I'm weary, to say the least.
One of the stark realities that these past several days have laid bare is that the majority is moved to care/show up/speak up about Black survival and well-being only after tortuous and relentless loss of life, extreme pain and damage to families has occurred (provided there is horrific video evidence that is impossible to ignore). What is required to protect, honor and cherish Black lives *before* they are lost? Given the way our country was built, what should be a simple answer is maddeningly complex, but I think a big part of it is being in radically compassionate, authentic, beloved community with people of as many different races and walks of life as possible, and especially with Black people. We need to counteract our default patterns of segregation with intentionally, respectfully cultivated proximity.
Something I've yearned for in our local Santa Cruz community is greater integration of our social spaces. Where and how often can you go somewhere (online even, given our COVID times) and be in conversation with a thoroughly mixed group of people? Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, white... Where and how often can you go somewhere and be at the table with / on the yoga mat next to / in the cute shop with all or 99% white people? So.many.places... including, alas, All Hands. What do the spaces where we spend most of our time and money look like (in terms of who is there)? Given our demographics in Santa Cruz, it's all too easy to fall prey to 'out of sight, out of mind' when it comes to Black lives.
It's been problematic since day 1 at All Hands to know I'm offering something I find to be beautiful and valuable to the community, but the people I'm offering it to are overwhelmingly white women. Shouldn't I expend my energy and financial resources more equitably? What do I do with this moral dilemma as a mixed race Black woman?
The options I've explored so far include:
1. Try not to think about it too much
2. Provide scholarships for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)
3. Build my personal network of Black women friends in Santa Cruz
4. Begin an ongoing yet sporadic conversation with the city's Economic Development Department about increasing tangible support for BIPOC owned businesses
5. Give a talk to a group of local female entrepreneurs about the dangers of racial blindspots and unexamined white privilege
6. Take an 8 week class about the local Santa Cruz government and meet the police chief and Council members and the Housing Department and ask them all about Black issues in Santa Cruz
7. Hire BIPOC staff
8. Recruit BIPOC teachers and remain as optimistic as possible when they are rare to find
9. Wonder if I'm alone in being a small business owner with existential questions about whether my business is aligned with my highest values (justice, service, unity)
10. Research what it would take to become a non-profit
11. Consider becoming an anti-racism educator, perhaps integrating the use of art and handcraft to learn about history, heritage and culture
12. Renounce my desire to have a creative community space and unpack my resistance to "just being a mom"
13. Send my email subscribers messages about my lived experience with race and the need for us all to talk about race courageously
14. Take seriously the advice (from a Black woman who used to live in Santa Cruz) that I'll never get the level of diversity I'm hoping for here and proceed with plans to move elsewhere with my family and craft supplies
The results of each so far:
1. This is the epitome of white privilege, so I consciously reject it.
2. This I've done here and there, but not to a sufficient degree. Part of the difficulty is getting the word out that these exist. Part of the difficulty is the paradox of wanting more integrated spaces, while also wanting to ensure that Black people who come to All Hands will feel safe and comfortable.
3. Probably the best thing to happen as a result of opening All Hands. I started a Black women's group called Black Girl Magic that meets monthly. It's been a tremendous source of strength and encouragement and has helped relieve the feelings of isolation and psychic burden of being Black in Santa Cruz. This group has nothing to do with my business, per se. It was just clear to me once I became a business owner here that this was the kind of intentional sisterhood I needed. We grew rapidly from around 20 to over 100 members. We are students, mothers, doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, organizers and much more. The photo above is from our first brunch last September.
4. It's certainly sporadic, but at least it's on their radar, kinda...
5. I shouldn't have done this for free. My relationship with them has been shaky ever since.
6. This was last fall through Parks and Rec. Learned that the police receive unwarranted, racially motivated 911 calls ("A Black man is riding his bike down my street.") here in Santa Cruz and that our officers do a decent job not wasting time on them. Got a vague response from the Housing Department about what can be done to desegregate housing and make it more affordable in Santa Cruz. But they are watching interesting initiatives in other cities that have disallowed zoning exclusively for single family homes.
