16 December 09

crafting + racism + hipsters + bacon = hot mess

It’s been quite a while since my brain has hurt this much at the end of the day like this. And I like it. But I think my brain hurts because it is out of practice in thinking about things like this and certainly out of practice preparing to write about things in a connected way.

So here are two links that you may want to read before continuing to read my post. It’s going to be disjointed and sketched and not coherent and before anyone criticizes me for that, understand that I’m aware of this ahead of time. I’m thinking, out loud. Nothing said here is final and I may change my mind drastically in the next hour.

First a couple of posts about Knitta, Please and racism. I came across this post yesterday read it, commented, and then mulled it over like wine and decided to read the other posts she linked to. Today I read this one at One Grand Home. And before I could figure out how reading this post made me think and how the comments that weren’t just ridiculously and intentionally offensive made me think, I got hit with a sucker punch by my lovely friend Veronica who makes it hurt so good.

She sent me a link to Vegan Feminist Agitator.

And in my head they’re connected. And I can’t quite put a finger on it, hence the disjointed disclaimer, but I know this:

• cultural appropriation happens all the time, but is it ever okay? Is it okay for an Austin-dwelling, crafting, educated, white woman to adopt and adapt a term used by and against a more urbane and hip-hop centered culture? Is it okay for an educated, urban-dwelling, pork-eater to base their identity off of a cut of meat that was created by and for people who couldn’t afford to throw away any part of an animal?

• hipsters are the cause of all these problems, right? I’m so painfully conflicted by the term hipster. I really don’t consider myself a hipster, but people have said that I am one. I’m not sure why, not sure of the distaste for hipsters (not completely anyway) and it just generally makes me feel uncomfortable. But thanks to reading Vegan Feminist Agitator I realize I’m too old to be a hipster, which explains my unease with the term. Or it doesn’t at all, maybe it just defines that I’m old.

• waste is a privilege, not a right. And I despise it, try to eliminate it, to not take things for granted, to understand that if you waste things now you’re likely to wish you hadn’t later on. I know this from experience. And whether the waste is related to the scraps left on a Thanksgiving turkey caracass, or the scraps of thread (I have a bag of every waste bit of thread I’ve cut off embroidery dating back to when I was 14 because I knew one day I would turn it into paper.) I don’t like it. I’m not always as diligent about eliminating as I should be. Bacon started out as a method of preserving food to make it last longer, keep it from going to waste. But I don’t believe for a second that the current bacon craze is related to a dislike of wasting materials. And while I know that Knitta, Please and other knitting graffitistas don’t see their work as wasteful, part of me does. Part of me has always wished that they put their work into creating items for charity groups. But I often wish that taggers would save their spray paint for a better purpose. Even if their sigs make me smile on occasion (thanks, “madeyoulook”).

• intent can rarely be addressed, just effect. One person can rarely say that another person’s intent behind a comment was racist. One person can rarely say that another person’s love of bacon is not ironic at all. UNLESS, that is, these two people discuss the issue. Many years ago I made a comment on this site that was perceived by people who didn’t know me as racist. I was appalled and sickened to realize that I’d said something that had caused that reaction, that I had caused people I respected anger and frustration. But I learned an important lesson. Intent can’t be addressed, only effect. Even if Knitta, Please doesn’t intend their name or stance to be racist, the effect is that it has made several people (who have bravely spoken publicly) feel uncomfortable. And I like bacon unironically. But I consider it one small part of a larger diet.

• The craft world isn’t white. It never has been. However, the current indie, urban-led, alternative, ironic, craft movement has a disproportionally large number of very vocal white proponents and faces in it. I am obviously one of them. However, I am incredibly fortunate to live in a town that is not entirely white. I am also incredibly fortunate to be one organizer of a larger, local craft show. and I am proud of the fact that we have the most diverse craft show that I’ve attended. And I mean diverse on many fronts, not just racially or ethnically, but gender, religion, style, and more. When we sit down to pick vendors I don’t think any of us pay attention to the names of the people we’re voting on. But once we have the vendors chosen, I like to do a tally of how many men we have, how many people of color we have, how many people make overt statements about their gender, sexuality, religion, race, etc. on their sites. And then I compare it to Chicago and I often find it lacking. I can always find room for improvement in myself and what I do. But I recognize that improvement is my goal, not perfection. That said, there need to be more voices about crafting coming from mouths that are not white. There are amazing crafts being made by people who aren’t white. Look at the Gee’s Bend quilts. The first time I saw them it was a religious experience. And that was before I knew who, where, how they were made. Craft and art can move the soul.

