Fear is a huge motivator. Where resources are scarce, protecting yourself and your loved ones is a natural human response. Caring for people outside your own circle is a luxury that many people don’t have. I have that luxury, and I acknowledge that it is both unearned, and not universal.
That privilege means that I can take a meta view of the conversation around diversity and inclusion in the knitting community. It means that the outcomes of that conversation have zero impact on me personally. If a group isn’t welcoming of diverse voices and ideas, it’s unlikely to hurt me because I’m white, female, and now also pretty old (happy 50th to me!). On one hand, equity and diversity statements shouldn’t matter to me one jot.
On the other hand, do I have anything to lose from the world becoming more inclusive and welcoming?
We’ve all played Monopoly. Other than being deadly boring, it’s a reasonable enough game, with a simple to understand mechanic. You roll a dice to move around a board, buy property when you can, and pay rent when you land on property owned by another player. Own more property, get more rent, win the game. Land on an opponent’s property, pay rent, lose money, go bankrupt, and you are out of the game.
In order for me to win, you have to lose. If you win, I lose. Resources are finite, and sharing or being kind to your neighbours breaks the game. Nothing you do in the game can increase the number of resources available. In game theory, this is called a “Zero Sum Game”.
Applying this line of thought to diversity in the knitting community, you can understand why people are afraid. If I can no longer talk about my beloved childhood toy because it’s considered racist, what else is going to be restricted? I’m not racist, my neighbour is brown, and I like them. How can my love of my toy mean that I am a bad person?
It’s understandable that being called a racist is going to get some pushback. None of us think of ourselves as bad people. We are good people. Racists are bad people. I am not a racist, because I am good. For me to be good, I must not be racist. Good and racist cannot exist in the one person, therefore anyone calling me a racist is a horrible person.
When Squiddo was little, he LOVED playing games. We tried to keep it low tech, but he was too little for Scrabble, so we played a lot of Monopoly. But it soon became apparent that he was so focussed on winning the game that he wasn’t enjoying playing the game, so we started playing cooperative games.
Forbidden Island was a revelation to our family. We started playing from when Inigo was around 4 years old, and we played endlessly. Each player has a special ability, and they work together to recover parts of our ship and escape the island before it sinks into the ocean. Each player is unique, and contributes something to the team. If one player is lost, we all lose.
Next we played Pandemic, the board game. A more sophisticated game, this one involves treating disease outbreaks around the world, finding cures, and eradicating them. Again, we work as a team with unique abilities, and we live or die together as a team.
Pandemic is brilliant for learning communication skills, listening to other people’s ideas, and then deciding on a plan. Often the strategy requires multiple rounds of careful planning, and things can be disrupted as the game changes each round. So adapting to current conditions, and accepting change is important too. But we are all in this together, and no matter how hard it gets, we are all together, we are all important, and no voice is valued more than any other.
Once upon a time, someone called me out for racist behaviour. Then I learned that my behaviour was hurting people, then I changed. The key words here are “learned”, and “changed”. I learned because someone pointed my behaviour out to me (thanks Amelia!), and I changed, because I don’t want to hurt people.
I can’t say I won’t ever do another racist thing. I can’t say I have done all the learning I have to do to become anti-racist. But I can say that I am committed to the change. I can say that I recognise the harm I have done, and I am going to keep working. I can say that I believe in growth, and connection, and community. I believe that together we are more than the sum of our parts. I believe that life is not a zero sum game.
I want to see the knitting community grow and adapt to the changes that are happening right now. I don’t believe this is an “us Vs. them” scenario, and I don’t believe that there is one single voice that speaks for the entire community. I believe that through respectful dialogue we can find a way forward. I believe we have many shared values, that knitters want to be kind, and that diversity strengthens us all.
I believe that life is not a zero sum game.
I believe that we can all be winners.
If you are interested in more discussion on the psychology of “us vs. them” decision making, I thoroughly recommend this episode of The Hidden Brain Podcast.
•True story – I actually ruptured a disk playing Monopoly. It wasn’t worth it.
Woke up beside the bloke that chose to spend his life with me sixteen years ago today, and has chosen to stay with me every day since.
I ran an online D&D dungeon crawl game for a group who were mostly strangers to me a few weeks ago, but are fast becoming “my people”. Squid and Mark joined in today, and many orcs had ignominious ends.
One of my bridesmaids video called me in her bunny pyjamas and tiara, so I also grabbed one and spent the rest of the day wearing it.
We had cheese, tomato, and branston pickle sandwiches in the shade of our lovely lilly pilly tree in the front yard, and waved at all the neighbours who were out and about.
