Whitewashing NOLA

I made this skirt a while ago, and honestly there isn’t much to it. It’s a self drafted dirndle skirt, one long skinny rectangle sewed onto a longer and wider rectangle with gathering on one side- about the easiest garment you can make. What is significant about this make is the fact that it was made with fabric that I purchased from Fabric.com. It’s called “Stof France New Orleans Multi-color” which is incredibly ironic considering that once it arrived in the mail, I didn’t see any kind of “multi” in the identities that it represented. Sure, it’s decked out in purples and oranges and blues of the most dynamic shades- it’s one of the reasons I purchased the fabric in the first place, because the colors were singing to me through my computer screen, and also because I love a good print, and also because it’s neat when humans are slyly integrated into textile designs. But I assumed (incorrectly, it turns out), that the vibrance of color shown in the environment of the print would be reflected in the skin color of the ladies peppered throughout. On a whim I had bought one yard of this fabric that was supposed to represent the color and magic of New Orleans, but in actuality it was just a portrait of several white women painted onto a brilliant background. I mean, did the person making this fabric not even see Lemonade??

Honestly I didn’t think much about it at first. Yes, I assumed that the ladies printed on the NOLA fabric would be representative of the black cultural hub that is and has always existed in that part of the country, but I am wrong about these things all the time. It’s a side effect of growing up in a white supremacist society, to be a person of color constantly forced to recognize yourself in whiteness because that is all that has been available for so long. But the older I get and the more I surround myself with people who want to have these difficult conversations about what it feels like to be starving for yourself, the more validated and empowered I feel to call out the problematic stuff when I see it. There are bigger injustices happening in this world than a company printing a fabric illustrating the beautiful women of NOLA that doesn’t imagine any of them as being non-white, I get that. However, this little stuff is just a side effect of the big stuff, and it still impacts our community. With young brown kids not seeing themselves in the novelty firefighter sheets they want, not seeing their skin color in the people that play doctors on TV, not seeing their hair on Barbie Dolls. It starts to feel like they don’t matter, like they can’t achieve great things, like they will never be first in line for anything worthwhile. I know this is true because it’s what I felt growing up. Sometimes it makes these kids have to work harder to get to the same level that their white peers are at. But other times it makes them feel overwhelmed and tired and not motivated to try at all because the deck already feels so stacked against them. In a general sense, representation in the media has gotten better. But better doesn’t carry much weight when you were so far from good in the first place.

I stewed about this whitewashed fabric for a few hours and then I decided I would try to fix it. I pulled out some of my nicest, most vivid markers: a deep yellow, like the color of my skin in winter. A bright coffee colored brown, what I look like after a day at the beach. A dark cocoa colored marker that looks like my cousin Kaylan’s beautiful skin. A deep brownish red that matches the color of an old friend from high school. I took the markers and I slowly, very carefully, filled in the arms, the cheekbones, the hands, and the feet of some of the women on the fabric. I made them various shades of reds, yellows and browns, the way that my family looks, the way that my community looks. I had to be careful so that the colors wouldn’t bleed through to the other side, and I promised myself I would never launder this skirt so that the marker colors wouldn’t spread pigment everywhere in the wash. But after about 30 minutes of sitting on my living room floor, meticulously coloring inside the lines, it looked pretty good, and I was proud of it.

It is so rare to find regular novelty print merchandise like fabric and linens and coffee cups and pencil cases and lunchboxes that depict a whole range of nationalities; white is simply the default here in the US, and everyone outside of that community has to find a way to see themselves in that default whether it pertains to us or not. Recently on instagram I posted an in-process photo of a brightly hued chartreuse dress that I was making, and someone (innocently enough) commented that they had never thought that the super intense yellow color would look good on anyone, and they were surprised that it looked great on me. I found this very telling.

