Racism. It’s a Thing.

Racism. It’s a Thing.

So far, I’ve stayed out of the discussion on IG about racism and inclusion in the knitting world. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’m brown in my posts, or that my family is multi cultural. I grew up in the diverse city of Toronto, and felt that I hadn’t really experienced racism in any meaningful sense. 

I also personally didn’t connect with a lot of the rhetoric, which didn’t seem conducive to positive change, and in some cases felt tantamount to bullying. I’m all for education, not shaming. I’m all for that which unites us, and against that which divides. I wasn’t personally a fan of having folks who were obviously well-intentioned with their hearts in the right place feeling super guilty all of a sudden for the circumstances of their birth. Historically, I’ve had way more trouble being a woman than I have being brown, and I feel strongly that us ladies need to stick together.

Then, at Stitches West, I overheard this conversation in the washroom (from a stall, they couldn’t see me).  It was two vendors discussing the show, totally normal, and then one vendor said: “I didn’t make as much money as usual. I think it’s because it’s a very ethnic group this year and it’s full of trash who aren’t spending any money”.

I came out of the stall, and we immediately all looked at the floor. So, before you ask, I don’t know who they were or what companies they represent. I scrubbed my hands, face burning, and ran out of there.

I don’t know what made me feel worse, that I internalized the humiliation, even though the comment wasn’t intended for my ears, or directed at me, or that I immediately began gaslighting myself on their behalf. “Did I really hear that?”, “Maybe they meant something else?”. 

Then I thought a little harder about my own past; I remembered that I initially took up Karate, 25 years ago, because my family was targeted in a racially motivated hate crime at Scarborough bluffs. That was a Big Obvious Thing, where anyone would get it. But there were also small insidious things, and they’re harder to get.  I realized that downplaying hurtful things is a trend. 

Every time someone asked me “where are you from really, after repeatedly being told that I was born and bred in Toronto. Every time someone joked that I was “practically white” and meant it as a compliment. That time I made small talk about the weather at a baseball game and was told “we don’t get cold, we’re Canadians”, as though somehow I wasn’t (effectively divesting me of the only country I have). Every time a friend has said something racist and then exclaimed “I don’t mean you! You’re different!”. Every time someone was surprised that I didn’t have an accent, or that I turned out to be brown in person after only talking on the phone. When Saks Fifth Avenue opened in Toronto I went looking for a dress for a wedding. A staff member politely told me “the Bay is that way”, assuming I was lost. The list goes on. 

So now I think, I need to say something on behalf of both myself and others. And you know what? I don’t even know what that something is. Maybe it’s as simple as “Hey, this happened, and I can’t pretend that it didn’t”, or “Hey, the problem is real”.  Part of me also wants to say “If you’re reading this, I sold plenty to BIPOC shoppers, so maybe you just suck.”, (It’s petty, I know).  

Worth noting: the incident was reported to the organizers and they had a funny feeling they knew who the vendor was. That kinda tells me they have done this before, or have a reputation for being racist, but seem to be getting away with it, which is the point I’m trying to make. {EDIT – It was not my intention to imply that the organizers were complicit in any way, they were in fact horrified, and issued a general message to all vendors, which I have shared below}. And no, it wasn’t reported by me because I was still feeling awkward and humiliated about outing them. That tells me something else, about the tendency to internalize hate and redirect it to ourselves. So when people trying to instigate change come off as excessively forceful, perhaps we should have a little empathy towards them before we judge. 

Having said that, this is worth a read:


“Plenty of activists argue that shaming those who err while striving to help build a resistance is a counterintuitive practice. “To organize such a movement necessarily means that it will involve the previously uninitiated — those who are new to activism and organizing,” writes Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Black female activist and author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, in a piece reflecting on critiques of the history-making Women’s March. “We have to welcome those people and stop the arrogant and moralistic chastising of anyone who is not as ‘woke’… [movements] are built by actual people, with all their political questions, weaknesses, and strengths.””

Another great quote:

 Patrisse Cullors, a queer Black woman and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, spoke about the downfalls of woke shaming in an interview with Complex last year. “Woke shaming is really unfortunate,” Cullors said. “If we are trying to build a movement to save all of us, we need to be able to invoke faith in people who are new, who are learning, and who are willing to grow. There is a difference between people who are bigots and people who are trying to figure out their way in this. We should have patience.”

Regarding how we can do better, maybe it doesn’t need to be Big Obvious Things. It can be little helpful things. When my dad worked as a factory manager he would stand by the punch clock in the morning and learned to greet everyone in their own language. Something I’ve always respected him for. Something to model myself after.

“Treat everyone with politeness and kindness, not because they are nice, but because you are.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart




on Thursday February 28th, the organizational committee of Stitches West issued the message below:

Dear Exhibitors!

Yesterday Shireen from The Blue Brick Dyeworks posted online about a very disturbing incident that happened at STITCHES West.

Sometime during the event, Shireen overheard this conversation in the washroom (from a stall). It was two vendors discussing the show – and one vendor said: “I didn’t make as much money as usual. I think it’s because it’s a very ethnic group this year and it’s full of trash who aren’t spending any money.”

We condemn, unequivocally, their rhetoric and their overt racism.

I think it’s important that we don’t shy away from this. So if you want to read the full account, here is the link…


We have reached out and apologized to Shireen.

We don’t know who these vendors are. And, in case anyone is unsure about where we stand on this, we want to be very clear about our policy on this issue… if we ever see or hear of this kind of racism at our shows from any exhibitor, we will remove them and their company from the market floor and our event, then openly tell the world why.

Thank you for you time and attention.

Benjamin Levisay
XRX, Inc – STITCHES Events, XRX Books, & stitchips

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