I’ve tried incredibly hard since I was 10 to not be a racist and not do racist things. I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve tried and will continue to try. And I’m so very, very far from where I started at the age of 10. But still, even now, after taking college courses on where racism and history and privilege intersect, I still have that gut instinct to say “But I don’t do that/think that/feel that” whenever I read or hear about something that is “typically” white. And it occurred to me today, that there is so much more written about/spoken about that is “typically black” or “typically Latino/a”, etc. And I can’t help but feel that people who are black, or Latino/a, etc., are also feeling the urge to say “But I don’t do that/think that/feel that”.
And so I encourage you to suppress that urge when reading this article published on Gapers Block. I do not want to enable any deaths of anyone. I haven’t been silent, but I also haven’t been as vocal as I could. So, yes, “All Lives Matter”, but its time we all started thinking about people who aren’t ourselves who need more help than we do. As soon as unarmed white people are killed by police every 28 hours (or less), I’m willing to talk about how police need to stop treating white people so poorly. But until then, I’m going to focus on how “Black Lives Matter”. And I ask you to do the same. Especially if you’re not black.
My interactions with the police
Too long for the #crimingwhilewhite hashtag on Twitter.
I’m 43. I live in Chicago and went to high school and college in Columbus. I’m not a “bad” person and really haven’t committed any major crimes. But I’ve done some dumb stuff (like speeding, or turning the wrong way down a one-way street). And I can count the number of times the police have pulled me over or talked to me on the street on one hand. And the closest I’ve ever come to having a cop yell at me, was when I stopped to watch them arrest an African American man who had illegally run across the street, against a red light, to catch a bus. Something I’ve done hundreds? thousands? of times in my life. He tried explaining to them as they forced him to lay facedown on the sidewalk while he was handcuffed, that he was just trying to get to the daycare center because if he was late he had to pay a fine. (This was on Michigan Avenue in front of the Hancock Center in 1998 or 1999.) The cops laughed at him and said “If you do the crime, you gotta do the time.” I was confused, and appalled, and simply stared at the cops (probably open-mouthed in shock) when one of them pointed at me and said “Hey, Red! Get moving!”
I was pulled over while driving 9 or 10 years ago. And the cop just wanted to ask me what I thought about our Prius. Because his wife was thinking about getting one and he was talking to people who owned one to see what they thought.
I had gone fabric and pattern shopping with a friend that I was making a dress for 7 years ago. I had skipped dinner and was starving. I was driving north on Ashland when a cop pulled me over. I had no idea what I’d done so I told him (with a hand shaking from hunger) as I handed him my driver’s license and insurance card, that I didn’t think I’d blown a stop sign. He looked at me and said “There are no stop signs on this part of Ashland.” He paused and looked at me. “Are your hands shaking because you’re scared?” I shook my head and said, “No, I skipped dinner and am just really hungry, I think.” He handed back my cards and said, “There is a McDonald’s one block away. I need you to pull in there, eat a small hamburger at least, and sit for 20 minutes before getting back in your car. My wife has diabetes and blood sugar is nothing to take lightly.” I did as he said and thought “what a nice guy!”
I almost got pulled over two years ago while driving through the far south side with a friend while looking for a shop that sold a particular Chicago-sandwich (the mother-in-law). We were driving down a street, there were blue surveillance camera lights on every corner, it was almost dusk. We stopped at a red light. A cop car had been behind me and pulled up beside me. My friend and I were talking and laughing, the cop in the passenger seat was looking at me hard. I smiled at him and then picked up my WBEZ travel mug, took a sip from it and put it back in the cupholder. I turned back to look at the cop who was shaking his head, said something to the driver, and then smiled and nodded back at me. And it was in that moment that I realized he thought I might be “lost” and was going to offer help. Or he thought I might be looking to buy something illegal.
My interactions with the police are so very minimal. So very minimal.
These are practically my only interactions with the police for the past 10 years. I’ve been lucky. I’m also a white woman who “looks normal”. My visible appearance gives me privilege that I wouldn’t have if I were a 16-year-old black male in my neighborhood.