• I like Anthony Bourdain a lot. And he’s dissed vegans and vegetarians a great deal. But he’s also dined with vegans and vegetarians and exclaimed that if all vegetarian food could taste that good, he’d be happier with people giving up meat. He’s all about enjoyment, not murdering as many animals as possible.

• conversation leads to understanding when the possibility of listening is presented. A speaker won’t be easily heard, if it is apparent that they refuse to listen in response. “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as often as we speak.” We bloggers forget that. And we’re more likely to recognize the troll who intentionally tries to derail the comment train more than we are willing to recognize the person who says “I’d never thought of it this way. Thanks.” Perhaps, sensitivity to criticism is just as much a part of hipster, online culture as irony is?

So not finished, not in anyway. But better. And possibly late for dinner.

Comments

  1. Very well thought out my friend.

    Dawn Anderson on Dec 16, 09:29 pm

  2. To my mind, Knitta Please* and the Bacon Craze are related thusly: they’re both trends that on the surface seem like they might be about something genuine, but underneath are not actually about anything at all.

    Tagging things with knitting may or may not be a good idea. But the name the group chose is at best a meaningless play on words and at worst a commentary on graffiti as something Teh Black People do. As far as I’ve been able to tell it’s the former, but even then! Meaningless!

    Bacon as a cultural symbol is equally empty. As the Vegan Feminist Agitator pointed out, nobody ever has anything to SAY about it. It’s not a commentary on vegetarianism or meat-eating or factory farming or anything interesting.

    I’m not saying that all such symbols need to have meaning, even in the crafting world. People made things with skulls on them, then it was deer, then owls and whales and squid and birds and so forth. Those things are cute, and even an isolated felted bacon thing might be all right. But dude, enough with the bacon already.

    Knitta Please comes across as more subversive than the Bacon Craze, I guess. The bacon means nothing in general, while Knitta Please is a tone-deaf, insensitive name that’s open to lots of negative interpretation.

    *Knitta Please was (debatably) founded by a woman I sort of knew in Houston. She and her husband run a coffeehouse, a boutique, and a bookstore about half a mile from where I used to live. You know, in the bacon-loving hipster area of town. :)

    P.S. Scrap yarn looks super cute inside a clear glass ball Christmas ornament. And my favorite local yarn store puts it outside for birds to use in nests. I don’t know if that actually works or not, but pretty cool if it does. I save mine to hold stitches for sleeves and such.

    alison on Dec 16, 10:05 pm

  3. Thanks, Dawn. I know you’ve been following this as closely as I have. Concurrent tweeting FTW! :)

    And I think you hit a big part of the nail on the head, Alison. They seem like they’re more than they are. And I totally agree that the bacon craze fits that. Knitta, Please maybe that sums it up. But again I come to perception vs. intent. I think she/they need to make a public statement about this. I’m all for reclaiming words. I do subscribe to Bitch magazine and call myself a heathen quite frequently, but I’m not sure this is a word that can be reclaimed by a group of white women with knitting needles. But if they don’t start it, who will? I’m conflicted.

    Cinnamon on Dec 16, 10:29 pm

  4. I think of “Knitta Please” the name (which I was unaware of until your post) much in the same way I think of people who use the word “ghetto” to mean sub-standard: appropriating loaded language in a cutesy way is almost always a misstep. The sad part is that as long as the offending parties say “We didn’t mean it that way!” they’ll mostly be let off the hook, because it is easier to plead ignorance and beg for forgiveness than to examine the real reasons people took offense in the first place.

