Until now, I have chosen not to enter the debate regarding racism and making. Not because I don’t care or not consider it an issue worth giving careful thought to, in fact it is quite the opposite. I’m glad I’ve not weighed in before now as it’s given me time to read, research and refine some of my thinking.
I am a white, middle class yarn producer and retailer. My view was that another white, privileged woman adding her 2 cents worth may just be more ‘white noise’, literally. I didn’t think that our First Nations people and other POC (People of Colour) needed me offering suggestions/solutions/opinions. I was concerned that despite what I may consider to be well intentioned and enlightened may come across as patronising and whitesplaining. I write this with a sense of nervousness that I am doing exactly what I am hoping to avoid.
Although I acknowledge that social media has created a space for a much needed discussion, I don’t believe it is a platform of nuanced discussion. Nor has it allowed for a debate on what I consider to be an intersection of some of the real dilemmas that we face as a society. Racism, feminism, climate change and consumerism are all enmeshed. To give thought to one, will open the door to one or more of the others.
Even though I treat everyone who comes into my shop with respect and try to live a life of tolerance and acceptance, I cannot escape the fundamental truth that I have benefited from racism, culturally and historically. The economies of the developed world rely on it. This is what white people need to learn. That we live lives of privilege; not a drive a BMW, live by Sydney Harbour, overseas holiday privilege, but the privilege of power. I don’t feel particularly powerful in my daily life, but like most white people I take it for granted.
I have attempted to move away from products made cheaply in developing countries, including yarn. I do not believe that yarn companies in Australia or Europe who use processing factories in Asia or South America can correctly claim to be ‘exploitation-free’. To make that claim, you would need to be paying the workers what they would be paid in Europe or Australia. For instance, the average monthly wage in Chile is USD$795 (as of December 2018). In Australia the average weekly income is $1500 (USD$1022). Do we think about the the working conditions of people in developing countries exposed to the chemicals used to create some Superwash Wool (chlorine soaked then coated in resin)? Or the toxic acids used in dyes for our textiles and fibre.
As a woman, the closest I can come in trying to understand racism is through sexism. There have been times in my life when I have experienced discrimination, humiliation, bullying and a sense of injustice simply because I am female. I’ve then suffered the further indignity of having the male explain how I should change, learn to take a joke or what I need to do to fit in with the ‘boys club’ at work. I support quotas for increasing representation of women in political parties and in boardrooms and affirmative action when necessary. I absolutely respect the right of women to call out offenders via the #metoo movement. As a white woman I need to show the same respect and support to BIPOC activists, people brave enough to stick their head above the trenches knowing full well they could be attacked for it.
I cannot take away the pain, anger and frustration that racism causes. But, I can be mindful of my own interactions, offer a safe and welcoming space and will listen with an open mind. This might not be enough, but I am doing my best.
Jennifer Smart | Mulberry + Flax | Great Southern Yarns
Suggested Reading – Renni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Racism. Bloomsbury Publishing