Hello, all. I’m Wanett. Or Nettie. Or @sownbrooklyn around the web.
I’m an academic librarian living and working in Brooklyn, New York where I was born and raised. Which means I am short of patience, pushy on the subway and have perfected my resting b@#ch face. My main professional and academic research focuses on the places where Black and fashion histories intersect. I love to share those things via Instagram and in RL.
Since being asked to contribute to this blog, I have written this post a thousand times or more in my head. Its topic is one I think about daily as I scroll my way through Instagram and Pinterest and less frequently, blogs. It’s at the forefront of my professional life as a librarian and in the lives of those close to me who work as actors, artists and writers. It took up prime residence as Instagrammers of color shared their thoughts and research in posts that were regrammed outside of Black social media spheres.
Diversity. Or more accurately put the lack of it.
Even as people of color reach new heights in their chosen fields we still have to contend with announcements of the first (fill in the blank) to be appointed as this or that, to achieve such and such status, to receive a top honor. It’s a constant reminder that for all our progress there are still areas where our presence is uncommon. The crafty world is no different.
I have made things all my life. I come from a legacy of making that extends back to the very foundations of the United States. If there was a task to be done as this nation was founded, a Black person typically performed it. We were the first farmers, chefs, event planners, seamstresses, designers, cobblers, cabinet makers, carders, weavers, spinners, make-do and menders, farm-to-tablers, laundresses, foodies, you name it. The credit for these innovations was misplaced and when these same tasks and abilities were desired by others who needed to earn a wage, they became elite, coveted and segregated. Suddenly our skills were less in demand and even shunned. Many were run out of business when competition became fierce. Through the passage of time, we became disassociated with the very skills we pioneered.
So, when you see a modern day Black woman knitting or sewing or weaving or cobbling shoes or carding fiber or spinning yarn, she is not following trends. She is a continuation of a legacy. Of course we would not only be interested in knitting, spinning, dyeing, shoe making, designing, pattern making… we would excel in practicing any craft. Nevertheless, this excellence is not immediately apparent when browsing craft magazines, reading popular blogs and features on coveted designers. People of color are rarely workshop instructors or retreat organizers or craft book authors.
Why this disconnect? This topic has been taken on over in Instagram Land with many chiming in with opinions. Some say it’s a lack of awareness, others see blatant discrimination, still more think that the problem is lack of visibility or an industry disregard for the need to seek out diverse artisans to champion. I see it as a combination of all. These issues were apparent to POC ages ago. We have been talking about it for decades. Centuries even. However, like with all discrimination, we need those who are not affected in order to effect change.
I have had the great fortune to make life-long friends through my hobbies. Women from backgrounds very unlike my own who I have formed unbreakable bonds with. I know the power of having strong allies and benefited from sharing perspectives and life experiences with other women. We all benefit when we can each revel in the expression of our fullest self.
Inclusivity, diversity and MOST importantly retention of fledgling crafterprenuers is required to broaden the maker landscape. We need editors, yarn storeowners, retreat organizers, workshop venues, and other every day crafters to see us and respect us. To make allowances for our inclusion until the allowance is no longer necessary. Trust in our abilities and look for ways to expand your standard list of who’s who to include us. Without ceremony. Without pats on the back and blinking signs demanding acknowledgement. Let it be common to include. And keep on doing it. And never stop.
If you’d like to follow along with the discussion on Instagram, check crafters @lhamiltonbrown, whose posts sparked the recent online discussion of the erasure of Black crafters, and @ggmadeit, who has blogged about these issues while highlighting crafters of color. Additionally hashtags like #blackknittersofinstagram and #diversknitty are a great place to start looking for new people to follow, designers and crafterpreneurs to support.
Or to simply appreciate a well-executed craft.