The apology I wanted
Thankfully, very thankfully, Ani Difranco made a true apology. And she thanked people for calling her out. This was the apology wanted. This brings tears of relief. I cry easy, so they’re real tears.
Thank you, Ani.
Open Letter to Ani Difranco
About a week ago Ani Difranco announced that she was going to be leading a retreat at Nottoway Plantation about an hour outside of New Orleans. This retreat would let a select group of attendees receive one-on-one attention from Ani and several other musicians who she has played with and helped get published for years to help them become better song writers. On Saturday, many feminists online began criticizing her decision to have a retreat on a plantation. On Sunday, Ani published a reply to her critics and announced that she was cancelling the retreat. As a vocal anti-racist, feminist, and anti-corporate activist since at least 1990 when she released her self-titled album Ani Difranco, her decision to have a retreat on a plantation was a surprise to many. And her cancellation announcement was a disappointment to many.
Andrew introduced me to Ani in 1996 and to say her words changed my brain, touched my soul, and inspired me to be better would be an understatement. She, her words, her business model, her focus affected me. She got me to critique many things I hadn’t thought about. Her business model affected how I run my own small business and it certainly helped effect how I thought about organizing a craft show for 10 years. I adore Ani, her work, her words, her influence. I had the chance to meet her briefly in 2004 when we saw her at a hotel lobby and I was so nervous that I couldn’t even say hello. So my dear friend and constant encourager Veronica said hello and thanked her for me. I’m still grateful for that.
However, today I’m saddened. A woman whose wise and challenging words have had such an effect on me, let me down. I still adore her. I still love her music and the effect she has had on me. But I hoped for more. And because I’m reeling, my thoughts are all over the board and unfocused and I hope that listing a few bullet points will help me process into something cohesive.
Some basic facts and my thoughts:
• Ani didn’t organize the retreat. A company approached her to do a retreat at an unnamed location just outside of New Orleans. She knew others who had used the organizer and liked the idea of spending the nights in her own bed. This makes sense. Organizing events like this is a lot of coordination and it is easier to have a company with established resources do it for you than to try and do it for yourself. And since Ani still has a young child, I can’t blame her for wanting to spend time in her own bed and see her child each day.
• Ani has spoken out for more than 20 years about how corporate profits and racism and sexism have had lingering effects on American culture and we need to challenge and think critically. I don’t doubt for a second that Ani trusted the organizer, whether that is because she trusted other people who had worked with them, or because she knows the organizers personally, I’m not sure. She says that when she realized that the conference was on a plantation she said “whoa”. I’m not sure what pushed her from being skeptical of the location to agreeing to have continue on with the retreat. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she tried to challenge for a location move and the organizer had her tied to a contract and she took the easier route. But that is an assumption based on my adoration of her, and not based in fact. I strongly feel that as soon as Ani found out the retreat was on a plantation she should have at least done some investigation to find out how the current plantation owners portrayed the history of the plantation, and the history of slavery in general. Why? Because if you’re going to ask women, many of whom are descendants of slaves, to return to a plantation and pay for the privilege of sleeping on ground previously slept-on by slaves or sleep in rooms previously slept in by slave-owners, you better know that the plantation is working to present the crimes of the past in an honest and healing manner.
• The Nottoway Plantation is the largest antebellum plantation in the country, and one of the largest plantations in South when it was active. It had 155 slaves and 42 slave cottages. None of them are still standing, but it is assumed that they were 2-room shacks. It was a sugar plantation built in 1859. The history page on the website seems to smooth over the treatment of slaves and says that slaves were paid a cash bonus based on their output. Each field slave was expected ot produce 270 gallons of dried sugar during harvest. Of all the different types of plantations, sugar plantations were the worst. The work was the hardest, most dangerous type of work. There is no down-time on a sugar plantation. In order to make a profit, there had to be a huge swath of land planted with sugar cane. The cane was planted in February and manually tended daily until October to January when the harvest would happen. Because the harvest often required 14-18 hour days to get done on time, it was common for all sugar plantations to pay cash to the slaves during this time. It wasn’t uncommon for as many as 10% of the slaves to be injured or killed during harvest. Most injuries were caused by the sharp scythes used to cut the cane or being injured on the machinery that the cane was fed into. Because of the high risk of injury, and because of the unending physical labor required by the work, slaves were encouraged to save the money they earned so they could buy their freedom when they were a little older and less valuable.