Cooked some bulk dinner while the boys rejuvenated the veggie garden, and they found some baby mice that we warmed up, fed a little, and returned in the hopes that mama would come and take care of them.
And the story of the day?
Squiddo went to Countdown for some garlic stuffed olives (it was an emergency, ok?), and the paper bag he was using as a shopping basket tore. He left the groceries and the torn bag in the aisle, and went to purchase a fresh bag. The countdown staff gave him the bag for free, and when he returned, someone had left a reusable bag beside his little pile of groceries.
There is a growing body of claims that Role Playing Games, and D&D in particular, are great for kids.
Being the owner of a kid, and also being scientifically minded, I have been doing my own single subject research for the past few years, and have come to the conclusion that smiting + social support + consistent play = engaged, happy, creative, social kid.
And since I’ve now been playing games with kids for more than half the year (one weekly game at each of two schools, plus another home campaign with kids, plus a campaign where the adults welcome a kid player), I thought it might be time to gather a few resources about playing with kids.
This article has a great overview of the benefits of RPG’s in a school setting.
An “official” video (featuring some famous faces) about the lifelong impact of D&D. Please note that one of the people featured in this video is an ex “adult” film performer, so don’t google her unless you have your filters on!
A TEDx Talk – “Why D&D is Good for You”
I have set up a slack channel for the kids I DM for to communicate with each other, I welcome parents to join up too. Please contact me to get access, as this is a closed server. I’ve also set up an account on D&D Beyond, so that the kids have electronic access to the Players Handbook and other resources that I have (they don’t have to pay to access this). Once they have set up an account I can send you (or them) a link to join my campaign.
At some point I may set up a virtual game so that kids can play from home, but for now I am trying to encourage face to face games to facilitate social connection, and get away from endless screen time!
I’ll continue to add resources here, and I welcome any questions you might have.
Over the last week or so, the knitting universe has been in uproar over posts, comments and responses made on the social media of a knitting personality. Having had a small taste of infamy years ago, I have every sympathy. I understand that when the online world you inhabit seems to turn against you, it can feel overwhelming, and putting your mental health first is vital. Right now, he needs to do what he can to recuperate, and care for himself, and though my words today are going to be critical of his actions, I believe it is vital for us all as allies to examine what it means to be an ally, and sometimes that will mean recognising that sometimes good people do shitty things.
I think of myself as a good person. I’ve done shitty things. I said an offhand thing online during the marriage equality debate that I didn’t think through, and it haunts me to this day. The pain of knowing what I did, knowing that it hurt people I care deeply about is uncomfortable. But I don’t have the luxury of forgetting about it. That discomfort drives me – it reminds me that being an ally isn’t something I should turn on and off when it’s convenient for me.
I have quite a lot of privilege. In some aspects of my life I lack privilege, but I have enough that I recognise that the ability to step in and out of being an ally is also a privilege. If I see someone behaving badly, I get to choose how involved I get. The person who is directly affected by the bad behaviour doesn’t get that choice.
When someone behaves badly online, everyone who sees that post of comment has a chance to call it out. And that is WORK. It takes effort. And if it feels hard for you as a cis/het/white/able bodied (insert privileged group here) person, just imagine how it would feel to have to defend yourself. Over, and over, and over again.
Imagine having to defend your existence over, and over, and over. Imagine being attacked online, and having all your friends sit by and say nothing. Imagine feeling like nobody cares.
Depending on your age, your culture, your family background, you are going to have different ideas about what sort of behaviour is acceptable. My paternal grandmother, raised with a lot of privilege, and in an era where racism was the norm, used to love Chinese food. She’d take the whole family out for dinner to an upscale restaurant, and call every waiter “Charlie”, with absolutely no awareness that it was rude. As a young child, I wondered whether it was a formal title that was bestowed on only the best waiters, or maybe there was some secret society.
I learned over time, through having progressive parents, that this was racism. I learned to see it. And I saw a lot of it. The war in Lebanon was raging across the other side of the world, and though I knew nothing of the war, I started to see new faces in our suburb. The single Chinese takeaway was joined by an Italian pizza place, run by a big Lebanese family. My parents had a friend who made us stuffed zucchini and kibbe. Our Greek neighbours shared every family celebration with us, and I grew to adore their name days and weddings and sunday get togethers, with the men smoking and drinking in the backyard, while the women prepared dolmades and baklava in the crowded, noisy kitchen.
My dad told me recently that the first Chinese family moved in to our suburb around 1956. He grew up with a Lebanese family next door, and maintained a friendship with his childhood friend for many, many years. The land that I grew up on had been part of my paternal great grandfathers citrus orchard. My high school was once part of that orchard, and the bush that backs on to the school leads all the way up to the Central Coast. My childhood playground was that bush, where there are aboriginal rock carvings that prove the original inhabitants of that land were there for a long time before we came. And gone for a long time before I was born.
