Why Sydney is Cancelled
If you’re reading this, you probably know me from my accidental launch into activism in the knitting community on Instagram. My words — along with others’ — spread like wildfire in January and together, we were able to hold public figures, designers, yarn dyers, and companies accountable for the damage their words caused.
As much as was achieved and is still being achieved, these actions come at a cost. Speaking up makes us more visible and more easily targeted. On the one hand, loud dissension is needed for change to occur. On the other, loudness is jarring to those who find these concepts new or unfamiliar.
For BIPoC, the risk of speaking up is measurably greater. Those who work in the industry or aspire to to do so risk never being hired. My experience has been that whenever I speak out, I lose potential teaching opportunities. It’s gotten predictable. One time, I got to the point of sending a shop photographs and blurbs, expecting that they would get back to me about a date. Then I took the risk of posting about the importance of representation, about starting an Asian knitters hashtag — and never heard back from them again.
People in the community have been, and continue to be, categorically and systematically excluded for speaking out. Particularly for speaking out as a BIPoC. In my local weaving community, BIPoC have been singled out, intimidated, and attacked for being vocal. The risks we face are not small, nor are they isolated incidents. Every time we speak, we are risking everything.
To me, this is worth it: staying silent is intolerable, and gets more intolerable each day.
I consider myself heavily invested in this community. I spend a lot of time and money — too much — to ever have to justify my place in it. But I must, because there are those who need this justification. So here it comes:
I am a member of my local Spinners and Knitters Guilds. I edit the monthly newsletter for the Hand Weavers and Spinners Guild of NSW (a task shared with another volunteer). I publish articles regularly to the newsletter for the Knitters Guild of NSW. I go to meetings regularly. Until recently, I organised a spinning meetup in Sydney at the Happenstore — a 2+ hour journey for me by train. I have travelled this same journey to teach a stranger to spin — for free. (We are now good friends, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.)
Online, I have been very active on Instagram throughout my knitting and spinning life. I derive inspiration from others and give back in every way I can. My commitment to and passion for this community is something that is not open to question.
Since spearheading the discussion, I have received an outpouring of support online. It continues to be a source of strength for me. Friends stepped up right from the start in my defence and helped amplify the message. Other BIPoC became comrades, then trusted friends who I sorely needed. PLY Magazine approached me to write an article on the subject — I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I received tangible, monetary support from so many people, a much-needed reminder that the work is important, and has value.
My local community, however (particularly local yarn stores), have not made it explicit where they stand. It has been deeply personal and difficult to talk about. Suffice it to say that this is disturbing to me. A popular fibre retreat has refused to take steps towards inclusion. There are many who are keen to avoid the discourse.
A recent article in Quillette, a Sydney based publication, is a gut-wrenching testament to what the Sydney knitting community looks like. The title of the article contains the word ‘witch hunt’, which should tell you everything you need to know about the author’s allegiance. It defends Tusken Knits, who was shown to be aligned with extreme alt-right ideologies, and uses dog whistle appeals to followers who share these views. Tusken has also claimed that she has a lot of “support from many well-known names in the knitting industry.” She indeed has the support of Quillette, who incidentally, only sought out a statement from one person for said article: Maria Tusken’s.
If you’re not unequivocally in support of this movement for inclusion, of course you’re not extended the benefit of the doubt. How could I think otherwise? I fear that Tusken Knits does have the support of the silent majority in Sydney, maybe even in Australia. Not only is their silence harbouring racists in their sphere of influence and control (consciously or not), it is alienating all BIPoC in one fell swoop.
Obviously, that may not be enough to affect your business model. But is that all you care about? There is no future for this community unless BIPoC feel like they belong in it. This is me saying to you: do better. The alternative is nothing short of catastrophic.