• Ani’s statement doesn’t contain any of these words: apology, apologize, regret, or sorry. That makes this not an apology. Just a cancellation announcement and her sharing her thoughts. And sadly the tone of her statement seems to be that she is more upset that she’s being challenged than it is that she understands why the anger existed and that she takes ownership of being the source of that anger. For a woman who encourages us all to “dig deeper” and who says “If you’re not angry, you’re just stupid, or you don’t care,” this seems out of character. And this leaves her critics to ask “Are you stupid? Or do you just not care?” And for a woman who has made a career, a business, a support system for other musicians, based on not being stupid and caring till it hurt, this response is erratic. The tone of her statement scolds people for being angry and attacking her for having the retreat there. And her gut told her it was wrong, but she proceeded anyway.
The family who built the plantation hasn’t owned it since 1889. It is now owned by a Australian billionaire who supports many conservative causes. Considering how Ani didn’t want to sign a standard record deal at the age of 20 because she didn’t like limits being placed on her creativity, because she didn’t like her hard work resulting in profits for large companies that she didn’t support, second-guessing this location seems obvious to me. I’m curious what caused her to not second-guess this location, to not do further research into the owners.
What do I think she should have said?
i have heard you: all who have voiced opposition to my conducting a writing and performing seminar at the Nottoway Pantation. i have decided to cancel the retreat. I am sorry I gave approval to have a retreat focused on creativity at a location that glamorizes plantation life and slavery. Thank you for sharing how hurtful this action was and I will share more later.(The bold are her words. See, she started to get it right.)
Why is it wrong to have a retreat on a plantation?
Having a white woman make money on the site of some horrible atrocities against Africans and then African-Americans is a bad idea. Having an expensive (to many, not all) retreat based on creativity appear on the ground where people died brutally and had no rights ignores the history of the land.
So can nothing be held on a plantation? Like Ani says, pretty much everything south of the Mason-Dixon line, and many things to the north of it, were built by slaves. And no matter where in the US you’re talking about, white people stole the land from others anyway. Does that mean she/we should avoid ever doing any events in the South?
It’s hard, if not impossible to find a stain-free location in this country to host something where no one was treated unfairly, killed undeservedly, or taken advantage of. However, having a vocal anti-racist, feminist, activist be the figurehead for an event on any plantation that isn’t run to promote anti-racist and feminist work is problematic on its face. And even though the original ruling family isn’t earning the profits, the location does seem to either minimize the effects of slavery on the slaves while glamorizing the life and the family who owned and ran it. Ani is right that there are many locations in New Orleans that have slave quarters and now rented out as apartments or hotels or used as guest houses. And I don’t think they should be torn down and have something new rebuilt in their place. But their presence shouldn’t keep us from criticizing her choice to be the figurehead for a retreat on a slavery plantation. I did a short google search to see if there was another location just outside of New Orleans that would have been large enough to host an event of this size that is run with the intention of providing a more accurate history related to slavery and I couldn’t find one. My hope is that one exists, but it is possible that this was the only location within a short driving distance that provided the amenities and had room to host the number of people expected. So, I’m not sure where else she should have had the retreat. And, I’m honestly not sure what should be hosted on a plantation. But, if your even the slightest bit curious what it would be like for a black American to work on a plantation now while interacting with the public, then you have to watch the Ask a Slave. It is hilarious and sad at the same time. More items like this are needed to help us create the healing and understanding. I hope that plantations don’t always gloss over the hard parts of our history to make it easier for white people to ignore the truth. It is very likely that the great-great-grandparents of myself and anyone reading this post were affected directly by slavery in some way, even if they weren’t a slave or directly owned a slave.
