Since the start of 2019, a very real, messy, badly-needed and important conversation about racism within the knitting community has been taking place online across different platforms including Ravelry and Instagram. If you’ve somehow missed it, this piece by Jaya Saxena gives a good overview of the conversation so far. Many BIPoC* have risked censure and silencing in coming forward to share their stories; they have also expended time and emotional labour conveying their experiences to those of us who, like me, are white, and therefore protected by privilege from personally experiencing racism.
It is distressing to learn that racism so clearly exists in spaces many of us previously considered to be comforting and friendly. However, the discomfort that white people feel at discovering the presence of racism in our cosy knitting world is as nothing compared to the daily pain and indignity of oppression experienced by our BIPoC friends.
If we centre, and really hear, the voices of BIPoC, it becomes clear that white people have, without exception, developed a range of unconscious biases and prejudices. If these are left unchecked and unexamined, we unintentionally uphold racial inequity. It doesn’t matter if we don’t mean to be racist; if we’re not actively working against racism in daily life, we are inadvertently perpetuating it.
My self-image as an artist and maker is centred around liberal ideals of uplift, freedom, celebrating daily life, and highlighting and foregrounding the textures of womxn’s** lives through knitting and sound. It is painful and difficult to reconcile this image of myself with the notion that on some level I am unconsciously perpetuating racism in how I move through the world. Nevertheless, it is necessary. Failing to acknowledge the possible impact of my actions (regardless of intent) and failing to examine my own unconscious biases and prejudices, will result in the knitting spaces I create feeling exclusionary and harmful to BIPoC. For these reasons I am committed to examining and dismantling racism within myself.
It was the knitting community that enabled me to self-publish my first book, the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. 447 people made that happen, enabling me to establish a tiny self-publishing business, and opening up opportunities for me to teach and share my vision with the world. My dream is for the knitting world to be as kind, as welcoming, as empowering and as encouraging to EVERYONE as it has been to me.
For that to happen, there is much work to do.
Below, I have shared resources that I am finding helpful while I explore these ideas. I welcome feedback from BIPoC on where I can do better. In this uncertain journey I have made, and continue to make, many mistakes. I have also benefited hugely from my white privilege, my professional network, and my education. My business is tiny, but I am committed to sharing my knowledge, network, resources and platform with BIPoC wherever I can, if it’s helpful and wanted.
Please respect that this is who I am. My politics are part of what has made my practice both liberating and uplifting; building antiracism more consciously into what I do is not about shutting down the freedom in my work, but about opening it up. For everyone. If you have comments or insights to help me to do better, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Felicity (Felix) Ford, AKA KNITSONIK
* BIPoC – Black and Indigenous People of Colour
**womxn: A spelling of “women” that includes trans-women and women of colour.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
Anti-racism learning programmes created by BIPoC
Magazines and Organisations centring the voices of BIPoC
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
Black People do Knit by Jeanette Sloan
Myth − Black People Don’t Knit: the importance of art and oral histories for documenting the experiences of black knitters by Lorna Hamilton-Brown
Some guidelines for white people engaging in anti-racist spaces created by BIPoC
Do not treat BIPoC as resources. If you are white, in conversations about race, listen carefully to what is being said.
Do not demand answers to questions you can research by yourself and, if you feel yourself becoming defensive, practice self-care and take responsibility for your own feelings. Take time to think about what has been said, rather than reacting in ways which may be harmful to BIPoC.
Discussions about race and racism are particularly emotional and taxing for people who experience, and are impacted by, racism. If you learn something from BIPoC, compensate them for their time and emotional labour.
Constructive Guidelines for talking about race with other white people*
Learn new ways of conversation.
Allow room for people to learn new ways of speaking about race.
Be open with your own and others’ struggles, imperfections, levels of experience with racism, different life experiences.
“Call in” people who are struggling with a concept.
Maintain awareness of intent vs impact.
Take responsibility for your impact.
Start many of your discussion sentences with “In my experience” or “I feel/think” or “According to what I’ve read.”
Own your stuff.
Concentrate on self-congratulation or virtue signalling.
Focus on white guilt.
Debate personal beliefs (such as religion).
Derail the conversation by bringing up other oppressions such as disability, sexism etc.
*adapted from Safety Pin Box, an allyship programme for white people run by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson between 2016 – 2018