    Cecily on Dec 17, 10:27 am

  5. my comments will also be disjointed, and bullet-style :-)

    * i think the bacon craze — much like the crafting craze, the cocktail craze, and arguably the PBR and vintage craze — is nostalgia for a less modern time when we had fewer life choices and were more bound by tradition. back in the day, you bought your meat at a butcher and your bread at the baker. the quality was better. the taste was better. the nutritional value was better. we celebrate the charcuterie because that meat took TIME and SKILL to make. the person who made it has often sourced those ingredients from local, sustainable, and/or organic farms. the techniques used respect cultural, historical and regional tastes. whether that’s appreciation or co-opting depend on your own experience and politics.

    * returning to and preserving traditional food ways in opposition to industrial food, globalization, and government policies (in the U.S.) that prefer the latter over the former is quite subversive.

    * vegans can be hipsters too.

    * i am not quite sure what to say about or make of “knitta, please.” it’s just . . . an odd play on words. i agree with alison’s insight that maybe the play has to do with grafitti being “urban” where “urban” is code-speak for “black.” though if we remember that graf culture has always been multi-racial, that analysis is a stretch.

    * yes, waste is a privilege. pretty things are awesome. pretty USEFUL things are doubly so.

    tiffany on Dec 17, 11:55 am

  6. Thanks, Tiffany. I appreciate your comments here and elsewhere. And I agree with what you say, especially in regard to food. The great thing about most charcuterie is that it prevents bits from going to waste while elevating them to a delicacy, something to be occasionally savored and appreciated.

    And I’m rare in that I personally don’t consider “urban” to mean black, but you wouldn’t know or understand why unless you knew that I was one of a few white kids at an inner city high school and had moved there from very rural areas where the diversity was whether you were born again Christian or Methodist. And in regard to the craft movement in general, “urban” design is often the opposite of the craft projects I and many others grew up seeing and making.

    And thanks for the reminder that graf culture is and was multi-racial. That does color the analysis, if you can pardon my pun.

    Cecily, your comments are spot on. This topic isn’t done in my head, folks. But I appreciate everyone’s comments and thoughts. Thanks for inspiring me to think and encouraging dialogue.

    Cinnamon on Dec 17, 05:25 pm

  7. My first reaction to a comment about the “craft world being white,” was a big ol, “SERIOUSLY?” It’s never been white, except in the concept of indie/DIY craft, which has always been somewhat irksome because if there were more people of various races involved there would be less cozies with skulls on them.

    I think the issue stems from the perceived value of craft in different cultures, because it does vary. Widely. And even within those different cultures it varies. If anything it’s classism, not racism.

    betsy on Dec 17, 05:34 pm

  8. There are a few different topics here. The craft world as a whole, knitta please as a tiny tiny aspect, and the bacon thing. The craft world as a whole is a massive topic barely addressable in one or a series of blog posts. But “knitta please,” well, “racism is not crafty” and “the elephant in the room” address it pretty well. I’m glad it’s not just me – for the last few years I haven’t seen much besides a bunch of cheerleaders for the thoughtless/racist phrase and co-opting.

    steph on Dec 18, 01:04 pm

  9. I think I understand the connection you are trying to make here, but I think there is a big difference between co-opting a phrase with racial connotations and wearing a t-shirt with bacon on it.

    I did find it particularly interesting, though, that neither you nor any of the commenters on Vegan Feminist Agitator pointed out that in her screed against bacon-loving hipsters, Marla uses the term “redneck”: a term of derision for lower-class, uneducated rural whites. How enlightened of her!

    Using racial slurs or derisive terms towards any other only serves to deepen the chasm. While I can understand how fetishizing bacon would be really annoying to veg’ns, it’s really not in the same league.