When you are white in America (and certainly other places, too), there is a tendency to see everything through the lens of your own experience. Since neon chartreuse doesn’t look good on your skin (and presumably the skin of most white people you know), you assume it’s just a terrible color, period. You neglect to recognize that there is a whole other community of other shades of people whose skin is absolutely radiant when you pair it with bright, bold colors; just because something doesn’t match your personal idea of what works certainly doesn’t mean it won’t match gloriously on other people that aren’t like you. And that is the crux of my issue with this “multi” New Orleans fabric; so many privileged people are unused to being challenged about their concept of the world because the world has historically operated to suit their needs, and the effect that this has on the people who don’t fit into their group is devastating. This goes beyond skin color obviously- gender, sexuality, ability, religion, all of these identities are affected when the dominant group in power does little to recognize other communities’ existence and importance. That said, it’s amazing how far a little compassion for people who experience the world differently than you can go.

I know that the aforementioned instagram commenter meant no harm when she made her statement about the chartreuse color, but that’s not the point; ignorance is hardly ever intentional. Like many people of color, I have grown up learning how to make room for my own preferences in addition to the preferences of people unlike me  (I still have a long way to go in recognizing the privileges I have as cisgender, able-bodied, etc). This is a skill that so many people who identify outside of white/heterosexual/binary + cisgender has honed: an ability to recognize the universal qualities of  love and relationships, even if they don’t identify with the people presenting them. And it’s a skill that many people who ARE white/heterosexual/binary + cisgender rarely have to use; they aren’t forced to see the similarities between themselves and people not like them because they are inundated with examples of love, loss and life that already match up with their identities and experiences in the world.

Here’s an example: I remember having a conversation a couple years ago with a famous comedic actor whose work I absolutely LOVE. We were at an audition when we met and we quickly realized that we were fans of each other’s work, which got us to talking and laughing and wiling away the time in the waiting room together. While in mid-conversation, I realized that Erika Alexander, a QUEEN and an amazing actor from a ton of hit tv shows was also in the room, and I was (quietly) squealing in delight to my new friend about how excited I was to see her in person.
“Can you believe she is HERE in this room with us?? I’m freaking out!” I said.
He looked at me quizzically and asked “wait, who is that again?”
“Huh?” I implored. “You don’t know who Erika Alexander is?? First known by fans as Cousin Pam from the Cosby Show but most notably as Max from the fantastic 90’s sitcom Living Single?
And he looked me right in the eyes, chuckled, and said “Oh, that was a black show right?  Yeah, I don’t think I was really the demographic for that one.”
Oh boy. OHHHHH BOY! If you could have seen how deflated I was, how absolutely gutted that this charming, funny guy had let such disappointing words come out of his mouth. It’s one thing if you had never heard of the show or didn’t like it, but to be familiar with Living Single (which, by the way, was a BIG hit in it’s day) and to have intentionally stayed away from it because you didn’t think it was for you? Now THAT is a shining example of privilege if I have ever seen one. I wanted to ask him ‘Do you think FRIENDS was meant for me? Do you think I was the show’s intended demographic? Or the demographic for Who’s The Boss? Or 90210? Or Melrose Place? Or the X Files? Or Step By Step? Or Growing Pains? Or Full House? Or virtually any other hit network TV show that I obsessed over when I was growing up? No! They weren’t made for me specifically, but I watched them anyways because I wanted to be entertained, and since diverse casts that DID represent me were so rare, I didn’t have much choice in the matter! But guess what, I STILL managed to find myself in the shows with all white casts because love and relationships are fucking universal and one of the most perfect depictions of this was the fact that Ross and Rachel’s tumultuous and hilarious relationship on FRIENDS was every bit as nuanced and relatable as Max and Kyle’s on Living Single, but guess which TV pairing gets praised and talked about more often in nostalgic articles about TV of yore? YEP, YOU GUESSED IT, THE WHITE ONE, and wonder why that is?! Because people like you insisted that shows with black casts simply were not meant for you to watch!”

Of course, I didn’t actually say this. I never do. Because, you know, angry black woman trope and all. It was probably just one of many microaggressions that I experienced that week, no use in raising a fuss. Instead I just pursed my lips, smiled, and said “that’s a shame, Living Single was a really terrific show, you might have liked it”. And then I went and introduced myself to Erika, trying to hold back tears from springing to my eyes because it’s hard not to get emotional when you’re in the presence of a legend.

