*Hits publish and waits for the trolls* I got my first trolls a few weeks ago. Seriously, just don’t bother, I won’t engage. Didn’t I tell you I was a little bit sassy? PS. My title was meant to be a little bit provocative to get your attention.
Reviving my fiber arts business has made me personally reflect on my life experiences, not only as a business person, but also on my career as a yarn shop owner and yarn dyer. Most of my experiences are good and only very few laden with the self-doubt that usually is involved with being a person of color in any realm of life. What does that all mean? Well, let me share a little bit of that with you today.
First, A Brief Sociology Lesson
Although I was born in Florida, I have spent most of my life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and its suburbs. Milwaukee competes with other major cities each year being one of the most segregated cities in the country.
That doesn’t necessarily mean what most people think it means; it means that there are pocket communities within the city itself, but it also means that there is a lot of racial disparities, class/caste divides, and a ton of stereotypes about ANYONE and EVERYONE flying around.
Race is actually a social construct, so the definition of being a person of color has changed throughout history. Being black usually meant being an “undesirable” or “unacceptable”. It didn’t always mean African American, but included a number of ethnicities that now would be classified as Caucasian or White. It is because of that fact – and my personal family genetics – that I do not personally identify as black, but as either “other” or “mixed race”.
So WHAT are you?!
Sassy answer: I’m a superhero.
Semi-sassy answer: I’m human.
Real answer: There isn’t a real answer. I don’t fit into a nice and neat category and that bugs A LOT of people. My father’s family is Jamaican and Costa Rican with history that can be traced back to a dude that got kicked out of Ireland (What the hell do you have to do to get kicked out of Ireland?! ). On my mother’s side there’s (*deep breath*) German, French, Swiss, Native American, Chinese, and somewhere, buried deep is a couple drops of African American.
As a result of that cocktail of nationalities, this All-American Navy brat has “frotastic” curly hair, freckles, and white chocolate, mocha-colored skin with olive undertones (thanks to my Costa Rican familia). All that European background means I have some blonde hair mixed in to my deep brown and ZERO booty to shake, but all the other bass clef, Marilyn Monroe-esque curves.
My kids are various shades of beige ranging from “glow in the dark” to caramel latte. Ola has auburn/red curly hair, Sharky always looks pale, and Peanut was born with Royal Blue eyes (which has changed to a gorgeous shade of hazel).
But This is 2017! How does being a POC effect your fiber arts business?!
Meh, most days, it doesn’t. Seriously, I’ve been #blessed beyond words. My regular customers are wonderful and I have no complaints. In fact, I would argue that the fiber arts industry is much more open-minded than the rest of the country, probably why fiber artists have been the face of a lot of different social change movements both recently (think pink hats and knit/crochet uteri) and in the past. Remember, the road to change is paved with yarn.
Most of the effects are self-inflicted, but I have had some experiences that shape how I personally choose to do business. How?
- I refuse to be a patron to businesses that show obvious bias against me personally or my business. Not naming names, but outside of the fiber arts industry, there are some hotels that I will not stay at because of terrible service as the result of my perceived race and also because of my gender. One chain even went so far as to not return my calls when I filed a complaint, but they would return my then husband’s calls within minutes of his voicemails.It was only months later, when I filed a public review of management’s treatment of me and had the credit card company reverse charges, did I receive a call, which went something like, “You can’t possibly think we discriminated against you. Come stay with us again, free of charge, and we’ll change your mind.” To which I responded, “You couldn’t pay me enough to make me want to stay there again. Money is not something that motivates me.” *click*
- I am actively inclusive of ALL people. Hey, I may not always be able to properly vocalize how much of a neutral person I am, but seriously, everyone who isn’t a danger to me or my family is welcome in my proverbial store and is welcome to a hug if we ever meet in person. I also started out with silent tutorials to be inclusive of my hearing impaired audience.
- I pledge to get in front of the camera more so that people of color can have a fiber arts hero that looks like them, even if I didn’t. My new motto these days, “If you can’t find a hero that looks like you, be that hero.” I am working on building up my self-esteem to get in front of the camera and introduce myself to you personally. See the person behind the knitting and crocheting hands and the personality behind the crass and sass.
We don’t always get to see people of color in fiber arts, so it can lead to a lot of self-consciousness for those of us to don’t fit the mold of stereotypical knitter or crocheter.Since knit and crochet design also fits into the realm of fashion, I need to get out and represent the curvy-hipped, larger-bosomed ladies like myself. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and colors of the rainbow, and I want OMG Yarn to reflect that vision. I’m totally ok with you and want you to be ok with you too!
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