What are your expectations of Ani now?
I would like her to apologize. Succinctly accept that she made a mistake, apologize for making that mistake and for deflecting the understandable anger in this statement. I would hope that the organizer is able to present a better location for the retreat so everyone interested (and able to afford to go) can get the experience they were hoping for. I would love to see her explain, likely more eloquently than I, how to accept the history of our country while honoring the positive and hopeful and peaceful changes in the world that she has strived for with her music. I would like to see her answer some of the direct questions that her fans and women of color have asked her. I would like to see her lead a conversation that explains to all of her fans why it was problematic for her to agree to have a retreat on a plantation, especially to the many out there who didn’t see what was wrong with it.
I would like her to
Dig deeper, dig deeper this time
Down beneath the impossible pain of our history
Beneath unknown bones
and let us all dig with her.
It’s been more than week since the day when the DIY Trunk Show usually happened. I’ve had more than a week to think about how I feel not planning it this year. And my emotions? Well, not surprisingly, they aren’t cohesive. They’re still all jumbled and a bit conflicted and messy. And I shouldn’t be surprised, because this is how I felt a year ago when I realized that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. It was almost exactly a year ago when I admitted to myself first, and then with a queasy and nervous stomach admitted to Andrew, that I just was done. Not bitter angry finished, done. But just done. But sad, oh my. I was so sad. It took weeks before I could tell the other people who had helped me to organize the show, some of them for many years, that I couldn’t do it again. But in almost every case, when I told someone I was backing away they all said “That makes sense. It’s been a good run, eh?” No one tried to make me feel bad. Sure, some people expressed regret and sadness that I was backing away.
And so a year after I made the realization, I can’t even call it a decision, more like an admission, that I was done with show organizing, I still have all the same messy feelings. I’m so very, very, very happy for all of the amazing people I had the chance to meet. All the people I saw go from “having this super-cool idea” to running a full-time business based on hard work, creativity, ingenuity, and fulfillment have made me thrilled to have helped them. For 10 years, Amy, myself, and the many and lovely people who have been in the Chicago Craft Mafia created a place where crafters and artists could see customers look at something they made with their own hands, have their faces light up, and then exchange money for that item. And I say a place, not a show, because the DIY Trunk Show wasn’t just a one-day event. It was a storehouse of awesomeness that was collaborative and inclusionary that lived all year long, just spread out further and mostly accessible via the internet. The reasons we decided to do a second show revolved around the realization that the “market” (made up of people we knew and people we wanted to know) needed this yearly get-together to keep people doing what they loved to do.
I know from talking to many vendors that our show made it possible for them to build their business from a small infant of an idea, into many varied and larger companies that run their lives. I see the popularity that many of these people have enjoyed and I’m thrilled. For them, not for me. I don’t look at them and think “I made it possible for them to do that. Without me, without our show, they wouldn’t be where they are today.” Nope, I look at them and think “I’m so happy that I got to see them start and build and grow. I’m so happy that they used DIY as a springboard to get to awesomeness. I’m so happy they stuck with it. I’m so happy they’re still around fighting and making and just being awesome.”
So, I look back on the history and I’m happy and I continue to be awed by the awesomeness that exists all around this city, and I still want people to get together all year long and support each other and grow together and see how much stronger we are in unison, than as individuals. And I’m also sad that I won’t be able to see the new baby crafters come up the way I saw a generation of crafters develop. I’m sad that I won’t have email addresses memorized and linked to amazing items. I still remember the email address of a woman who I bought a necklace from at the very first DIY Trunk Show. She left the state many years ago and her email address began bouncing shortly thereafter, but I still have the necklace and wear it and think of the smile on her face when I picked up the necklace and said “This is such an amazing necklace. I have to own it!”
