Note: I occasionally write for my industry, and this is one of those such times.
By now we’ve seen many organizations within the quilting industry take a publicly anti-racist stance. Some stances have been prompt and willing, some only exist through goading, some have been powerful, and some have been so carefully tepid as to essentially mean nothing.
Talk is cheap. Actions matter more, and a few days ago I witnessed an appalling and disappointing disconnect between a stance of support for diversity in my industry, and how that support played out in what should have been a minor conflict, if that.
This happened in the Facebook group of Craft Industry Alliance, a professional, for-profit organization with paid membership. As our current version of the anti-racism revolution was building steam in late May/early June after the murder of George Floyd, this organization made haste to start posting more links to black-owned businesses, and in general made a pretty good performance of being woke.
I’ll back up here and say that these groups exist for people like me (women who own craft businesses) to find peers, and they’re not generally full of chatter. They’re full of questions from members looking for solutions, and a small subset of the membership has taken the responsibility for helping others seriously. If you’ve known me a while, you know that I’m rabid about helping women stand tall in their business shoes and rise (I believe we all rise together) and I’m one of that small subset.
Another thing you need to know about craft businesses is that the people who own them usually sort of fall into it. They were passionate about a craft thing, and had a bit of business sense, and those two things got together and birthed a baby business. And like parenting, you’re doing everything by the seat of your pants for a while. You make a lot of early mistakes, like getting yourself into contracts that aren’t in your best interests once you understand the fine print.
Finding a peer business group makes you feel a little less lonely. And when you get helped by the smart and experienced members, it usually saves you a bunch of time, if not a bunch of money you might have left on the table in innocent ignorance.
I have colleagues in these groups who are helpers, like me. There are several of us, but I’m going to tell you about one in particular, Ebony Love of LoveBug Studios. She’s smart, and she’s generous with her smarts. She’s well over a decade into running her businesses successfully (note the plural on that), and she’s known for being an authority in many facets of business operations, one of them being how intellectual property is assigned, handled, and defended. In other lives she has run projects for Fortune 100 companies, so yes, as we say, she has the receipts. And in this life, she’s in the groups every day, crafting extensively detailed answers to most questions, for free.
And now, to the incident that I find upsetting:
A member sold a pattern to Craftsy some years ago, and recently tried to get the intellectual property rights to the pattern back. Craftsy (now Bluprint, under NBC) has a pretty well-proven track record of looking out for themselves before anyone else, and replied with a hard “nope.” So our disappointed member was in the group, trying to crowd-source legal advice to go fight NBC (and let’s just let that sink in, shall we… crowd-sourcing legal advice on Facebook. Hm.)
Ebony waded in to answer, pointing out that intellectual property rights get assigned forward in contracts. She noted what specific phrases around this to look for in the contract, with the conclusion that she (the pattern author) would likely not prevail in a fight but hey, go read the contract anyway. It was a typical Ebony answer: practically written, full of pertinent info, and offered freely. And probably worth about $500 in attorney dollars.
Shortly after, the post disappeared.
Those of us who contribute our time and answers to these groups make a point of periodically reminding members that, while the answers might be written to them specifically (in terms of the hierarchy of a Facebook response) they’re written for the good and education of all in general, and so leaving them standing benefits everyone. It’s why we take the time to help.
And so, Ebony sent that reminder out, again, pointing out that shutting down posts silences the contributors, and dampens discourse in the community.
And this is where it gets interesting:
Abby Glassenberg, who owns Craft Industry Alliance, made a lengthy statement about being extra kind when we respond because the tone* of our voices gets lost in the written word. Ebony pointed out that, equally, you shouldn’t make tone assumptions about the intent of people’s written words, either. The original poster, Deb Buckingham, at this point said she asked for help, not attacks, and followed that up with “I’d suggest that you don’t take things personal (sic)” – hot on the heels of her own self being personally offended by being told to read her own contract.
And then, right after Ebony apologized for upsetting her, the admins shut off the comments on the post.
Why is this all a big deal, you ask? This is why: Ebony is a woman of color.
First, her words got deleted.
Second, she got tone-policed by two different white women, one who got her feelings hurt over competent free advice (and who seems incapable of taking her own “don’t take it personal” medicine), and the other defending the first’s hurt feelings and trying to keep it all blandly happy in the group.
Lastly, she was cut off from the opportunity to respond.
Apparently, frank business advice is supposed to be delivered with a side of emojis and cookies if you are a woman of color delivering it.
I called Abby Glassenberg to talk this over with her, privately and personally. Abby is a well-intentioned woman, and she’s trying to do good things with this group – all things I strongly support. But I’m under the impression from our conversation that she still doesn’t see the incredible WRONGNESS of telling a black woman to be nicer, publicly, in a Facebook group, and then silencing her.
I asked Abby if she would have treated me the same way (I’m a white woman), and she said she wouldn’t have to because I don’t talk to people “that way.” Friends, I DO talk to people that way, and I write to them that way, too. I’m known for being as blunt as a two-by-four, for not suffering fools (especially those who won’t attempt to conduct their businesses like professionals), and potty-mouthed to boot.
The issue here is that neither of these women sees themselves as racist, so they can’t see how their ACTIONS are racist. So let me state once more for the people at the back: Tone-policing a black woman in a business forum for a clear, factual, business tone is RACIST.
I feel like Craft Industry Alliance is at a critical crossroads now. Either it becomes the professional business resource the craft industry needs, or it becomes just another group where non-controversial sweetness matters more (and is policed unequally based on skin color) than being able to occasionally say the hard stuff that truly helps our membership rise as professionals. And as an aside, the first thing you need to acquire when starting a business, after your domain name, is some thick skin.
Craft Industry Alliance needs to get super clear on fixing the racist actions, and outline communication and moderation policies that specifically protect the voices of our members of color. Until this is in publicly in place, I don’t see how this space is safe or supportive for our BIPOC members.
Ebony left the group, and we all lost an incredibly valuable resource. It also makes the group less diverse, which is NOT reflective of the diverse populations our businesses serve.
I’m staying in the group, for now, in the hopes that it can pivot into the professional, diverse resource our industry needs.
Talk is cheap. Actions matter.
We’ll be watching.
* Regarding the issue of tone… tone is ALL in the mind of the reader. We decide how we will hear or read things, and we assign it an emotional tone. We often do this to support our beliefs. For example, if I think all car mechanics think I’m a dumb woman, I will unconsciously be looking for evidence of that bias in any exchange I have with one, and will probably find it so I can then get upset about it, which further validates my beliefs. Reading Ebony’s words as an attack is 100% in the mind of the reader.
All comments are moderated before publishing.
06.22.20:09.32am – edited to correct Deb Buckingham’s name
06.22.2020:11:37am – edited to link Ebony’s personal response to this incident