This Community Never Stops Teaching Me

Well, it sure has been a while! And I haven’t just been absent from the blog (which isn’t all that unlike me) but I’ve also been absent from YouTube for the past 2+ months, and a little less active on Instagram, too.

It was difficult for me to admit this while it was occurring, but the fact is – I lost my knitting mojo for a little while. Not completely. I was knitting here and there, but not nearly as frequently – nor with as much gusto – as usual. And I hadn’t just lost my knitting mojo, I sort of lost my mojo for the knitting community itself.

Please don’t do this but… if you watch the very first video on my YouTube channel, you’ll note that the whole reason Old Salt switched from selling finished projects on Etsy to offering content strictly for the fiber community is because… I wanted to be more involved here. I wanted to get to know more fiber artists, I wanted to be an active part of this community, and I was tired of knitting things for people who didn’t fully appreciate them!

However… during the 2018 New York State Sheep and Wool Festival (aka “Rhinebeck”) last October, I became slightly disillusioned by the knitting community – only slightly. I still adore this community, but the curtain had been pulled back a little, and I realized a few things:

  1. There’s a hierarchy here (at times), and sometimes if you’re not part of the who’s who of knitting, you might be treated differently or even mistreated.
  2. I’m not sure I actually want to be part of the who’s who crowd… there’s some really great “regular” folks that are well worth getting to know.
  3. Not everyone’s super nice here. Some knitters are assholes.

I suppose my ego was just a tad bruised by a little bit of mean girl behavior that went on during Rhinebeck, but I was also falling prey to “focusing on a few flaws, and not recognizing the immeasurable good.”

I do the same with my knitting if it’s any consolation…

I could go on and on about some moments that occurred during Rhinebeck that were just absolutely divine (finally connecting with a local dyer/designer who has since become a good friend, meeting a few of my podcast viewers in person, having drinks with a few fellow podcasters who are even more fun in person than they are on video – just to name a few Rhinebeck highlights). So I need to remember that if I keep focusing on the handful of moments that didn’t sit right with me, I might just forget those incredible experiences.

My long-winded point is, I think that’s about the time when my knitting-community-mojo started to peter out, and then for some reason, around the holidays my actual-knitting mojo started to dim as well.

I never thought THAT would happen! I’ve heard tell of it happening to others. I’ve had my sewing mojo go dormant, and my weaving mojo has gone… well, completely impotent. C’est la vie.

And I guess because I didn’t want to admit that either of these things were falling out of favor for me (probably for fear that my condition would become permanent), I tried to force it back to life with things like “vlogmas” (fail) and “blogmas” (even bigger fail) and ideas like, “If I can’t take beautiful photos of all the knitting that’s not happening, maybe I’ll just post funny knitting memes.”

It wasn’t until my mojo returned a few weeks ago that I finally came to terms with the fact that I’d been on a true hiatus from knitting.

And that’s okay.

Knitting will always be my “thing.” I have a whole room in my house dedicated to yarn (actually, it’s only part of a room, but Pete insists on calling it my yarn room, and so that’s what it has become).

Sometimes, you just lose steam and need a break.

It’s worth stating directly: I was not depressed. That was something I had considered because “not wanting to do the things that usually bring you pleasure” is a legitimate sign of clinical depression, to which I’m no stranger. But I was actually feeling pretty energetic and excited about other things. I’ve been in a really good place, and I think all the good stuff meant less energy for knitting. I was just… uninspired by knitting. I don’t know why it happens, but now I know I’m not immune to it and that if it happens again, I shouldn’t fret, because it will return. It always has.

As for the knitting community, it’s sort of ironic that the thing that reaffirmed my faith in this community is the thing that is driving away some people (and by that I mean the people who “just want to get back to the knitting”). If you’re at all active on Instagram’s lively knitting community or you watch any of the more popular knitting YouTube channels, then you’ve probably caught wind of what many people are calling “a very important conversation on racism and diversity.”

At this point, I think this “conversation” has been happening for a bit over a month. I don’t personally think it’s just a conversation anymore. I think (I hope!) it’s a long-overdue development of who we are that will remain a permanent feature of our community dialogue and motivations.

And while others were asking, “can’t we get back to the knitting,” I actually began perking up. When I say I perked up at this discussion, I really and truly don’t mean that I was at all excited or entertained by the fact that BIPOC members of this community were deeply hurting and sharing heartbreaking lived experiences of racism. However, I have always been energized by meaninful, substantive matters, and that is what I mean when I say I “perked up” while others were throwing up their hands in frustration over an inconvenience to their fragility.

The lack of authenticity and accountability in this community hasn’t been sitting right with me for some time, but I don’t think I was conscious of it enough to really understand what it was that was bugging me. The fact that there was a lack of diversity and a prevalence of racism was something I had thought about, but being as privileged as I am, I (wrongly) never once thought, “I could maybe possibly speak up about this.”