I’m also sad that I won’t get to see the season’s coolest creations months and months before anyone else does. The jurying process was stressful and I blame it for more than a few grey hairs and sour stomach aches. (Turning down people was never easy and I hated it intensely.) But I’m glad that I’ll never be in a position to have to find a way to tell someone, “I like your work, but we decided to choose someone else for the show.” I’m so much better at accepting rejection now than I ever would have been if I hadn’t been a show organizer.
But, I’m happy that there are still many people organizing shows. The DIY Trunk Show that I helped create and helped to run 10 times was fantastic, but it wasn’t The Best Show Ever. There was always something I wanted to do differently, or wished we could have added on, or had made changes faster. There was always one bit of information that didn’t make it to one person who was then upset, or hurt, or stressed out. I was human and I made many mistakes. I have many regrets and things I wish I’d done differently. But they’re few when compared to the things I’m proud we were able to accomplish.
I travelled to Ohio and participated in Crafty Supermarket instead of staying in town. It felt weird to not have a big dinner with a group of crafters and friends after the show. It felt weird to end the day tired, but not muscle-shatteringly sore and exhausted to my soul. It felt weird to be surrounded by crafters who were mostly strangers. It felt weird to see my friends, back home in Chicago, doing shows with each other and not be there. But it also felt good.
It felt good, it feels good, because I know that these people aren’t dependent on me. There are new shows being organized this year for the first time and they’re doing it without me. And the first show of some of these organizers was The DIY Trunk Show. So I’m happy to pass on the baton of craft show organizing to others, to see them run with it far ahead of me. I’m not needed anymore. I’m wanted and loved and appreciated and respected by many. And honestly, in the end, that feels so much better than being needed.
My Biggest Project Ever
A few months ago, my dear friend and stylist Reverend Billy took over management at Big Hair in Roscoe Village here in Chicago. The space was looking great, but there was a huge teal sofa at the front of the shop. While it was the perfect size and shape for the studio, the dark, dirty teal was not the perfect look for his revamp. So he asked me if I thought I could recover it.
This is a man who has done a lot for me and I hated the idea of telling him no. But when I looked at the sofa, my heart skipped a beat. The size! The shape! No easy corners! But I agreed something needed to be done with it and despite my fear of all the math that would be involved, I decided I needed to take it on and make it happen. So, I agreed to give it a whirl.
We picked out a python fabric made by a company in Mississippi that I adore and who I’ve purchased fabric for bag-making for years. I was expecting a brown and white, so when it arrived in brown and linen I was a little worried until I realized that it looked even better than I had originally expected.
I took my tape measure and notebook to the shop. I measured all of the things, twice. And then I came home, cut out a few things before I took it back and made some adjustments and took even more measurements and then I did some more sewing and took some more measurements. And then, I arrived with a couple of bags stuffed full of very large pieces of constructed fabric and we put them on the sofa.
And then I felt a bit weepy because it looked SO MUCH better. The linen matched the table and contrasted nicely with the floor. The punk rock vibe of the store was just a little reflected in the tamed and muted python pattern of the sofa. The sofa even looked bigger, which makes the space look bigger.
I was also a little weepy because this was a HUGE undertaking. And I did it. I didn’t make any unfixable mistakes. I got the math mostly right the first time and just tweaked things after that. And I did it when I didn’t think I could. That’s the best part, for me.
“If you would just quit whining about it, and do it, you’d be surprised how much easier it is.”
This is a phrase my mom would tell me frequently when I was a kid trying to complete a task that seemed so hard. She said it to me a lot regarding math homework, and so many other things I can’t even begin to ennumerate them. And she was right. As soon as I got past the whiny “But I don’t wanna do this because it is hard” stage, I was almost always able to focus and get stuff done and it was usually easier than I expected and my results were often better than I feared.