The land I grew up on was Aboriginal land. No doubt stolen generations ago, but never talked about or acknowledged. I grew up never seeing Aboriginal people.
Our suburb was very white. English, Irish, Scottish. We sang “God Save the Queen” every morning in primary school. The Chinese takeaway was a lynchpin, as were the Lebanese family that made the best pizza I’ve ever had. I don’t know what it must have been like for their kids growing up there, where nobody knew the “N” word, but we all knew plenty of slurs for asian and middle eastern people. I think it would have been pretty awful.
As a child, my slightly darker skin tone, long dark hair, and large eyes marked me as “different”. In a classroom full of Stephanies, Belindas and Karens, the racially hard to pin down “Larissa” (absolutely an impossible name for Sydney in the 1970’s) was an anomaly. I was teased mercilessly, both on the basis of my race, and my inability to make friends, for my weird intensity, and my “off with the fairies” demeanor. I was also teased for being a lesbian, which made me think I might be, despite having absolutely no idea what was wrong with that.
I was 47 before I found out I had inattentive ADHD. And almost 49 when I found out I’m probably autistic too (diagnosis would be expensive, and not necessarily useful, so I haven’t sought one yet).
I’m still mixed race, but these days we see way more diversity in our cities, so I’m just a face in the crowd, and very rarely get treated any differently on the basis of race. I’m from Sydney, and I live in Auckland, so my day to day existence is in the context of large, fairly multicultural cities. Context matters, and while travelling in Sri Lanka, I am definitely treated with greater deference than the locals. You may have different experiences than I have had.
But my gender identity matches my biology (I’m cis gendered). I’m attracted (almost exclusively) to men (I’m heterosexual), I’m married to someone who shares parenting duties (I’m not a single parent). We have enough money to buy a home, educate our kid, and have access to great healthcare.
So I’ve got areas where I have great privilege, and areas where I’m not so privileged, and I can sometimes use an ally too.
Privilege isn’t a binary. There is no such thing as privileged vs. the under-priviliged.
Every single one of us has layers of privilege and lack of privilege. In the knitting community, the most visible people tend to be white, middle class, and female. Within that community, being male actually affords you both privilege and a lack of it, depending on the context. In the wider community, being male affords you more privilege than being female.
The context in which an interaction exists can’t be ignored either. Online, some of us have much greater influence than others. Influence is power.
If I, as a white woman, walk into a knitting group, I know I will be accepted (*at least initially) because it is very likely I will see other white women in the room. That is an example of how I benefit from being part of the dominant group.
Now, I might suffer from social anxiety, and I might feel really scared to walk into the room for the first time. Or I might have a physical disability that means stairs are a challenge. Or maybe I need to be close to a toilet, or maybe I care for a relative, and my time away is precious and scarce. There are a million reasons why walking into that room might be challenging, but not being white isn’t one of them. And that’s what privilege means – of all the challenges I might be facing, race isn’t something I need to deal with.
All my life I’ve felt apart and other. Maybe that’s autism, maybe that’s growing up in a leftie family, with artists and scientists and challenging the status quo as natural as breathing. Or maybe I’m just a sensitive soul who identifies with the underdog, and I’ve just grown accustomed to the obligation of caring for those that need a hand. Regardless of the why, I’ve always been driven to do what I can to make the world a kinder, fairer place.
In 2012, whilst at Macquarie University, I trained to be an LGBTQ+ Ally, and was part of the university ally program. I signed up because I thought it would be an interesting way to meet people, and it was an idea I believed in. I never expected to learn as much as I did. And I still have a lot more to learn.
ThroughWhere Change Started, I’ve signed up for the Anti Racism Leadership Accelerator program. I’m a few weeks behind (another ruptured disk, plus international travel) but I’m learning a lot, and I recognise that this is a lifelong process of listening, learning, self examination and reflection, and that while I continue to strive towards being a great ally, I’m bound to make mistakes.
So I’m promising to myself that if I do stuff up, I’ll listen to criticism. I’ll take responsibility for my mistakes. I’ll repair what I am able to, and do the work I need to do to prevent myself from making the same mistake again. And I’ll try to share what I’m learning through Yarny Allies, and try to build that up as a resource for everyone who is seeking to grow along the same path.
