This is White Privilege

26 05 2019

The Madison Quilt Expo sent out a call for submissions to their Modern Mini Quilt Challenge (#modernminiquiltchallenge). This is my entry and here is what I wrote with my submission:

From the spaces we enter to the people we encounter to the opportunities provided – we white people have a responsibility to identify what role white privilege factors in.

Someone had asked the organizers of the challenge to explain the meaning behind the quilt. They forwarded the question so it could be answered in my own words. It was a great opportunity to force me to articulate why those words were chosen. Here is what I wrote:

There are a many meanings or prompts for the quilt. Here are a few:

  1. The quilting community is very white. I see this at every guild meeting, QuiltCon, Quilt Market, and in the faces of our leaders and teachers. Yes, there are exceptions, but not very many. And we (mostly) white women don’t talk about it. We don’t have to. That is white privilege.
  2. When I go into those spaces as a white woman, I may have social concerns or anxieties navigating those spaces, but race is never one of them. That is white privilege.
  3. Recently, the Modern Quilt Guild intentionally excluded the voice of a woman of color when putting out a call for a quilt challenge because they didn’t want to make their members uncomfortable. They did the correct thing by honestly owning the action and intent and apologizing in an email to all members. But that omission is white privilege.

4. The quilt is intentionally designed to have a layer of white over predominately black and white fabric to represent that we white people tend to “white wash” the world by centering the world around us and considering and referring to other demographics as “other” – because we can – because that is what we have been conditioned to do. An example of this is including a racial descriptor when referring to a non-white person (“a black woman came into the store today”), but not doing the same when referring to a white person. The descriptor is omitted with the assumption being that the person is white. That’s white privilege.

5. Acting out of white guilt instead of white responsibility is white privilege.

I could go on. But basically, those thoughts above contribute to the meaning of the quilt.
My hope is that this will prompt more conversations in the quilting world that are long overdue.

The knitting community has begun this conversation. The Modern Quilt Guild has issued an Inclusion Statement  and has an Inclusion and Diversity Task Force. But, in general, we just don’t talk about the lack of diversity in our community.

Where am I in this? Stumbling, but listening and learning and talking. I spent years denying that I could be a Becky. Not only am I one, but I have done harm to people I care about under the guise of “I couldn’t possibly be one of those white girls because I grew up on the streets in inner-city-Rockford, my boyfriends were black, my friends were/are black, I’ve been to Africa, dammit!” But I was – am – and am in the process of taking responsibility for that.

And I know for a fact that I have benefited from white privilege. One of the fortunate things about southern racism is that it’s open and in your face (as opposed to the too-nice-but-always-just-below-the-surface Wisconsin version). While in the Air Force stationed in Georgia, my last job was in an office working under the base commander. One day, we were talking about race and my supervisor stated very directly that if I had been black, he wouldn’t have had me working in his office. This was the mid-80s. In Georgia. He reported directly to the base commander. My enlistment was almost up. I didn’t say anything. That’s white privilege.

But it’s also having an all white (often male) leadership team at work and not asking HR and senior leaders “why”?

And it’s microaggressions.

And it’s centering ourselves and our denial when a non-white person tries to tell us their experience.

We can all do better.

Resources to continue (or start) the work

  • Google “White Privilege”
  • Read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Follow Layla Saad on Instagram (@laylafsaad) – and read and learn – and buy her “Me and White Supremacy” book when it comes out and support her and her work in Patreon
  • Follow Rachel Cargle on Instagram (@rachel.cargle) – and read and learn – and support her and her work on Patreon
  • Support non-white artists and art with your attention and dollars

[The quilt was made by cutting fabric hexagons into letter shapes, layering with Kona White, and then straight line quilting with various weight and color thread. Color and heavy grey stitches are made with 12wt Cotton by Wonderfil. Alternate light grey rows made with 80wt DECO-BOB by Wonderfil.]