Early in the pandemic a friend who is a fellow artist, educator and administrator made a post inquiring about high quality, closed captioned videos that depict indisputably Black and/or brown people teaching basic craft skills. She needed to locate resources to support students and teachers in virtual learning and teaching.In essence what she was looking for are videos that are accessible and ADA compliant. Videos that teach at the same level that one could expect from people like us in person. Videos that are by people who look like us--Black folks, brown folks, indigenous folks.
Given that the vast majority of expert craftspeople in the world are Black, brown and indigenous, this would seem to be a fairly reasonable request right? Unfortunately for all of us white supremacy is one of the main organizing principles for our world, our resources, etc. So even though the vast majority of expert craftspeople in the world are Black, brown and indigenous, just about ALL of the how-to craft videos are by white, white passing and/or white adjacent women who are financially stable by merit of their family, their partners or their privilege which allows them greater access to well paid jobs and other resources.
With the shift to virtual teaching Black, brown and indigenous people are being whitewashed out of our own classrooms.Where students would be learning from us in person, via the internet our instruction is mediated by these videos of white women. As a person who is often the first or only in spaces that I enter I understand the importance of visibility and the violence of whitewashing.
When I saw my friend’s post about her difficulty in finding videos, I offered to make some. Her response was some variation of “ but I don’t have money to pay you for your labor, and we do not work for free.” My response to that was-- “you right, lemme go find us some coins so that we can begin to chip away at that problem. We applied for and were awarded a microgrant from the Center for Craft. The grant is allowing us to make closed captioned, high quality videos of Black, brown and/or indigenous crafts people teaching basic craft skills.
We applied in September, got the grant in October, and due to various major life moments are just beginning to film the videos now in February. We look forward to releasing the first video in May 2021. We are seeking additional funding to make more--send opportunities our way! The hope is to build a library of videos.
Even when we can teach in person again this collection of videos will continue to be impactful. The library will also serve as a directory of expert BIPOC craftspeople. HIRE US! PAY US! The library will destroy some barriers to access. Crafts school, art school, the places that hoard knowledge and resources are ridiculously expensive to attend. The realities of white supremacy, capitalism, continued war on Black and brown people and our cultures means that many of us end up going to school and having to learn our culture and cultural practices from white women. And we can only do that if we have the financial resources to be able to attend; are willing to go into major debt; and are willing to subject ourselves to the violence of these spaces.
The videos that Maya and I are making will be free on the internet. Where access is concerned the videos could be a gamechanger. Of course the closed captions can support folks who are D/deaf and folks who process auditory information better with captions. The videos will also allow people to revisit and rewatch the instruction as many times as they need to. People learn and process information at different speeds. Having access to free on demand instruction supports people across the spectrum of information processing speeds. Finally, but maybe not, For folks with mobility issues and/or chronic illnesses, folks who have to subject themselves to the violence of structural ableism to be physically present in spaces outside of their homes, these videos will allow them to access instruction from home, from bed, from the bathroom floor (iykyk). The same is true for folks whose mobility is limited by their care-taking roles. For parents, partners, and others who are serving as part or full time carers to friends and family.
One of the ways that systems of oppression are maintained is through control of access to information, education, and tools. These barriers that I am talking about are not incidental or unintentional. They are by design. These educational spaces and others were intentionally built to be exclusive, to hoard resources. These educational spaces were built to exploit Black, brown and indigenous peoples’ expertise, labor and culture. These educational spaces were built to support and sustain the hierarchy that was established to maintain the dominance of cis gendered, able bodied, wealth hoarding, white men and those closest to them--white women.
Oppression is by design, and liberation can be too. If we wanted to provide access, to support every being in being able to learn, then we would. The technology exists, the resources exist but there is not enough will. These institutions are tools that support and maintain existing power structures. If we want to change that, if we want to provide access then we gotta build institutions, tools and systems that are DESIGNED to support and maintain access.