It is not easy to begin writing and so I begin by writing about my unease. Let me just say that this is not a critique of the well-meaning folks on all sides in the skirmish mentioned herein. It is a critique of the communities in which I participate and a wish for change.
On this day when we honor a man who helped lead a movement for civil rights, it is important to re-read his words and even listen to the cadence of his voice and wonder whether we’ll ever find leaders like this again. We have made great progress in many respects in the US, but there are still hundreds of miles to go before we can rest.
For as long as I can remember, I have been taught to understand that everything I say and every action I make is political. I recall that when I was six, my parents constantly emphasized that my success or failure–in academics, in music, even in hobbies–reflected on them as parents and could impact future opportunities for other girls and other minorities. No pressure there. Of course, all of this is still a big driving force in the way I live, especially since I am still achieving a bunch of age, gender and ethnicity “firsts” in my profession. Since we are now a decade deep into the 21st century these “firsts” ought to be considered shameful; and greater shame should be seen in the fact that there is no apparent “second” teed-up to succeed me.
I do what I can to take the lead in effecting change in my profession on behalf of women and minorities, although the prevailing pace is glacial. My energies now are devoted to fostering a community of allies and then turning them into advocates, which is a disheartening endeavor at best. In these interactions, every word counts and every action is political. It is my goal to get these folks to begin to back up their words of support with actually doing something.
So why do I bring this up on a blog heretofore devoted to a celebration of textile arts?
I have a dream that one day I’ll have the privilege to muster up the energy to care much about a minor skirmish like this one. Is it an issue that matters? Maybe. Am I glad that someone will expose the issue? I guess. But it comes nowhere near the point of addressing the real situation.
My basic response to the overall issue: this isn’t a new issue. Demands for diverse representation in the media have been on-going for decades and after years of offensive stereotyping and type-casting in movies and on tv we can now see a few roles for women and minorities (young and old) that are endowed with dignity and respect. And there is still a long way to go in this arena. Sure, fabric designers are behind the times, however HR should make the designs she wants to make; she is a single independent designer and is not beholden to audiences beyond her paying customer base. She made clear in her comments that this is her choice, however myopic it might be. Perhaps one day she’ll decide to make her designs more diverse in representation and maybe this current confrontation will have had some influence.
But this issue is shallow and it is all talk.
It is important to ask Ashley, Pam and the behind-the-scenes emailers: “what is your next step?” The blog post while well-reasoned rings hollow. Is the interest in changing a community or just in pointing out that one designer failed to meet expectations? When I first heard of the emailed confrontations of the designer I mistakenly assumed that the intent had depth. The continuation via HR’s response and this public post are disappointing. If one really wants change to occur, one needs to take action rather than revel in revealing one designer’s ignorance.
Meanwhile, I must concern myself with The Real Situation: the textile arts community–locally and globally–is unwelcoming to participation from the young and the nonwhite. For instance, I am almost always uncomfortable in local yarn/fabric shops unless I bring a white friend who will vouch for me. Another example would be in the label “African American quilt.” Because my quilts aren’t riots of animal prints that cry out activist screeds, they don’t fit under this label. So on the personal level, I must contend with those who don’t think brown folks sew [and therefore must only be in a quilt shop to steal stuff] while also defying the expectations of those who sweetly recognize our presence but hamfistedly categorize us. My participation is currently limited because I can only fight battles on one front at a time and I choose to help my students and colleagues with my current free time.
Will this situation be changed by the act of diversifying human representation on fabrics? No. Very few of the fabrics I want to use have any human representation on them. But I can’t say that inciting such a change in a careful and productive manner couldn’t result in a small positive impact on The Real Situation.
So… Is someone going to act? Will someone be communicating with other designers about the issue? How about with fabric manufacturers? Beyond that, is someone going to try to do something about The Real Situation?