7. Of the 7 assistants I've hired since starting All Hands in October 2018, 3 have been Black, 3 white and 1 Latina.
8. All Hands teachers have been all white women, except for 2 white men, 2 Latinas, 2 Asian women and me. Two other Black women were considering teaching at All Hands, but in the interim both left Santa Cruz.
9. I'm constantly striving for that alignment through action, reflection and consultation with others.
10. I've been discouraged to go the non-profit route by the several white for-profit business owners I've asked about this. All Hands is at this point a for-profit business, and I'm afraid that's part of the reason it's not as accessible as it could be. But does that mean for-profits are for those who care less about inclusivity? Can a Black person have a for-profit business in a white town without the burden of feeling like they're betraying the underserved in their community?
11. There's a seed of something here...
12. The mom guilt is real.
13. Did this last September and October. Necessary. Not nearly "enough". Felt very vulnerable.
One option I haven't explored yet is crowdsourcing strategies to help make All Hands an integrated space. So now I'm asking you, especially if you hold any level of white privilege, for your time and brainpower to come up with earnest, creative and effective ways to make the workshop tables at All Hands truly diverse. I'm coming to realize this is just as much your work to do as mine, even though I'm the owner of All Hands. Again, the work of anti-racist, inclusive community building is just as much your responsibility as mine. Will you help me with this? Once we're open again, could you come with a friend of a different race/color/ethnicity? Could you gift a Black or brown friend a workshop? Can you direct me to community or corporate groups who have a diverse makeup and would enjoy a crafting experience together? Where do you see interracial gatherings already occurring in Santa Cruz? How did they come to be?
Awaiting your response,
It's been a month since I delivered a talk about race to a group of local women entrepreneurs here in Santa Cruz. The experience was profound for me and an effort that took my whole heart. I didn't anticipate the emotions it would stir up before and since, particularly the fear. Not a fear of public speaking (thanks high school debate!), but rather a fear of speaking in public about such a vital and challenging issue. Fear of being socially penalized for 'going there'. Fear of being seen as playing the race card. I interpret the fear to mean that I am doing something that holds deep meaning and consequence, for myself and others. The nerves are a sign that I am alive to something that needs to be expressed, and thankfully feedback from so many in the All Hands community and beyond corroborates this.
I wanted to give you an update on how my evolving understanding of race is influencing my thinking and decision making as a business owner.
1. I'm actively recruiting more teachers of color. A truly diverse cohort of teachers at All Hands has been a goal of mine since day 1, but I'm ramping up my efforts to bring more Indigenous, Latinx and Black makers to the studio. If you know of any that may want to share their creative skills here, please let me know!
2. I'm in the initial stages of a conversation with the Santa Cruz City Department of Economic Development and the Downtown Association about how to increase and support business owners of color in Santa Cruz.
3. Seeds are being planted for the creation of an alliance of local craft businesses to support each other in a variety of ways, including how to address the craft industry's diversity deficit. (Please check out Jen Hewett's amazing highlight about this on her Instagram feed.)
4. I am trusting that many individuals (and families) who hold white privilege in Santa Cruz will empower themselves to reflect on their racial socialization and continue taking mindful, deliberate and humble steps to be a part of the conversation and become protagonists of change. I'm witnessing this happen in the White Fragility study circle I joined recently that's being facilitated by the Race Equity Trainers Network. Last Thursday I was in a room of close to 20 white people (and a few people of color) all learning to articulate how their racial identity has shaped their life. It was heartening to witness white people willing to 'go there'. As a business owner of color whose clientele is majority white, I must trust that this openness and willingness to learn and stretch are present.