I don’t know how to wrap this post up, and I barely know I got started, since this is clearly more of a “Musings” post than a “Sewing” one. But as I was thinking of how to share this skirt and what it was I REALLY wanted to say about it, I remembered this great quote that I recently came across. It went something like, you don’t stand up to ignorance in the hopes of changing anyone’s minds, you stand up to ignorance in the hopes that the others around who might be too scared or uncomfortable saying something will hear you, will feel empowered, validated and less lonely. That idea really resonated with me. I am absolutely uninterested in debating with people to try to get them to agree with me on such sensitive topics; more often than not, ignorant, racist, homo/transphobic people don’t want to get it, and me wasting my breath trying to educate them about their privilege and hoping to incite in them some sense of empathy and compassion is a losing, exhausting battle. But I do like the idea of being a conduit for  someone else who might not be comfortable using their voice yet. At the very least, hearing hateful rhetoric or seeing problematic behavior might not inspire you to speak up if you are alone and afraid, but if you hear someone else doing it, that might change over time, and perhaps even compel you to speak up when it happens again.

So. If you are reading this post and feeling unbearably offended, then clearly it wasn’t meant for you (and I would imagine nothing on my blog is, lol- what are you doing here??) This post is meant for any people out there who have felt invisible, ignored, misheard, interrupted, quieted because they don’t fit in with what is considered “normal”. It’s for the parents of brown kids who went shopping for firefighter sheets and who didn’t buy them because all the faces under the helmets were white. It’s for folks who understand the power of institutional racism but don’t always recognize the trickle down effects it has on communities and individuals. It’s for the print makers out there who might consider broadening their understanding of what they think their audience wants to see.

I’ve only worn this skirt once but I got several compliments on it, and I am making sure that when I wear it again, I let the person complimenting me know that this New Orleans fabric arrived with only white women depicted on it, and that I made it better by coloring in some of those faces with different shades of myself. Representation isn’t just for the marginalized, it’s for the betterment of all of humanity, and I am hoping that we all find the power to continually stand up for what is right and fair, in our lives and beyond, for ourselves and others, no matter how tiny the impact feels. Because it matters, I promise, even if it’s just to you.

55 replies
  1. Rosesred
    Rosesred says:

    Thank you for writing this! Beautiful and clear words.
    I think it’s disappointing when you meet creative people who blindly accept the system that is as the truth, without questioning it. You’d hope for more from someone who looks at the world wideways. Also, re: white firemen and cowboys: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lesser-known-history-african-american-cowboys-180962144/ . Time for a stern e-mail to Alexemder Henry fabrics 🙂 (

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Thanks so much for your kind and supportive comment! I weirdly had a lot of anxiety posting this and I am not sure why- I normally don’t have a problem sharing my opinions on such things, but something about the recent growth of my readership is just making me brace myself for people who don’t know me that well (or at all, really) making nasty comments that I am simply not in the mood to field. But whatever- the “Trash” button is there for a reason, right? Appreciate you sharing those links for anyone else reading these comments- the actual history of black (and mexican) cowboys in the wild west is INCREDIBLE and definitely not something that many of us learned about in school, so I hope some people take it upon themselves to learn a little bit more about the topic- I was floored when I first learned about them 🙂

      Reply
  2. Rosesred
    Rosesred says:

    Sorry; forgot to comment on the skirt even though that’s what I clicked on: love the bold colors combined with the simple shape!

    Reply
  3. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Bravo! What an awesome post! Thank you! My family is white/Asian and I cringe so many times with how Asians are depicted in the media. I am also befuddled why the NOLA fabric only had white people on it. The designer must have never been there. I love your solution! Beautiful skirt!

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Yes! I recognize that my issues with the fabric market mostly pertain to browness/blackness as I see myself, but I know that the issue for cultures outside of my own is just as prevalent and probably appropriated even more! Would love to see a larger range that includes many more experiences of what it looks like to be an American/ citizen of the world!

      Reply
      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        I think your original post covers challenges that all people of color face. I only mentioned our family’s experiences as a way to connect via shared similar experiences. What I love about your post is that hopefully it will get people to examine their own biases and privileges. I also think it’s important to see how our lives are shaped by the products that are being pushed at us. Again, thanks for such an awesome post!

