One of the journals I…

One of the journals I really enjoy is Heather Ross's. She makes gorgeous fabric, but also at times writes beautifully and personally about her life. Her most recent entry is about her childhood, but it also references something I missed the first time around -- when she was accused of race fail for not including children of color in her fabric: On Ponies and Privilege. This is the image that set off that rant:

I don't think her work qualifies as fail, and I also think the original posters on the topic were out of line for both their focus on her and their harshness in phrasing. But I ended up writing a long response on her blog, so here it is. It's basically the same stuff I think about diversity in writing, applied to art / crafting.

Heather, I've been reading and enjoying your blog and work for some time, so please take this comment in that context.

I'm a fiction writer, not a crafter. Two years ago, a similar sort of explosion happened over in the genre writing world -- it was called Race Fail '09, and there was much discussion over many blogs and journals and such. As an editor and a writer in the field, and a person of color (I was born in Sri Lanka, and my skin is medium brown), I was asked to comment on it. I ended up writing two posts for a popular blog called Whatever, hosted by John Scalzi, and those two posts garnered about a thousand comments. The first post talked about race in SF/F, and the second talked about how writers could try to be more inclusive in their depictions of race and ethnicity, if they chose to. If interested, the two posts are here:

Part I

Part II

So that's where I'm coming from on this. I'm sorry I missed the critique of your work the first time around, because this is what I would have said:

a) I don't think any artist has an obligation to write about anything or anyone. Create what you love, what you're passionate about -- that's where your best work will come from. I think you clearly know that part of this already.

b) HOWEVER, if you can stretch yourself to represent the world more broadly, it will be appreciated. Including more diversity does good things for the field, and for your readership / fabric consumers. There's that great Whoopi Goldberg story she tells, about watching Star Trek as a little girl, and running into the kitchen after seeing Lt. Uhura, saying, "Mommy, mommy -- there's a black woman on tv, and she isn't a maid!" How inspiring that was, just seeing that woman there. There's a potential power in your work, that if you choose, you could take advantage of to help change the world. And the more well-known and more popular you are, the more power you potentially have in that regard. It's entirely up to you, though, whether you want to try to take that on.

So that's the political / artistic response. Here's the personal.

My partner is white, my children are mixed race. They can pass for white, but I tend to buy them art that looks more S. Asian, because their whiteness (and the beauty / desirableness of whiteness) is already plenty reinforced by the world they live in. Even if we were living in Sri Lanka instead of Chicago, they would constantly be hit by images of pretty white people, especially of girls and women. I don't want my kids to feel like they need to be white in order to be attractive or have worth.

So yes, I would, personally, deeply appreciate it if you or other fabric artists would create images that showed Asian faces. I've already bought some of your mermaid fabric, and will likely get your princess and the pea fabric soon too, but if you had some Ramayana fabric, I would be on that like a shot. Princess Sita, the monkey king, the demon Ravana in his tower, the island across the waters, the golden deer in the forest. If I could draw, I would do them myself! But since I don't have that skill, all I can do is wait and hope that artists like you might create the work someday. It's not your story, I know. But it might be one you could learn to love?

In the words of one my Jewish friends, it's not your job, but if you created such art, it would be a mitzvah.

Thanks for listening!

One thought on “One of the journals I…”

  1. Terrific post, thank you. I think you really summed up the way I tend to feel about this issue — not to mention that you pointed me to a new-to-me artist whose work is gorgeous!

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