Shame on me. It’s disgraceful that others have to share about unimaginably painful experiences for me to finally say, “okay, I’ll talk about this now.”

And start talking I did. (insert the face-palm emoji here – because I haven’t been doing a great job of how I’ve been talking…)

Anyway, I read something the other day that made me stop dead in my tracks (I’ve actually been reading a lot of things that have really hit home lately). And I realized: I need to refine how I talk about and to this community. Most importantly, as a white woman, I need quit preaching about racism and diversity. And secondly, whenever I’m talking about this community – on any topic – I need to remember a few things: a) I’m often preaching to the choir because there are a lot of very socially conscious people here, b) I’ve had to learn a lot of what I know now the hard way, so I shouldn’t act like I just came out of the womb blessed with this knowledge, and c) I have no business speaking with authority on behalf of anyone in this community, least of all BIPOCs. Who the hell do I think I am???

My eyes were opened to these ideas at least in part by an extremely poignant post by the Instagram account @wherechangestarted, which is run by Elle Glenise, an author, speaker, educator, photographer, and so much more. That said, I want to acknowledge that the content of countless others primed me for being open to considering what is said here. See below:

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 10.26.20 AM
I gained the most from the caption of this image

So let me apply that to what I’m talking about now in this blog post:

I used to think… I needed to be militant and demanding of other white people when it came to racism. I used to think that saying things like “MANDATORY READING: (followed by a link to an article)” or “Here’s what’s wrong with this community…(also followed by a link to an instagram post)” meant that I was finally educating people. I felt satisfied that I was sharing the work of (and giving credit to) black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC); buying them a ko-fi (or 10) for all the work that they shouldn’t even have to do; and finally once and for all letting everyone know what’s what! Never mind that in the process, I never expressed the fact that: I previously didn’t know any of this, and actually… in some instances, there was a time I not only disagreed with what I’m sharing now, but I might have contributed to the problem, too.

But then I learned… that speaking in this manner actually makes it about what an “expert” I am, as if I have the perfect answer to this MASSIVE issue on which I’m not at all qualified to speak with authority. I didn’t think of this manner of speaking as “performative” because (despite the fact that I thought I’d already learned the difference between intent and impact) my intention was not to draw the focus toward myself. I was trying to be as brief as possible in my own words and give the most airtime to the BIPOC who created the original content. However, I never admitted that “I didn’t know this until now” and I made it seem like I was just sharing a long-held belief of mine. NOPE. What I’ve since learned is also that this manner of speaking “at” people rather than “with” them is actually not effective in creating an inclusive community and it only creates more silos. Furthermore, I thought it was enough to merely admit to myself how I’d been wrong in the past. I’ve since learned that by keeping those learning experiences private, I was distancing myself from the problem, rather than showing how yes, I have been and still can be a part of the problem. Also – why on earth was I so certain that everything I was saying is the final, absolute truth on the matter? I was simplifying things down to a blog post or a meme or even a book. I was acting like: here it is, everything that needs to be said is right here and now it’s all fixed.

Now I know… how little I know. I know that I don’t do any good by speaking as if I’m the expert who is here to tell everyone what to do. I never thought of myself as a “white savior,” but now I know that the behavior I was exhibiting indicates that at least some part of me thought I knew better than everyone else.

Gross.

A designer and teacher I really admire and from whom I’ve had the pleasure of taking a brioche course, gave an important reminder in one of her Instagram stories on her business account. Heather Zoppetti, founder of Stitch Sprouts, said in the company’s Diversity highlight on Instagram:

“I don’t need you to be my hero or warrior.”

After reading her words, I looked at how I’d been talking the previous weeks, and I realized, I need to change how express both my thoughts and even how I share facts. Because yes, a lot of what we’re talking about is not just opinion – some of it is straight up fact, but I have no business presenting these facts as if I’ve known them all along.

You could absolutely say that I was “whitesplaining” about racism.

It totally sucks when you realize you’ve been doing something that actually makes you want to vomit when you see other people doing it.

So here I am… covered in vomit.

I deleted the stories where I was being super militant and demanding of other white people because I do not wish to continue to contribute to this type of dialogue or misuse the content of BIPOCs in that manner. Because I’m publicly acknowledging that what I’d done previously was harmful, I do hope that this act of deletion isn’t seen as a way of deleting my history. I just genuinely don’t want to do more damage.

I’ve learned that I need to slow my roll. I’ve learned that – yes, I’m not where I was 10 years ago, but (if I’m doing this right), then I’m nowhere near where I’ll be 10 years from now either, so I might want to stop acting like I know all there is to know about everything ever. I can share with people what I’ve learned, but I need to make it clear that it’s just that: what I’ve learned. As a straight, white cis gal from a mid-class New Jersey suburb, I have a lot to unlearn.