        Reply
  4. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    I hate hate hate the lack of representation in fabric prints! Especially when a super cute little brown kid comes into the store I work at and they’re all excited to learn to sew, but all the princess/wizard/whatever fabric is full of white faces. And don’t get me started on Alexander Henry and all the pale as fuck Día de Los Muertos ladies. Ugh.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      OH MY GOD- those alexander henry prints are so beautifully painted but I have had to start avoiding them in the store because they get me so worked up! Once I saw this print that was depicting like, some sort of representation of indigenous men saving what looked like a white woman in various stages of distress. At first I thought, ‘no surely the women are meant to be from the same community as the men and for some women these women are being saved from certain death’ (which is problematic enough) but on closer inspection, the women had pale skin and appeared to be wearing “westernized” glamorous garments (like 30’s era starlets) while the men were all wearing loin cloths and some sort of headdress. I think I even took a picture of it because it was so unbelievable. That breaks my heart about the little kids wanting to learn to sew with fabric that they don’t see themselves in, though. I wish I had that kind of skill and that kind of money to start my own line of fabrics that were representative of lots of different people/kids/cultures <--- without appropriating!

      Reply
  5. Anneke Caramin
    Anneke Caramin says:

    I’m white, and I’m often astounded about the things that come so easily to me, and how often I took it for granted.

    A silly example: about a year ago I lost the key to my bike lock. No big deal, I just dragged the bike over to a repair place (it was one of those ring locks attached to the wheel) and asked them to install a new one. No problem, no questions. I walked out and realised this wouldn’t have been so easy if I had been a brown boy.

    And then there are the more serious examples of my previous boss coming over with application forms people have handed in, making fun of their foreign-sounding names and me realising I’d never even have gotten an interview if my name had sounded anything like theirs. Or my friend changing the last name she got from her Zimbabwean father because she couldn’t even land a silly summer job. Or even my boyfriend with a Greek last name who never got any replies to his questions about renting appartments until he signed his e-mails with both out names…

    It’s crazy how much easier life tends to be of you’re white, and how people just don’t realise this. Crazy, and sickening.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      It really is wild. And another interesting thing I have noticed is that many people, while recognizing that there are big problems with racism and discrimination, still think that POC being treated more equally will inevitably take something away from them. Privilege is power, and giving up some of that power can feel devastating to a lot of white people in this country. I dunno. I try to understand it from both sides (not the racism, but the refusal to recognize certain privileges that class and race provide in this country) and be more compassionate for other people’s positions while still making sure that I am not excusing bad, hateful behavior, but sometimes it’s hard and I just can’t find any way to relate to them. Acknowledging one’s privilege is such a big deal though, whether we are white or able bodied or heterosexual or cisgender, and it’s an ongoing process that we always have to be participating in. If we could just get everyone to THAT place, we would be doing pretty great, right?

      Reply
      • Anneke Caramin
        Anneke Caramin says:

        Oh, that would be great. I think it’s awful how people either refuse to acknowledge that privilege and racism exist, or seem to put their own desire to keep that position of power above a society where people are being treated as equals. So what if everyone gets the same chances and you have some more competition going, wouldn’t you feel prouder of your achievements knowing you’ve reached them because of your actual skills and qualities and not because you had an advantage over others?

        There are people asking to introduce quota for POC in media, since Belgium is way behind when it comes to showing diversity (anywhere, really, except on the streets). I don’t like the idea (I’d hate to be made to feel like I only got my job because they had to hire a certain number of women, and I’m sure people wouldn’t let me forget about it either) but I do feel that it might be necessary, if only to force a change for the better.

        Reply
  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Beautiful passionate writing as always. As I started to read I was thinking ‘I hoped she coloured in some of the ladies’ and was delighted to read it was so.

    Reply
  7. Nina
    Nina says:

    I just wanted to say that your post was brilliant. The point about speaking up so that others will be more confident to raise their voices too is so terribly relevant in these times. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Alix
    Alix says:

    Such a great post, thank you Jasika! I loved what you were doing with this fabric when I saw it on your instagram a while ago and the skirt looks great. I don’t know if it’s the election anniversary hanging over me, or just your words, but this post made cry! Thank you for being such an inspiration – as a sewist, as a writer, and as an awesome lady!
    PS I love Pam Tucker.

