Tackling Racism in the Comment Section

A little time has passed since the killing of George Floyd spurred a wave of protest marches and activities in support of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world.

Like many, we posted in solidarity, wherever possible highlighting BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour) makers, stories and voices. We also promised not to slip back into “regular programming” but to ensure we continued to actively pursue this topic once the news cycle changed.

One of the things we have been reflecting on internally is how to deal with comments on the posts we have made on this subject (here on the blog, and on Instagram), some of which demonstrate white fragility and sometimes just plain racism. It’s a little trickier for us because we often have guest authors, so we need to consider their individual feelings and thoughts on the subject rather than having a blanket “policy” approach.

We think the first and most important aspect is to ensure that the Sewcialists remains a place where BIPOC authors and readers feel welcome and safe. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given our stated mission:

Our goal is to build community and make everyone feel welcome. Our blog is here for everyone to share their sewing stories and to celebrate our unique identities and experiences. We support crafting as an inclusive and welcoming space for people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, genders, orientations and sizes. If you sew, we want to hear your voice. 

Sewcialists Mission

However, what should we do if comments or questions on posts obstruct or seek to downplay or denigrate this mission? We have had comments recently about not “spoiling” sewing by making it political, and comments questioning why we need to focus on amplifying black voices over others.

For us there is no question about our mission and how combating racism fits into it. Comments about how “all lives matter” ignore the basic truth that our society does not behave as though all lives matter equally. In many countries, if you are black, you are more likely to be arrested by the police, suffer policy brutality or die in custody, to be found guilty and to receive a longer sentence. You are less likely to get a job interview with an identical CV if you have an “ethnic” sounding name and you will be paid less if you get that job, particularly if you are a woman. That’s without exploring poorer health outcomes, lower life expectancy and people feeling like they can just be mean to you without recompense or conscience. So that’s the broader context.

What of the notion that we are “spoiling” sewing by making it political? Well, it’s only not already political if you are white. Movements like Sew in Colour started by Rumana from The Little Pomegranate have previously highlighted how little the broader sewing-sphere shows us and promotes people of colour as a matter of course. Back in 2017 when Rumana launched #SewInColour, she collected 52 recent sewing magazines from some of the big companies and not one showed a BAME person on the cover. NOT ONE. So we have to do this actively and deliberately because expecting it to just happen hasn’t worked.

So then how to respond to those comments that ignore the above and seek to challenge the idea that we need to change something?

Our radical positivity approach makes us want to engage with these comments, in good faith; to start a conversation in the hope of broadening the understanding of the commenter and help them to see that their perspective ignores the daily lived experience of others and that that they contribute to a systemic and pervasive structure of in-built inequity which means that we can’t all “just enjoy sewing away from politics” because for some of us, there is no escape.

On the other hand, we also want to tell them that their attitude is unacceptable and unwelcome here. We want to rage and flame and block. We want to show there is zero tolerance for any of this any more and we don’t pander to it. Added to this, we know how many people have ever had their mind changed on the internet (precisely zero). It’s not exactly the place for rational, vulnerable debate.

So here is where we have landed so far, noting that we will engage with our guest authors on how they would like to handle (or not) comments on their post:

  1. If you have a question, if you really don’t understand, if you want to learn, you are welcome. We will try and help answer your question. Just think about how you word it so that your intent is clear.
  2. There is a fine line between a question and a passive aggressive not-really-a-question. You know where that line is.
  3. Where comments are flat out racist, they will be removed without apology.
  4. Where things are borderline, we will warn once, then we will remove / block.

This approach will apply across all forms of discrimination, in line with our mission.

We might have some of this wrong, but this feels like the right approach for Sewcialists. We don’t have all the answers and are feeling our way. We welcome your feedback and thoughts on all of the above. 🙂