noun [ U ]
UK /ˌɪn.kluːˈsɪv.ɪ.ti/ US /-ə.t̬i/
If you are an active follower or participant of the online knitting, crocheting, spinning community you will be familiar with the discussion around inclusivity in the fibre arts, particularly as it relates to the creation of a safe space for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ members of the community. If you have somehow stumbled across this blog from outside of the community (welcome, pull up a chair and I’ll stick the kettle on) you may not be aware that there has been a vigorous drive towards improving the perception and reality of inclusion online and off. More recently this conversation has hit international news, I’ve seen reports from US and UK press, following the update made to Ravelry’s policies to include a total ban on the advocacy of white supremacy on their platform. For those of you who have come here from outside the fibre arts Ravelry is a major platform for knitters, crocheters and spinners, combining a sales platform with social media in the form of forums.
Outside of the fibre arts community there is a perception of knitters as a quiet community, largely female, largely middle class, largely older, largely white, kinda sweet. For a long time inside the community the perception was broadly similar. Commercial patterns and publications showed samples on predominately white and slender models. Independent designers are more likely to model their own designs (although not exclusively so) which automatically introduces a wider variety of body types. What was being presented to us was a middle aged white sea of faces, with the occassional speck of colour. And this is where the definition of inclusivity from the top of this post comes in. If we do not actively seek to embrace the creativity of those in marginalised groups those specks of colour will remain just that. Specks. However, they should be broad strokes. There are many talented and active creators who are BIPOC, who are LGBTQ+. There always have been. We need to recognise them. We need to show each other, and the rest of the world, just how wrong this perception of crafters is. And over the past few months there has been a lively discussion on how best to achieve this.
Whilst this discussion has been going on there have been many calls for members of the community to quieten down and “go back to the knitting.” People have claimed that politics has no place in crafting. There are significant flaws in this argument. Politics is about people. Politics is about how we, as people, interact with the world and each other. Politics is instrumental in everything we do. You cannot be a functioning member of any society or community and not be impacted by politics. On top of that crafters have, throughout history, flexed their political muscles. Consider the women in India who, encouraged by Ghandi, spun and wove their own cotton fabrics by hand so that they weren’t supporting the British cotton trade. Indian cotton was shipped to England to be milled, before being shipped back to India to be sold locally. The British colonial powers demanded that the Indians bought British milled cotton and banned them from milling their own. The boycott and it’s associated civil disobedience led to the decline in the British cotton industry, which was not great for the British working class in mill towns (although they were still significantly better off than the Indian workers), and was ultimately successful in that Indian cotton became a global market force. Similarly, the Daughters of Liberty were known to boycott British goods during the American Revolution, using their crafting skills to assist in the shortages that ensued. In more recent years we have seen a rise in craftivism, from the pink Pussy Hats seen on women’s marches, to knitted banners proclaiming “Balls to Trump” being held aloft during protests. There have even been smaller, more discrete political displays tied to specific causes, like the designs for Project Semicolon, or knitting blue hats as part of an anti-bullying campaign. Crafters have long been politically active. Google any of the examples I have given and it becomes clear that politics most definitely does have a place in crafting.
The Ravelry statement relates specifically to the open promotion of white supremacy and the current Trump administration. Once you actually click through and read the policy it becomes clear that Trump supporters are not being banned from the platform. People who hold white supremacist views are not being banned from the platform. What has been banned is the use of targetted, hateful speech that makes the environment unsafe for those in marginalised groups. Let’s delve into that a little more.
Firstly what is a white supremacist? White supremacy is an extremist right wing view that claims the white race is inherently superior to all others (see Merriam Webster). Less radicalised persons will understand that we are all equal, regardless of the amount of melanin in our skin. Besides, as far as I am concerned, there is only one human race. Our colour relates to the ethnicity of our ancestors, which we may or may not feel connected to. Extreme views can be a force for good, William Wilberforce and the Abolitionists are an excellent example of this. However, often extreme views are more destructive. Hitler and the Nazi Party, for instance held well known extreme views on race and other marginalised groups that have been widely condemned. Indeed many Nazi views fall under the heading of white supremacy. So should we allow such extreme views to be publically aired on a forum such as Ravelry?
The initial reaction to banning a topic from being discussed is that we have a right to free speech. But here’s the thing, what we consider to be rights are not always inalienable. Sometimes they come with conditions attached. Our inalienable rights, as human beings, are the right to food, the right to water, the right to shelter, and the right to safety. The rest of what we deem to be rights are in actual fact privileges. With privilege comes responsibility. We have a responsibility to protect the inalienable rights of everybody. The moment you ignore your responsibility by using free speech in order to cause harm and strip another person of their safety you forfeit that privilege. The announcement of Ravelry’s new policy has been triggered by the actions of people on the forums who not only harassed others online, making that space unsafe, but also took steps to threaten an individual offline in a coordinated effort. That individual is still being harassed as I write. It is unacceptable for anyone to behave in this manner. It is unacceptable for a forum that is aiming to provide a safe and inclusive space to allow such extreme views to be aired on its platform.
Having reached this point it should be clear that I stand by Ravelry’s move to remove the promotion of white supremacy from the site. However, I believe that it has taken far too long for that step to be taken. I believe that it is a strong step, but it is only one step. There has always been anti-hate policies on the platform, and yet the situation was allowed to escalate to the point where an individuals safety was at threat IRL. It should never have reached that point. I believe that all our social media sites need to take a long hard look at their systems for enforcing their anti-hate policies so that no one is put in that position again. And I believe that those of us who do not fall into a marginalised group need to remember that the crucial letter in BIPOC is the P at its heart. It stands for person. And that is the basis on which I choose to meet and assess people on. Person first, then their actions.
And yes, I will now get back to my knitting. Loudly and with pride at the diverse community it puts me in.