But that whiny stage, I still go through that. Just recently I was trying to figure out how to do some color correction. I used to do a LOT of color correction in Photoshop in the first job I had, and to be honest, I hated it! It made me whiny every day. I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like how there were so many tools that did things so differently. It just seemed like there should be 1 tool that would work all the time in the exact same way. Flash forward 15 years or so and there are SO MANY MORE tools in Photoshop and it just made me that much whinier. But, I realized I have a tool now that I didn’t have then. I have the internet.
Sure, the internet existed 15 years ago. And sure there were people posting about Photoshop on their Tripod pages. However, the information was often hard to understand because it took so long for images to upload and download that you had to justify every screenshot and image. And completely forget about video. But now! Oh now! Now I am fortunate to have a fairly fat pipe that can shove the information into my computer almost faster than my computer can process it and therefore I was able to spend some time searching for Photoshop tutorials on Lynda.com and other sites and excitedly viewing the answers and trying things out and seeing how they worked differently and in conjunction with each other and now this kinda big and intimidating Photoshop project is now complete. At least the hard part is complete. There may be some cropping or resizing in the future, but that is a piece of freaking cake after this.
So, whereas a few weeks ago I was feeling way whiny and a bit grumpy and more than a tetch pouty, today I’m feeling happy with my results. There are probably better ways to have done some of the things I did. But in some cases, I kept telling myself “you can only polish a turd so much” and in other cases I kept saying, “Hey! That’s not bad at all! Go you!”
So, I’m 42-years-old, and I still get whiny when I have to do something hard. I think I’m just not going to get over that tendency. But, I think if I keep pushing myself to do the hard thing anyway, at least I’ll eventually get to this moment of satisfaction. And if I remind myself often enough that “if I would just quit whining about it and do it, I’d probably have been done by now”, then maybe one day I’ll remember it when it counts.
10 years later
Ten years ago, I was occasionally making bags to donate to a handful of nonprofit organizations in Chicago to use as fundraising items at raffles and silent auctions. Sometimes the bags earned the organization $10. Sometimes the bags earned the organization $300. It was pretty hit or miss, but considering there was a large number of organizations that I wanted to support, but my budget didn’t permit many cash donations on my part, it seemed like a good way for me to use my skills to help organizations make money. But all of that changed at the end of 2003 when I realized I could sell bags online thanks to Paypal buttons, and then I could take the money I earned from selling those bags and give it to various organizations that I wanted to support.
First I registered my domain, this very one, then I created a rather hinky shop page (which was later redesigned by Naz Hamid and looked so much better), and I began selling bags of various types online and taking the money I earned and donating it to various organizations.
This was the same year that Amy Carlton and I started the DIY Trunk Show, which gave me even more sales that enabled me to donate money to nonprofits. And there were several other indie craft shows that started to pop up and I began applying and selling and 10 years later, I’m still doing the same thing.
20% of all profits I make from a bag are donated to nonprofit organizations and I’ve gone through various ways of determining which organization gets what. I used to pair up a bag and an organization. But that resulted in some organizations getting a lot more money while some got now. (Not every bag I’ve designed has sold well, sadly.) Then I picked an organization a month and donated funds that way. But that meant whoever was my November or December organizations got a lot of money, but others got little. Last year I chose 7 organizations to donate funds to. This year that number is less, because I wanted my donation to have a larger impact. And thanks to the increase in my sales, I think it will.
In the interest of transparency, and because I don’t think enough companies share how they determine what their donations will be, here is the formula I choose to determine what the donation will be.
Cost of bag – (cost of supplies to make the bag + PayPal/Ets fees) = profit
I think take 20% of that profit and add it to the kitty that will get donated at regular intervals during the year.
This year the organizations I’m supporting are Women In Media & News, Chicago’s Read, Write Library, Chicago Abortion Fund, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. These are just a small handful of the organizations that I have desire to support, but they cover most of the various types of organizations I support emotionally as well as monetarily. There are also many other organizations that I donate to outside of my business, so these are but a drop in the bucket of deserving organizations.
But it makes me happy to know that 10 years into this business venture that began from a desire of wanting to help others, I’m still able to help others while also helping myself and slowly making the word more attractive.
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