    Reply
  9. Genevieve
    Genevieve says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing, Jasika. It is the best thing I have read today. And your work on the fabric and skirt is brilliant and inspiring.

    Also, thanks to Rosered, above, who linked to the essay about black cowboys–that history is something I must definitely learn more about.

    Reply
  10. Elle
    Elle says:

    Thank you for posting this. I grew up with the relative privilege of being an ethnic majority, so despite the downsides of the post-colonial, post-slavery pigmentocracy, I had the benefit of seeing myself all around me, at all levels of society. But now I’m raising my mixed-race toddlers in a white society, with my nearly three year old already aware of how “different” his, his sister’s & my hair is, and ugh. I think about these issues a lot and worry what it will be like for them to NOT see themselves. Sometimes it makes me so tired, but I should never be too tired to speak out, because that’s the only way change can happen. So thank you for speaking out so eloquently, & so beautifully, in your writing & your skirt.

    Reply
  11. Gillian
    Gillian says:

    What awesome timing! My list tonight literally included “Reach out to Jasika to see if she’d like to contribute to a post on queer sewists” – and voila! We chatted about this project on IG a while back, but I run the Sewcialists blog, and we’re doing a series called “Who We Are”, which is all about identity, intersectionality, and sewing! We are gathering submissions from LGTBQ_ sewists (or folks who sew for LGTBQ peeps). If you’d be interested in contributing a couple of paragraphs to a group post, or a whole post to yourself, shoot us an email at sewcialists@gmail.com ! https://sewcialists.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/who-we-are-calling-all-lgtbq-sewists/
    https://sewcialists.wordpress.com/whoweare-series/

    Also, for what it’s worth – I have sharpied a few dresses, and they washed well! Maybe you could make this skirt a forever-piece with some permanent markers? ‘Cause it’s great, and the conversations you are starting are great too!

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Gillian, thank you so much for reading and thanks for leaving this information for me! I will try and get my life together so that I can contribute something to the Sewcialists conversation!

      Reply
  12. Kate
    Kate says:

    Thank you for posting this, and writing about it so eloquently. I think about how excited I was as a WHITE kid when I saw someone in art with brown hair and eyes like me. How ridiculous. How much more hurtful and undermining if I’d had all the larger things telling me I wasn’t good enough because of the colour of my skin. And as a queer, trans (fat, loud, angry) person I also understand how the lack of representation can chip away at you. It’s not just lacking a positive, it’s a real negative. You think it’s fine and then you find out it’s wormed it’s way deep into you and hollowed you out somehow.

    I remember there being an internet controversy a while back about a Heather Ross girls and horses print which was only white girls. The only existing link I can find is someone saying ‘what’s the big deal anyway, people are being so mean’ so I won’t link it. The most disappointing thing to me about that was not that it happened honestly, it was that so many people, including Heather herself, reacted by getting offended and angry. Not by listening and learning. It’s fair enough that many people hadn’t considered these issues – that’s the trap of privilege, it teaches you to defend the system, it turns you into a weapon against others. But when someone explains to you that they are being hurt by your actions… I just wish more people had it in them to listen.

    There is a lot of culture I haven’t consumed because it hasn’t come my way. Some of that is because I’m white. But honestly feeling like you can say ‘I didn’t watch that because it’s for black people’ and not in a sheepish way… I’m astounded. I shouldn’t be I guess. Anyway. I’m rambling now too, and I want to avoid getting holier than thou because – well, because I’m white and because I have definitely messed this up, and continue to do so although I do hope I’m getting better and learning and, most importantly, hurting fewer people with thoughtless comments. I hope I can continue to remember to stop and see the world through other people’s eyes, too. Surely the world is richer and better when we do!

