *all* levels of the knitting industry and diverse customers feeling welcome (rather than unwelcome) is not enough. We need to see more vendors, designers, teachers, publishers and podcasters of colour across the board and we need to change our own thoughts and behaviour if the knitting industry is to become a truly inclusive place. To this end, Jeanette Sloan has been crowdsourcing an incredible list of POC designers and crafters which must be circulated in discussions around event planning, vendor booths, conference organisation and anywhere else where professional opportunities exist.

However we can do more on an individual level, too. To try and redress the unbalanced dominance of whiteness in our industry, we can prioritise buying yarn and patterns from businesses owned by people of colour; we can give our support to events and magazines that are actively promoting diversity; we can champion, amplify and celebrate the work of people of colour on social media; when we are researching folks to interview for our blogs and podcasts we can ensure we are being inclusive in our searches and not just referring back to our existing and primarily white networks. We can support initiatives like The Yarn Mission and we can follow the #diversknitty hashtag without inserting ourselves into the conversation. We can educate ourselves about the incredible work being made and done by people of colour and we can support and amplify that work. We must do these things in a meaningful and sustained way – not tokenistically – towards making our industry genuinely inclusive. To me, the work ahead looks alot like building relationships, extending networks, sharing skills and resources and consciously supporting people of colour in our industry the way that we already support each another. We can – and must – hold one another to account.

Like Julia says, we can listen for the voices that are missing and use whatever leverage we have to try and change the status quo. In the SONIK half of what I do, listening is the most important activity. Something changes when you change what – who – you listen to, and powerful shifts in mindset can happen when we are being quiet and paying attention. There is a wealth of writing about diversity in knitting available right now and written by people of colour: we need to listen to this and we need to really hear it.

Recommended Reading/Listening/Watching

Read Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s thesis already.

Jeanette Sloan recently wrote a fantastic piece in Knitting Magazine as well as this blog post. You can find her amazing list of POC designers and crafters here.

Gaye Glasspie, AKA GG Made it has written a fantastic piece here reflecting on Diversity in crafting, and this video by her comes highly recommended for LYS owners.

The Yarn Mission is a revolutionary, black-led organisation based in the USA; their support page is very helpful for anyone who wants to not only be inclusive but to actively fight racism through knitting.

This instagram post from Lady Dye Knits is important, as well as this amazing blog post from 2015 on the need for greater diversity in the Knitting Industry.

There are some important reflections on racism, representation, feminism and knitting in this video produced by PomPom Knits.

This Ravelry group set up by Sahara Briscoe is “is a global platform to showcase the knitted and crocheted patterns of underrepresented designers of African Descent throughout the Diaspora, and to foster productive dialogues between crafters and designers.” Check it out.

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s fantastic book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is not about knitting, but it gives vital context to conversations about inclusion and diversity.

9 thoughts on “Listening for Change: on #diversknitty

  1. There are black knitters out there but we need to let people know we enjoy knitting and love it.Knitting has no color but it is enjoying the understanding of using your hands to create something beautiful

    1. Thank you for weighing in here. I agree that what we have in common as knitters is the enjoyment of creation and making something beautiful, and that knitting is not inherently and of itself connected with any specific racial identity. However as to the idea that “knitting has no color”, I have to carefully disagree and would like to respectfully invite you to think about who that notion protects and comforts. What I’m seeing and hearing from non-white knitters is that knitting spaces and the industry are largely dominated by white people. This situation leaves people of colour who are makers and crafters feeling unrepresented and marginalised, and it’s self-perpetuating… as long as the craft industry fails to feature leadership by, and representation of, people of colour, it will continue to be a very colour-coded space: a white space. Although it is uncomfortable for white people to think about our own identities in racialised terms, we need to learn to see colour, to be able to talk about it, to be able to see the privileges that come with being white and – most importantly – to be able to listen when people of colour say that race plays a part in how they feel in our knitting spaces. Does that make sense? I honestly mean no disrespect in my response to you, and if you’d prefer to email about it to discuss further, you can reach me at knitsonik [at] outlook [dot] com.

  2. I love your post and I totally agree. We also need to teach our children that regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, employment status, where you live, health issues, or even the football team you follow, we are ALL the same and we ALL bring our own unique qualities to WHATEVER we decide to do.

  3. Great post, and thanks for the links to follow up with. I live in a little town in North Carolina which is still very segregated. Of all the downtown businesses, the one I am most likely to see women of color shopping at is our local yarn shop—and I think that’s because our LYS owner is also thinking about and acting on these themes. But we can all always do better!

  4. Hello from Japan,
    The more we see such a thoughtful and appropriate action for diversity, the more I am sent back to my identity which I normally be able to be unconscious in my small racially closed environment. I am “Yellow” colored Asian person and I don’t know how other Asian countries knitters feel about it, but I do have had concerns about Japanese knitting and crochet world’s white domination. I am working with the biggest handcraft publishing company in this country so I actually talked about my concerns with my good editors and suggested about a change in need in global aspect, however I feel always it is like water off a duck’s back. I want to insist that it is not their fault. It doesn’t depend on their individual understandings and wills but on a historic and characteristic cultural background of this country. We have been educated since I don’t know when that Occidental beauty is the gold standard, and we have accepted and admired it long since. I even feel that it was Occidentals who have found Asian beauty ( I am thinking about Asian models in high fashion for example) but not yet in handcraft world. That standard is deeply implanted at the bottom of Japanese aesthetic norm. There are knit/crochet designers like michiyo who usually strictly try to use Asian models in her book, but for greater part of knitty domestic publications this country is dominated by white models. (I can say also absolutely NO black models here, their beauty is way too “alien” for Japanese ) While its root has been strongly impregnated where we even cannot see, it is not easy to find then try to dig.
    Global knitting community opened my eyes, and I am so pleased that now I can see our situation from outside. We are so, so behind for this subject, but while you are living in Japan as Japanese in Japanese language, it is really difficult to see. Because as long as we stay within this country, we even don’t notice we are in the “colored” segment globally. I am always looking for efficient and functional strategy for it(because if I fail as method it is so easily ignored and rejected) to be able to reach an open ear one day.

    1. Thank you so much for this amazing, insightful and reflective comment; I really appreciate your taking the time to comment. It is amazing to hear you speaking so thoughtfully to issues of race and representation in your own country. Your reflections on how Occidental beauty (i.e. White and Western) has been internalised as the “gold standard” of beauty in Japan are heartbreaking and speak to the dominance, insidiousness and violence of White Supremacy. As you say, it’s not about individual attitudes… rather, it’s about large, structural, global, cultural forces, and how deeply they work on our psyches. I wonder if a culture of self-publishing from thoughtful knitwear designers celebrating Japanese identity and heritage might help to challenge the industry norms?

  5. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough post. We need to hear the experiences of all people…not just the privileged ones at the center of things. This seems to me to be at the core of our humanity…we must be able to listen to and include each other in order to understand each other and ourselves. Society and communities, after all, are not pie, with a limited number of ‘slices’ just for those with privilege. There is room in this world for everyone to participate….and it is my firm belief that a diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences enriches us all. It is only when we exclude the perspectives of others, whether intentionally or by privileged omission, that we are diminished. Knitting is a good place to begin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.