racism, knitting, and me

I had a run of several posts in a row, and then bam, radio silence. Which happened to coincide with some very big conversations about racism within the knitting community. It feels like a very conspicuous time to have gone silent, and I’ve seen people reading meaning into others’ silence and please trust me that my silence? It’s been the silence of an overwhelmed professor at the start of a new semester, one who is teaching 4 classes, one of which is a brand new prep, and trying to finish up data coding and analysis before a conference in March, and also doing volunteer work for church and taking an MBSR training and playing in both an orchestra-orchestra and a ukulele orchestra and raising a differently-wired child and dealing with a blizzard. I’ve just been utterly overwhelmed and haven’t had any real chance to knit or to organize my thoughts in any context other than class prep.

Y’all, back when I was in grad school studying cognitive science, and I was struggling to figure out what my path would look like, I imagined that my dream job would be to somehow combine teaching writing with being a cognitive scientist, and my biggest d
Just a few of the things I read while prepping my new “Cognition & Writing” course

But I *have* been reading along when I get a chance, and I’m really heartened to see that these hard but important conversations about bias and white supremacy and diversity and inclusion are happening not just in my crafty community, but also in my church community (we UUs have a lot of work to do in order to truly live up to our values, and it’s work we’re finally really digging into, both in my congregation and UUism at large).

I think it is probably obvious from the way I write here, and the kinds of things I’ve written about, that I’m someone who cares deeply about these issues and who tries to live out my UU values and work to build that beloved community in which all are truly welcome and valued. I’m also someone who thinks a lot better in “long form” (as is probably obvious once you see the length of this post, ha!). So the way these conversations have been taking place at lightning speed on social media, especially the more “ephemeral” forms of social media like Instagram Stories, just really hasn’t worked well for me, and I think these mediums are especially tricky for certain kinds of brains.

For me, Instagram Stories is borderline unusable as a medium – I never post to it, but I do sometimes try to read/watch what others post, and while I’ve learned the trick of clicking and holding to “pause” a story, getting the timing right is VERY challenging for me, especially if I also have to turn sound on (I never could manage video games that require good eye-hand coordination, either!). And once I screw it up, it’s not at all clear how to “get back” to a particular story (especially when there are SO MANY of them!). It demands a level of uninterrupted attention that is nearly impossible for me to produce (especially with a small child who also demands my uninterrupted attention!). I know that some of my particular difficulties with IG Stories are due to the way my brain is wired – I’m not exactly neurotypical. In particular, I have very divergent visual information processing skills and visual attention, and this causes me a lot of problems in terms of interacting with visually-demanding interfaces. For me, what worked so well about the Internet is that it allowed me to process things in my own time, in words, and my responses could be asynchronous…but mediums like IG Stories don’t really allow for that. At all. I honestly can’t think of a worse medium for this kind of discussion, though it does seem to be working for the folks using it? Or is it working *in spite* of the medium?

I’m thinking about the way the medium favors certain kinds of ways of processing information in part because I’ve noticed a dynamic in which some seem to be imputing support for the status quo to those who have been “silent”, and I think that’s a really problematic take given the nature of the medium involved. But what I think is truly unhealthy about this dynamic is that it pushes people into what can end up being very performative engagement: showing up to be seen showing up, to get credit for showing up. That’s not a dynamic that I want to encourage. Yes, I want people to show up and do the work, but they don’t have to show up *on Instagram* to show up *in the world*, and they can and should do the work without any fanfare or expectation of cookies. I’m not saying that everyone who is posting has done so performatively – I don’t think that’s true, and I think there has been so much value in the discussions that have been taking place, and especially given that this is partly a conversation about visibility, it makes sense that there’d be a focus on what’s visible. It would suck if nobody had showed up in those spaces, and some of the work that needs to be done IS online/social media work. But we don’t all need to show up in the same way, and I think white folks like me need to be VERY careful not to conflate “posting on social media” with “showing up and doing the work”, because those are not the same, and we can end up feeding a dynamic of performative, superficial wokeness that doesn’t actually help. And it might in fact hurt, if this ends up leading people to think that once they’ve made their IG post, they’ve done their work, when the work that needs doing is in fact ongoing and deep. And I’m very mindful that a big part of the problem is that people like me are the only folks who *get* to be visible by default, while other people just don’t get heard, and it’s those marginalized voices that I most want to listen to.

