Since February and March, the face of our society has changed significantly. At first, it was learning about the novel coronavirus, then learning how to live with COVID-19 (the disease caused by the virus). Now, as the world tries to reopen and develop a sense of normalcy, the recent chaos in the United States has so many of us watching in fear and despair. In the midst of this, is a blog or Facebook page about quilting really worth anything? Is it a light in a world that is getting progressively darker, or is it inappropriate and tone deaf when others are suffering?
It is times like this when people must speak out and support each other. I read and watch the news regularly. I try to get a balanced view of what is going on, but when all hell breaks loose, and people are literally fighting for their voices to be heard and their lives to be spared, I lose the ability to see the “other side.” Because I don’t believe there is an “other side” when it comes to human rights.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s, amid the turmoil we would read about in the U.S. But Canada had and still has its own issues with race. Take a look at how the First Nations people in Canada are treated and the existence of not-so-silent but “polite” racism against people of colour, as well as the denial by many that systemic racism even exists. We can’t ignore the desecration of synagogues and mosques. In North America, how many people are ridiculed for their accent when they speak or try to speak English? When I hear this derision and the insults, I will turn to the bully and say, “and how many languages do you speak?” I usually get a blank stare in return.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will already know that I’m passionate about art, quilting, and giving to others. Over the past couple of months, I’ve made and donated to my community over 500 cloth masks, made with fabric from my quilting stash. In exchange, I only ask that they donate to my local food bank. Friends from across the U.S. and Canada have also donated to this cause as well as to food banks local to them. I’m very proud of what this accomplished. But when it comes to the civil unrest in the U.S., I can’t do anything solid like that. There is nothing I can make or give. And now I wonder if there is a place for a blog like mine that focuses on sewing pretty things.
I don’t talk about political issues online because the written word can be twisted and deliberately misunderstood. That doesn’t mean I don’t speak about political issues. Ask any of my friends – I do and sometimes a little too much. But I try to keep this place politics-free. However in today’s setting, I am making an exception. I tried to raise my children to see everyone for who they are and what they do. When we would hear people say, “I don’t see colour/age/disability” when trying to demonstrate how open minded they were, I would tell my kids that I didn’t want to hear them say that. I told them that of course we see colour and any other defining feature of a person. Not seeing colour or stating that you are colour blind takes it away from them. A person of colour wants to be seen, not to be not noticed. The thing is that you DO see the colour of their skin, just as you would someone’s hair colour, but it doesn’t matter.
I would teach them also the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Some of the expressions I hate most are “I’m a tolerant person,” and “We live in a tolerant society.” Would you want to be tolerated? Of course not. Either you accept someone for who they are or you don’t. Tolerating is not the same thing as accepting.
If you are not a person of colour but you wonder what you can do to help, there are opportunities everywhere. I no longer say I am lucky when things go my way. I say I’m privileged. That may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s not. Despite difficult and painful roadblocks in my way, my privilege as an educated white woman allowed me to overcome them. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard. It was. But privilege doesn’t mean you have it easy. Privilege means you have advantages that others don’t have. I wasn’t hungry. I had a roof over my head. I had access to a good education and later, access to the mental health care I needed. This privilege allowed me to thrive.
Volunteer to help the less privileged in your community. It’s not uncommon to hear “they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” But you have to have bootstraps to pull up if you follow that line of reasoning. A hungry child won’t learn at school. An anxious or terrified parent can’t be all present for a needy child. A senior without social support may go hungry. We need to ensure that everyone has a bootstrap before we can expect them to pull them up.
Read work written by and about people of colour. Look at their art and learn about the stories behind it. Support businesses owned by people who don’t look like you. Acknowledge them as a vital part of the community.
Believe it when your friends or acquaintances, people of colour, share their stories. It’s not for you to say that they may have misinterpreted the situation or it “can’t be all that bad.” That person’s perception of what happened is that person’s reality. And racism doesn’t have to be in-your-face actions or words. Racism can be so subtle, only noticed by the targets. Accept that this is happening and speak up if you can.
Educate yourself. Don’t expect your friends of colour to have to educate you and explain everything. Read about history and read about now. Read about the fight for civil rights. Read about how riots were part of history to change so much and that white people protest and even riot too. Marching in the streets, going to prison, standing up for what is right is what gave women the right to vote, 5-day work weeks, overtime pay, people of colour traveling in seats they choose, and so much more.