The other day the New York Times published an article titled, Scrapbooking Isn’t Just for White People, and I rolled my eyes. Not because the article isn’t correct, I have scrapbooks and have friends who love scrapbooking. I rolled my eyes because the New York Times felt it even necessary to write those words in 2020. I’m not surprised, though. Every day someone is waking up to the fact that we’ve centered our world on whiteness being the default, which makes it hard for people of color to get noticed or equal footing. When I read the title, I realized you can insert any craft or activity in place of Scrapbooking and get the same effect:
Knitting isn’t just for white people.
Weaving isn’t just for white people.
Running isn’t just for white people.
Sailing isn’t just for white people.
Joy isn’t just for white people.
Existing in a space where you feel comfortable isn’t just for white people.
In the responses to my questionnaire about topics for this column, I got questions about my work: what I do and how I balance it all. For those that may not know, I am a professor at Howard University, a HBCU (Historically Black College and University), where I teach social media marketing and business communications courses. I’m also a full-time doctoral student, getting my doctorate in Communications. I study and read a lot about Black women and representation in online spaces because of my interests in social media and feminism. I read a lot and am constantly mulling over my own existence in online spaces, what that looks like to people who don’t look like me, and how I can use my own voice to make some kind of impact in the world.
I also knit a lot as a way to try to give my brain a break from all of the heavy things I read on a daily basis. One thing that strikes me is that when a non-Black person finds out I work at an HBCU (and it is my undergraduate alma mater), I’m often asked why do we even need HBCU’s anymore. One of the reasons is because of articles like the one in the New York Times, showing that color is often an afterthought because White has been the default for so long.
Open up Ravelry, go to a pattern search page and count how many non-white models you see over the first five pages of patterns. You won’t find many people of color (or men, but that’s another conversation). When I was a beginning knitter, the whiteness all over Ravelry made me feel like the knitting industry didn’t have space for me. I made my own space with my blog, Yards of Happiness, but that shouldn’t always be the answer.
Over the last few years I have purposefully posted my own photographs of me modeling the things I knit because I want to be seen. I want people to know Black women knit and smile and dress their dogs in coordinating sweaters—just like you. With every feature I get online, inevitably I get emails and Ravelry messages from other Black women telling me they’re excited to know they’re not the only ones. To me it has always been clear that representation matters. To some, that’s a new realization because they’ve always seen themselves represented in the world.
In addition to writing about race and the world around us, I am still knitting. I feel like in the last few weeks I’ve gotten my knitting appetite back and I just can’t knit enough things. Currently I am:
- Knitting the Elorie sweater by Elizabeth Doherty with a lovely cotton tape yarn. It is light and floaty and a perfect all-weather piece I can’t wait to finish.
- Thinking about making the Speckles and Spice Top by Tamy Gore. This short sleeve colorwork top should be a quick knit that might get made in various color palettes.
- Admiring the Chaika Sweater by Midori Hirose, which I made for myself and Jellybean. This pattern gives you ways to make it a completely unique sweater with fingering weight up to worsted weight yarn, short to long sleeves and more length or width. It truly is a choose your own adventure type of knit.