I just finished reading the excellent post by Richard Easton on Affirmative Action in Inventions, about the burgeoning movement to rework history. Not by acknowledging that, in many cases, the contributions of minority workers, including women, in scientific and mathematical fields have been overlooked or ignored (which would be a fair statement of the case). But by assigning influence far beyond what such sterling efforts actually merited, even so far as to assert that in some cases the minorities and/or women actually did the inventing themselves, and then that the credit for doing so was stolen from them by (wait for it… ) patriarchal white men who didn’t deserve it.
It seems perfectly timed to go with a far less consequential, and somewhat amusing (as I reflect back on it in tranquility) experience I had yesterday, which seems to me much of a piece, and which I’d like to share.
As many of you know, I’m an avid knitter. I’ve been knitting for over half a century. I’ve lost count of the number and type of things I’ve knit and for whom, and I’ve probably knit thousands of miles of yarn, some of which I sheared and spun from my own sheep or Angora goats. I’m really quite knowledgeable about the craft and history of knitting, even if I say so myself.
I enjoy the company of other knitters. I’m not really a “mingler” in crowds of strangers, but I’ve often thought I might enjoy a knitting cruise. There’s something reassuring about the thought of hanging out in the company of a bunch of most-likely-braless, and unmade-up, middle-aged ladies in their organic natural-fiber muumuus, padding around in their Birkenstocks and debating the merits of the Turkish cast on versus the long-tail, or the best way to do a left-leaning double decrease. As you can probably intuit from the foregoing, though, I’m well aware that, in a nautical sense, the majority of knitters heave firmly to port, and I’d probably need to take along a couple of sane and seaworthy friends to sit on deck with me periodically, enjoying an adult beverage and getting our minds A.J. Squared Away for the remainder of the voyage.
I do belong to an online knitting and crocheting community called Ravelry. It’s an invaluable resource, first for instant access to millions of searchable and downloadable patterns, either free or for easy purchase through PayPal. It’s also a social network, a knowledge resource, and a place where you can go to find that one particular color of yarn you suddenly realized you don’t have enough of to finish your project. It’s great. I love it. Over the years, I’ve downloaded dozens of patterns from Ravelry, and other than the rare, and very much appreciated errata update, I’ve never been contacted by one of the vendors for any reason at all.
Several years ago, I purchased a pattern for a nice pair of knitted slippers, quick to make, knit out of thick yarn, with a geometric design knit into the leg part. Nice, comfy, easy, and warm. Yesterday, I received an email from the folks who sold me the pattern that went as follows:
We’ve changed this pattern’s name Mukluks to Dogwood Slippers.
We are sorry for the hurt our pattern has caused. We are not part of the indigenous peoples from whom the word Mukluks originates nor are we part of the First Nations whose knitting traditions inspired the design.
We have changed the name to Dogwood Slippers. This pattern is part of a print book so we are not able to take it down, but we will no longer financially benefit from it. We are currently researching charities to donate all proceeds of this pattern to (as of Feb 15, 2019).
“Mukluks,” for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “are a soft boot, traditionally made of reindeer (caribou) skin or sealskin, and worn by Arctic aboriginal people, including the Inuit, Iñupiat, and Yupik.” The photo at the top of this post gives you an idea of the mukluk shape and is pretty similar to the shape of the knitted slippers.
I laughed the first time I read the email from Ms. X. Then I got rather annoyed. The email arrived at a bad time on a bad day, and I’m afraid I responded:
Dear Ms. X,
Glory be. I can’t believe your email about your “mukluk” pattern. There. I said it. The word. I’ll say it again. Mukluk.
Are you “hurt” that I said “mukluk?” Of course you are not. Neither is anyone else. Mukluk.
You pattern caused no “hurt.” Words are not actions.
Someone should remind “First Nations” that their “knitting tradition” was appropriated from the white settlers, and was given to them in the nineteenth century by the Sisters of St. Ann Missionaries when the Europeans introduced wool sheep into their lives.
I don’t see anyone complaining about that bit of historical revisionism and cultural appropriation
And it is equally absurd to claim that somehow, using the word “mukluk” in your pattern, or incorporating a design that looks like some sort of butterfly, or perhaps a snowflake, or even a flower, in the leg of your slipper is any sort of insult or offensive gesture or thought towards any culture or race.
I wonder how much of the campaign of abuse directed against you by those members of “First Nations” triggered by your harmless, and very nice knitting pattern, was conducted through email? Since, as far as I’m aware, there is no “First Nations email tradition,” and no member of “First Nations” invented email, I choose to be offended that they have culturally appropriated my own culture’s “email tradition,” and I suggest they return to a form of communication that is more organically associated with their own history: smoke signals.
What utter drivel. Don’t bother replying to me. I’ve spent almost my entire life in countries and cultures that are not the one I was born in, and I don’t need a lecture from some historically illiterate and spineless outfit that caves at the first sign of pressure from politically-motivated and money-hungry grievance-mongers.
I’m deleting your pattern from my Ravelry library, and won’t be patronizing you again.
How absurd. Grow up, please.
I haven’t heard back. I hope I don’t. Because, frankly, I think I’ve already taken my best shot. Not sure I’ve got much left.
How [redacted] ridiculous.
P.S: Lord. I hope someone doesn’t take offense to my description of myself as “Barefoot” in the title of this post. No reference to Chief Barefoot of the Sioux is intended or should be inferred. All I meant was that I’d removed my mukluks. Oops.