So all of that is a really long way of saying the following –
if you experience something differently to me, I promise that I’ll listen to your experience
if you share your experience with me, I promise that I will believe you
if I’ve done something that causes you pain or makes you feel unsafe, I’ll do whatever I can to repair and take responsibility
if I see someone behaving in a way that makes you feel unsafe, I’ll speak out
if you are speaking, and not being heard, I will make way for you, retweet you, promote you and amplify your voice
the areas in which I lack privilege are irrelevant to any discussion of your oppression. I will not use my fragility to dismantle your right to expression.
So, where do I stand on the Sockmatician?
Nathan is a nice guy. He’s gregarious, and friendly, and funny, and he does clever things with knitting. He’s openly gay, and openly living with HIV. That takes bravery and brains, for him to recognise that he can be a role model for opening people’s minds about what it means to be living with HIV. When I was in my early twenties, the world was crazy with fear over HIV, and openly declaring yourself to be positive was absolutely unthinkable then. That has changed, largely due to people like Nathan being brave enough to share their stories, despite any fear of conflict, retaliation, or rejection.
I met Nathan while he was in NZ, and I thought him to be a positive role model for the knitting community. That wasn’t long after he started promoting the use of the #diversknitty hashtag, and it had taken off. I believed he genuinely and passionately wanted to promote diversity within the knitting community.
Since I started writing this post (overland travel within Sri Lanka has meant it’s taken several days so far), there has been a further incident which raised the stakes significantly, so my initial statement would have been directed differently.
An oversimplification of events would run a little like this –
Nathan posts on instagram about it being a year since his promotion of the hashtag, noting it’s widespread use. And asking for a change in how the hashtag is used, requesting that people use it to spread only messages of positivity.
Feedback is given in comments that his post is undermining people who are using the hashtag, that they have defined what it means to them, and that tone policing their use of it is insensitive and tone deaf. At a time when the knitting community is undergoing growth and change, we aren’t yet at a point where we can all be sunshine and rainbows.
Some of the feedback isn’t super nice and conciliatory. Nathan responds to criticism by rudely dismissing suggestions that he might educate himself about the issues people are raising. His partner steps in and rallies supporters to gather information about people who are critical. Nathan insists that he is a nice guy and only doing his best to make the world a better place. He then goes dark, and then his husband and sister both post saying that he has been hospitalised (without any further information about why), and that people shouldn’t be nasty.
The two main instagram posts had gathered thousands of comments. Then they disappeared, along with all Nathan’s social media presence. Ben has updated his blog, referring to mobs, bullying, and portraying Nathan as the victim of online bullies.
Nathan was apparently released from hospital, and attended a yarn event to sign copies of his book. At this signing, he was approached by a woman who wanted to engage with him about how his actions had affected her. He had to be physically restrained from attacking her.
I’m not providing links – this woman has suffered enough abuse because of what happened, I am not going to expose her to the mob. I believe her account of the event.
There are two terms I need to introduce here. White Fragility, andRacist Bypassing. You may have heard these terms before, you may not have, but please take a moment to familiarise yourself if you aren’t already.
This is a pretty classic case of an avowed ally missing something important, getting called out, reacting defensively (white fragility), and using racist bypassing behaviours (hiding behind an intersectional identity, and avowed commitment to “the cause”). My experiences as a bullied kid don’t mean I have a universal understanding of the issues BIPOC friends experience, and I shouldn’t need to be shielded from criticism of my behaviour, just because I experienced something vaguely analogous. My actions last week of being a brilliant ally don’t give me a free pass from being thoughtless and unkind this week. Being an ally is a commitment that needs to be lifelong, if it is going to have any meaning, and the commitment to learning and continuing to learn and grow doesn’t have an end date.
Bottom line. mental health is serious. We should all take as much care of our mental health as we take of our physical health. Sometimes that means withdrawing until we have the capacity to engage at the level required of us. For a public figure with a wide influence, that level might require more capacity than for the rest of us. Take that time. Do not use poor mental health as an excuse to not listen to criticism. Do not use your own fragility as a weapon against marginalised people. Do not think you understand the universal experience of all oppressed peoples just because you belong to a marginalised group.
Being gay means you experience oppression and marginalisation – but it doesn’t mean you experience oppression and marginalisation in the same way that BIPOC people do. If you have been treated badly, you have some insight into what it feels like for you – don’t assume that you can extrapolate your experience into a universal understanding of oppression.
Do the work. Examine yourself. Listen to criticism. Learn from people who have different experiences than you. Apologise when you are wrong.
*Of course, I’m not “neurotypical”, and sooner or later, the people in the room will work out that I’m a little strange, and they might start treating me differently later.
** This examination of events is my own perspective, seen from great distance, and is possibly factually incorrect in some details. I was traveling when I wrote this, and though I sought support from two friends who were following events more closely than I was able to, all mistakes are my own.