    — kp on Dec 21, 10:24 am

  10. Thanks for your post. I agree that there is a real race problem in hipster culture. Not to self-promote, but I’ve thought a lot about race and hipness in my article in Contemporary Aesthetics, and I think it relates strongly to a lot of what you say here:

    http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=549

    robin on Dec 21, 10:26 am

  11. Thanks for pointing that out, kp. I’ll reread for that. And I’m not equating racism with wearing a bacon t-shirt. More pointing out that I feel conflicted about the confluence of crafting, racism, and hipster fads.

    Thanks for the link to your article, Robin. It’s lengthy but I’ll read it.

    Cinnamon on Dec 21, 06:02 pm

  12. Really thoughtful post, and I follow with you mostly, but

    <blockquote>Bacon started out as a method of preserving food to make it last longer, keep it from going to waste. But I don’t believe for a second that the current bacon craze is related to a dislike of wasting materials.</blockquote>

    HUH? “Current bacon craze”? I wasn’t aware of the history as you explained it, but FFS, where do you live? Everyone I know hates hipsters and loves the shit out of bacon! I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like bacon. I knew a vegetarian once who loved bacon so much that he kept pretending to believe it wasn’t really meat!

    Sorry for the exasperation, but I am shocked and appalled at the things you said about bacon.

    Oh, and Friday, I was chatting with a co-worker who mentioned that he was a vegetarian. I said that I kept trying to be a vegetarian, but I loved bacon too much. He nodded and laughed knowingly. And it’s not even funny or original, I’ve heard people say they’d be able to be a vegetarian if it weren’t for bacon so many times I can’t count.

    OMG! Do you seriously know people who didn’t like bacon until the recent hipster thing blew up?

    cacophonies on Dec 21, 06:51 pm

  13. cacophonies: I like bacon a lot, don’t get me wrong. And I’m not sure what I said about bacon you found offensive. Read the post I link to by Vegan Feminist Agitator and my comments may make more sense.

    The popularity of bacon has increased dramatically in the last two years or so, hence my calling it the “current bacon craze”. Bacon is a preserved meat dating from before refrigeration was possible. It was smoked to make a tough and fatty cut of meat last longer, taste better, and have a better texture.

    I live in Chicago, which has a long history with pork processing. If you haven’t read The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, you may find it interesting.

    Cinnamon on Dec 21, 07:13 pm

  14. Cinnamon-

    I was totally not <i>offended,</i> not at all… I guess my intentionally melodrama didn’t translate very well :) I mean, I truly am confused and amazed that the love of the taste of bacon is actually not as widespread as I’d believed, but offended, definitely not. All in good fun.

    I really am interested in the history of bacon, now that you bring it up. I’ll check out the book.

    Perhaps Minneapolis hipsters aren’t quite on the bacon train yet, and that’s why I haven’t heard of this odd new trend. Most of the hipsters I know are vegan or vegetarian.

    cacophonies on Dec 21, 07:56 pm

  15. I was into bacon before it was hip!

    This was a fantastic examination. I have tired of crafting being positioned as this newfangled thing white hipsters invented and therefore it’s cool. When other folks were crafting it was either a cheesy hobby or stuffs white liberal put in their homes to feel less guilty about being the kind of white folks who put “ethic” articles in the home in lieu of activism.

    Snarky's Machine on Dec 22, 12:19 pm

  16. this whole issue of knitta took me by surprise as does the idea that doing crafts is confined to the privileged white classes. I am an immigrant in my early 50’s and have done yarnbombing. I don’t regard using scraps, recycled yarn and materials as a waste, not if it brings joy to a community (as it seems to have done in Yellow Springs, Ohio). while I would agree that minorities and women have consistently been underrepresented in the arts, where do people get the notion that people have to be comfortable economically and white to enjoy doing crafts. Even during the most dire circumstances as a teen on the government housing estate in an industrial town in England I used scraps to make crafts. Immigrants of all ethnic/economic backgrounds do crafts. I just wonder if this politicization of crafts is coming from people who have little understanding of the history of knitting, embroidery, crafts and and the immigrants who continue to work in these areas (african, indian, chinese, spanish, middle eastern, etc etc).

    jafabrit on Dec 22, 06:04 pm

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