Which brings me to one of the positive things that has come out of these conversations: the call to diversify our social media feeds. This is definitely something people should do! I’ve realized as a result of these conversations that I actually haven’t been following very many crafty BIPOC (the number is well above zero, but it’s not exactly high). But the feeds I follow (especially on Facebook and Twitter) in terms of politics and just general life, and the authors I read, are a LOT more racially diverse. That’s really worth interrogating further – why IS it that my crafty/maker world is quite a bit whiter than my larger (social) media world? How did that happen, and what does it mean? I mean, for me, my crafty social media world grew out of the Flickr Self Portrait/365 Project community, and that group was fairly diverse but still a bit disproportionately white, and I’ve just sort of added interesting people or companies to my feed as they catch my attention when others share them…and it looks like that process didn’t lead to any real diversification. Why is that? This is something that the algorithms underneath FB/IG/Twitter/etc can really exacerbate, but that exacerbation only happens because the bias is already there. So interrogate that. If it was inadvertent or incidental, as it was for me: now that you know it exists, what are you going to do about it? The answer needs to include actually seeking out the voices you’re not currently seeing. This is something I had actively done in terms of voices around politics/social justice/etc, but I hadn’t really thought about it in the context of the crafty/maker world in the same way. So that’s something I need to think about and work on. And if part of the problem is that the highly visible part of the crafty community is overwhelmingly white/thin/cis/straight/etc, then we need to pair our individual attempts to diversify our feeds with putting pressure on the companies that have a lot of power over who is visible in the maker-world to diversify themselves. This seems to be happening now, which is great, and needs to continue!

BUT! There’s a very tokenistic way of thinking about this that can end up coming into play, and some of the ways this has been talked about have given me pause. If you find yourself feeling like you just need to go find a few BIPOC crafty folks (or some other marginalized group) and add them to your feed so that you’ve checked that box, think long and hard about whether you’re actually tokenizing those people. Because it’s NOT a box to be checked off, and thinking about it in that way actually reinforces white supremacy, I think, because it’s still very “othering”. This work is really about changing who we mean by “we”, which is much, much deeper. Diversifying your feed is about opening yourself up to perspectives and ideas and lived experiences that are different from your own; it’s about listening to voices that aren’t the ones you’d hear if you didn’t make any effort to seek them out, and valuing those voices. And it’s also about amplifying those voices, bringing them truly into the conversation, so that future generations can simply know that they ARE part of this community, because they see themselves represented in it, at every level. It’s definitely not about checking a box – it’s a values shift. (I really like what Courtney Martin has to say about this in terms of “good optics” vs. real diversity.)

I have a lot more thoughts and questions about the way social media platforms make possible both very positive and negative things. Positive things like bringing people together globally and making it possible for marginalized communities to connect and be heard in unprecedented ways, and negative things like mob pile-ons, trolling, doxxing, wide-scale abuse, and bad actors sowing discord for the sake of maintaining their own power. I worry a lot about how we grapple with the way social media can accelerate and amplify interactions beyond anything our social brains evolved to handle, and how we promote an ethos of compassion and accountability given all of the things, good and bad, that social media makes possible…but I started thinking through these things and before I knew it, I’d written over 4,000 words (I told y’all I think in “long form”!), so I’ll stop here instead, with a question:

My new Ravelry button, with a leaf from M.

I’ve been pondering whether I should change the username I’ve had since the very beginning of my internet life. For those who don’t follow me other places, the username I’m talking about is “zigeunerweisen”, which is the name of a violin piece by Pablo de Sarasate (link is to Itzhak Perlman performing it) that I was learning to play, and loving, back in the early days of being an online person, starting with my Livejournal (ah, remember those days?) back in 2002. I also loved that it was a German word, because German is my second language (I’m not fully fluent in it, though!). The reason I’m thinking about this is that while my intention was and is to reference the violin piece, I know that intention is not necessarily transparent to anyone. A comment on the Ravelry thread about racism in the yarn community mentioned an issue with “gypsy” references in pattern names, and this made me think. See, the “zigeuner” part of my username means “gypsy” in German. I don’t feel that great about having a “gypsy” reference, even auf Deutsch, in my username, because I know that word is used as a slur in English. Is it a slur in German, though? (It looks like the answer is “yes”…maybe?) Navigating these issues in a non-native language adds another layer of complication for me! No one has ever said anything to me about it, but I know better than to think that necessarily means no one has ever been made uncomfortable. I’m interested in what others think about this.

I’m also grappling with the logistics that would be involved if I did decide to change the username I’ve used my entire “Internet life”. My “zigeunerweisen” username is typically my “friends-locked” name on sites where I also have a public account (like IG and Twitter), and on all of those sites, it’s the feed on which I’m most fully “me”…partly *because* it’s friends-locked and I feel safer that way. Well over a decade worth of stuff is under this name at Flickr, and then there’s a decade worth of Twitter and there’s Ravelry and Instagram and…oof, I don’t even know how I’d go about doing this without literally irrevocably breaking everything (especially because I use Flickr embedding for ALL of my photos here on the blog, so if those links break, there’s nothing!). But the fact that changing it would be hard for me isn’t itself a reason not to do it – it’s just a reason why I might need some help making it *actually* happen, if it’s something that I decide needs to happen. I’m all ears, friends!

1 thought on “racism, knitting, and me”

  1. Wow, good for you. I admired you before, even more now. I’m afraid I cannot offer any advice, I don’t even have any of those social media accounts so don’t know how to change things in them.

    Well, my advice could be, host your pictures yourself? How hard can it be? : -) The big companies say it’s too hard, and everyone repeats it, but really the big companies would say that, wouldn’t they? They want everyone to think there is no other option.

    Or you could put them directly on archive.org. I know hackerpublicradio puts their podcast sound files there. I don’t know how you make that happen though.

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