January 30th, 2019.
I received a text message from a friend on the other side of the world.
We had met nearly two years previous at a yarn festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Both feeling alone and a bit awkward among the crowds of people who all seemed to be with friends. She was quiet and reserved, but I could sense a spirit of adventure in her. We wound up meeting the next evening for dinner at a cute little spot off the Royal Mile. After parting ways and going to our homes in different countries, we kept in touch through text message and Instagram and YouTube. She is a knitwear designer and designed a beautiful wrap in my yarn. She gave the pattern a name that meant "friend".
The following year we planned on actually going to the same yarn festival together, sharing a room in Edinburgh and then spending about five days traveling further north into the Scottish highlands. What an adventure! We rented a car and nervously made our way north on the "other" side of the road. We saw castles, The Isle of Skye, and Glencoe shrouded in misty clouds and rain. Scotland is one of my favorite places in the world, and it was so much nicer exploring it with a friend.
We continued to stay in touch. She designed another pattern in my yarn. For Christmas she sent me a lovely little package including a handmade ornament and some delicious candies from her country.
A week or two into January of this year an American woman who owns a very well-known knitting-related company wrote a heartfelt blog post about her excitement to travel to India in the new year. She is reserved and hadn't traveled much. Going to India was a big deal and a bit scary for her. At one point in the post she compared it to going to Mars. And she explained how she had always been so enchanted by the culture and the people.
In the course of a few days this post had been shared throughout the knitting community as a prime example of white supremacy and racism. This is all anyone was talking about. She was called a bitch, a racist, a white supremacist, and accused of "white fragility" on multiple accounts. One screenshot I took that was being shared around by one of the most prominent "activists" read thus:
This gem: I used to just hate her because her brand is white privilege aspirational and her shit is unaffordable. Now I can hate her for being a clueless racist, too. Boo? Yay? (laughing with tears emoji)
It seemed like nearly everyone was jumping on the bandwagon, condemning her and also apologizing for their own whiteness (if they were white, which most of them were). In an article published a month or two after this event one of the anti-racist activists said that what happened to this woman was "...shitty, but if that’s what it takes to get the conversation started, I have trouble spending a lot of time feeling bad about it"(Vox.com) Ah, it makes me feel so much better knowing that this isn't keeping her up at night.
This writer of the India blog post did apologize profusely after a day or two. She even went over to one of the main "activist's" Instagram accounts and left an apology in the comments on her latest post. This activist accused the author of harassment and "stalking". Mind you, the activist had been sharing around a detailed outline of how racist and wrong this woman's post was. It was all public and in the open for anyone to see and read (and thousands did). And this activist accused the writer of "stalking" for simply going on her public Instagram account, apologizing and trying to defend herself in the comments.
For many the apologies weren't enough, and they said her future actions would be proof of true repentance. In the midst of this, other companies were targeted for being racist or not inclusive enough. The activists speaking out against them set up donation accounts where you could pay them for their "emotional labor".
I spoke with people privately who agreed that things had been blown out of proportion and it was causing a huge divide in the knitting community. The activists relished the chaos and said it was a good and necessary change.The words used were "inclusive" and "safe space", but the reality was quite the opposite. But the people I spoke with had businesses that would be targeted if they said anything. So, silence or submission were required.
My gut told me something wasn't right. I felt that this wasn't about racism or inclusivity. It didn't focus on celebrating and loving all people of color, but rather on vilifying those deemed "problematic", including yourself if needed.
Even though the writer of the India blog post had apologized and seemed to be accepted back into the fold for the most part, it still seemed like there would always now be a stigma attached to her products. I did feel bad for her, and knew that behind the pretty pictures on Instagram, this was probably affecting her greatly, and would continue to do so for a long time. I knew this could happen to anyone. It could happen to me.
I left Instagram and said why. I didn't feel safe. Hatred and chaos were reigning supreme. Gossip was spreading like wildfire. I didn't want to be a part of it. I don't know if this was the right decision, but I did it anyway. They said I left because of my "white fragility", and I was able to leave because of my "white privilege".
A week after leaving Instagram I talked about this in a YouTube video. I talked about how I thought they had taken a good social justice issue and used it as a way to go after and attack other small businesses. I believed it wasn't about the issue they claimed it was about, but rather an excuse to throw dirt on others in order to make themselves look more virtuous. This was my gut feeling and I shared it. The activists found the video and had a field day...or rather, a field fortnight. Soon I was the most hated person in the whole knitting community. I received hundreds of negative comments and emails. Many from people I knew personally who wanted me to come out with a public apology. To this day I am still trying to figure out what sort of apology would've satisfied them.
A few activists were frantically going around hunting down my followers or anyone who had designed a pattern in my yarn. They told them to unfollow me and remove my name from their patterns...or else! One of these designers was my friend from the Edinburgh yarn festival. Someone had sent her a message saying she needed to remove my name from her wrap pattern knit in my yarn.
So, she sent me a text asking me if I was a racist. Her tone was very serious. I told I was very sorry that any friend of mine was caught up in this. I truly felt awful. I said I was not a racist, nor a Nazi, as that was the rumor being spread around. I received her reply the next day.
"Our views on the subject of racism and the importance of talking about it existing in the world today are clearly different. I was perhaps a bit naive in thinking we were on the same page about it. I have posted about this on Instagram today as I felt I needed to be clear about not supporting your views. I am very unsettled and saddened by all of this on so many levels."
This is very sad, but I understand.
That was the last I heard of her. I laid down in bed and cried and went to sleep. Those who hate me will say sarcastically that these were "poor white tears". I didn't know what else to say to her. The weight of all the negativity directed towards me had left me so tired and worn out and sick. The knowledge that she had publicly denounced me on Instagram was perhaps the most hurtful single event of the whole episode. I could never imagine doing this to someone, especially a friend.
Her pattern retains the name "friend" (in a different language), but my name has been erased.
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