While I try to let go of my privilege every day – that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few claw marks on it from trying to hold on too tightly to what still serves me.

I have to be able to admit these shortcomings or else I risk becoming the very thing I can’t stand – a phony.

But the point is: my knitting-community mojo has returned and come back with a much more right sized (but surely not yet complete) view of where I fit in here. I still have so much to learn from all of you, and it truly is a privilege to grow and learn from so many smart, kind, patient, and often funny people. But seriously – it is a privilege that we white folks get to learn this stuff. Yes, I’m privileged to merely have to learn and not actually have to experience. It amazes me that after several militant, demanding posts I really didn’t lose many (or possibly any?) followers or subscribers. That tells me that you recognize how much I’m a “work in progress” and you’ve had faith that I’m just stumbling along like we all are.

Most of all:

I do not deserve the patience of BIPOCs while I stumble through the process of trying to untangle my white privilege. Somehow, many of you have managed to afford me a great deal of patience anyway, and frankly…I’m really not sure what to say to that besides to reiterate: I do not deserve your patience.

And when it comes to the community as a whole, I still don’t deserve such a great group of humans. I’ll never be able to repay the debt I owe all of you for all of your love, kindness, and patience over this past year while I figured out Old Salt’s place here, but I intend to give back to this community in whatever ways I can.

I whined about Rhinebeck and I received nothing but love. I go M.I.A. for multiple months, and I get only messages of concern and kindness – no demands to provide more free content and nobody appears to have forgotten about me or moved on without me. I practically yell at you about racism, and in return I’m met with patience and understanding.

For someone who has been acting like she’s completely innocent of causing any of the problems that exist here, y’all have been pretty damn nice to me.

That said – yes, this community has a lot to improve. In fact, right now I’m thinking about something of a question worth asking: if I were a BIPOC knitter, and I had expressed myself in that same forceful and know-it-all kind of way, would I still receive such a kind and patient reception?

I’ve learned… there is a lot of historical data to say the answer to that question is no. BIPOC knitters have been bullied and worse for speaking up about racism in even kinder more eloquent ways than I have, and from what I’ve learned: they actually have a right to speak with authority on this topic, while I do not.

So while I’m grateful to feel such a warm embrace from this community despite my shortcomings, I can’t bask in that warmth very comfortably while I sit here knowing others do not receive the same level of understanding.

While some of what I’m seeing in this community downright breaks my heart or even enrages me, sometimes it’s exactly those things that make me want to stay. Because on the heels of that destructive behavior, I’m seeing – in a way that I never saw previously – people held accountable for actions that hurt others. I used to exclusively see what I call “good vibes only” messaging. If you don’t know what that is, search Etsy for “good vibes only” and you’ll see over 6,700 results. I think we’d all agree that promoting completely unattainable expectations does literal harm to people. Whether it’s body image, sex and marriage ideals, home decor, vacations – unattainable expectations are rampant online, and the “good vibes only” message is no exception. When I see “Good Vibes Only,” I interpret it as saying, “If you have any kind of painful emotion, you are not permitted here. We must be super positive all the time and act like we’re one big happy family.”

Yeah sorry but I spent way too many years in family therapy to know that particular attitude is extremely dangerous.

To me, conflict over important matters and holding people accountable for issues as serious as racism are signs of a healthy community. Yes, there is bullying. I know a lot of us are concerned about “bullying.” I’m concerned about it, too, and as someone who was the target of online bullying when I was younger (to a point that it nearly cost me my life), I could go on and on about that. But it’s just not what I’m talking about right now. So I’m personally going to try to stick with that topic for now. I mean… isn’t this post long enough? Do you really want me to go down the bullying rabbit hole too?? Let’s stay on task, shall we?

For the record though: I don’t view publicly calling out people who promote racist attitudes as bullying. I call that consequences.

Another thought: I used to think we had to be polite and kind when we let other people know they’ve hurt us. But then I learned that is an unrealistic expectation that denies people of their human emotions. I learned that “politeness” just isn’t always appropriate, effective, or even possible. Now I know that yes, bullying is a problem and I very much would like to see it stopped, but we shouldn’t use bullies as an excuse to not look at racist behavior. And while rage is justified for some marginalized and mistreated members of our society, I’ve learned that rage almost never belongs to me. I do not speak for anyone in this community, least of all BIPOC knitters. Now I know: I need to check my voice.

In sum…

If you’ve stuck with me this long, you really do have the patience of a saint. I have more to learn. I’ve been wrong, and I’ve surely gotten some things wrong here today, too. I guess this whole long-winded stream of consciousness has been to say:

thank you.

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