5. I'm on the lookout for "possibility models" - other brands and businesses that are consistently and thoughtfully weaving discussions about race and social justice into their message and offerings. One inspiring example is Grace Bonney of the blog Design*Sponge and more recently the magazine Good Company. Are there any (for profit or non-profit) individuals/organizations that you follow that you think are doing this well? If so, do share!
6. My lovely friend Lenea Sims and I are hatching a plan to hold a gathering at All Hands to explore as a community the connections between race, creativity, mindfulness and mental health. Would you be interested in attending? If yes, what questions or ideas would you love to see addressed?
Thank you so much if you made it this far. 😅 Not every love letter will be this abundant, but I felt moved to share what I've been processing as of late.
PS. This conversation between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Krista Tippet is excellent.
PPS. All Hands turned 1 last weekend! 💯🎉
Last weekend my family flew to New Jersey to celebrate my Uncle Elbert's 80th birthday. 🎉 And guess what?! The party was held at my cousin Alicia's house! 🤩
Fun fact: Alicia Keys and I are related by marriage. But this was actually my first time ever meeting her. 😅 And while meeting her was certainly a highlight of the occasion, it was even more meaningful to witness and be a part of a gathering of five generations of my uncle's family members and lifelong friends coming together to celebrate him. And almost everyone there (of a group easily 200 strong) was Black.
Why do I point this out? Well, the trip also coincided with my preparing to give a talk next week to a group of Santa Cruz entrepreneurs about race. And almost all of them will be white. I can't help but notice the racial make up of the spaces I move through, and for most of my childhood (outside of family gatherings on my dad's side) those spaces have been all or majority white. For me, it's something to grapple with.
As the daughter of a Black father and a white mother (like Alicia herself), I am a mixed Black woman with a degree of white privilege. (Here's an NYTimes op-ed that I highly relate to on this subject). And I've often asked myself since opening All Hands about a year ago how I should be spending that privilege in order to create a more beautiful, equitable and just Santa Cruz, given my newfound influence (however modest) as a business owner.
This question has taken on more and more urgency for me in recent months, so I've begun to educate myself as much as I can about the history of race in this country (I learned a bit more than what was taught in school thanks to dinner table discussions with my dad, but there's still so so much that I didn't learn) and about the history and present reality of race in Central California.
What's fascinating and clarifying and frustrating all at the same time about this journey is that when I say I'm learning about race in America, I'm not just learning about the history and circumstances of Black, Indigenous and people of color. I'm learning about whiteness. I'm learning about how race, particularly whiteness, was deliberately constructed centuries ago as a tool of patriarchal capitalism. I'm learning how it continues to overtly and subtly influence everything in American society to this day - where we live, the quality of our schools, healthcare, job opportunities, access to healthy food, and yes, even the arts and crafts industry.
Starting brave conversations about race in our respective industries/niches/spheres of influence is actually the only "answer" I have to the growing mountain of questions I am sitting with at this point. This is not merely an intellectual exercise for me; it is deeply personal. It's actually in a weird but very real way related to the way my brother Evan died. When race is not named and understood as an active force at play in our communities, we walk around with large blindspots that can and do lead to tragic levels of damage to the harmer and the harmed, however unintentional.
The good news is that the knowledge for how to reduce our racial blindspots exists. We just have to be willing to humbly seek it out and courageously and creatively apply it. I'm trying to reduce my blindspots, and would love to do so in community with you.
Just the beginning,
PS. Notice how my toes are lifted up in geeky excitement. 🤦🏽♀️
PPS. The four women in this photo have all done The Artist's Way. That's right. Alicia's a fan! And I'm proud to say the fall group is shaping up to be our most racially diverse cohort to date.
PPPS. Here's what I've been devouring lately:
How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
The Good Ancestor Podcast by Layla F. Saad
Scene on Radio Podcast's "Seeing White" series
the wisdom of @rachel.cargle on Instagram
Finally, this is my favorite Alicia Keys song.