    Reply
  13. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    YES. I’ve been working hard this year to speak up when I see injustices, and to take a seat and listen more when I run into my own ignorance and bigotry. Both are difficult, in different ways. I’m a multiracial / Asian-American / white female going to school and working in the tech industry and there is a lot of casual misogyny. I challenged myself to ask my instructor to stop using the word b**** in lectures, for example, which gave me palpitations but I felt ready to be the one who said it. At the same school, I noticed the flirtatious/proprietary tone that some of my classmates adopted with a black female staff member that was very different from how they spoke with me. Just one very striking reminder to me to keep growing my awareness of how other people are experiencing the world. Exactly like you say, these small things are symbolic of big things.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      It is amazing how easy it is to become frozen with fear in certain situations that require you to speak up on behalf of the safety/support of yourself or others, and I say that with no judgement whatsoever; I have been on both sides, having used my voice and silenced it, and it can be terrifying either way you go. But, aside from the UTTER SHOCK that you had an instructor using that word in a class setting (WTF?!?!) you’re amazing for standing up to them! I can’t imagine the kind of guts that took- I still have problems criticizing superiors or authority figures, even when they are clearly in the wrong. But my oh my, as harsh as the news has been lately, it is so evident that a NEW DAY IS RISING and I am SO EXCITED to start feeling the repercussions of a world in which men feel ashamed/scared to continue to harass women. Maybe I am being too optimistic but I am already amazed at how many people are being held culpable for their bad behavior when it has gone unchecked for SO LONG! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!!!!

      Reply
  14. Celeste Morris
    Celeste Morris says:

    Paint on my dear! Paint on! I have the same problem in my pediatric office. We give out stickers as rewards to the kiddos. There are (just barely!!!) stickers for little chica’s and chico’s (if we make full use of Dora and Diego) and black girls are vaguely addressed (Thank goodness for Doc McStuffins and Princess Tiana!!!) but the likenesses of little black boys in children’s stickers are even more short changed!!!! I have searched and searched!!!! We need ALL the colors for ALL the children (and grownups)!!! So….paint on!!!

    Reply
  15. Saki
    Saki says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jasika. As a Japanese-American, I can absolutely relate, especially with my experience as a child. The microaggressions (and regular sized aggressions) still exist, but I’m well aware of how extremely fortunate I am compared to many other POC. Please keep writing and sharing your experience.

    Reply
  16. christiane
    christiane says:

    Really loved this post jasika! I read your blog for a while now and always enjoy reading about your perspective. I once came for the sewing but it is these posts/ stories i stay for. This post made my day, really. Privilege is definitely an energy saving device (sara Ahmed called it that way) – the ones having the privileges (as i do as a white cisgender) are often so shockingly unaware of them not even having to “waste” time thinking about it. So many situations I do not have to deal with. i feel this post was meant for me, too, to understand better, to open my eyes a little wider, find a way to react to or undo inequalities when I see them (I like the idea of coloring). And with that, decide to use the energy I saved. Because really, I had to do doing nothing to have many privileges..it’s craziness.

    Reply
  17. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Thank you so much for this!! Calling attention to these so-called “little” things really matters. They seem a lot less inconsequential when viewed as output of a truly massive cultural issue.

    Reply
  18. Victoria Frausin
    Victoria Frausin says:

    Thank you for this, I enjoyed it. As Colombian ( not Columbian) I felt identify growing up with adverts, tv shows, health advices and so on made by beautiful, tall and white people ( yes, that was the accepted idea of beauty), although I still feel invisible, ignored and unrecognised by English speakers assuming Americans are only people from the USA 🙁 nothing personal, I still like the overall idea of your writing.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      I didn’t take it personally- you are talking about a different issue than what I was describing in my post, but white supremacy and racist ideals of beauty definitely intersect with white nationalism and American xenophobia, affecting people all over the world.

      Reply
  19. Andy
    Andy says:

    Thankyou for your thoughtful lovely writing.

    I remember shopping for a highschool ball as a white closeted queer tomboy who lived in pants and blues and greys and trying to find a dress that didn’t make my skin crawl (looking back, I can say things like dysphoria and invalidating my gender identity but at the time I just thought too girly, too loud, too low cut, too not me), and seeing a bright yellow dress and thinking omg, so gross, who would wear that? And then seeing a girl at the dance in a yellow sari looking stunning and thinking oh, people make yellow clothes for someone who does not look like me to look good in, how did I not realise? Somehow, despite having plenty of classmates with lots of different backgrounds and skin tones, despite the experience of being different and struggling to find clothes made with someone like me in mind, it took actually seeing brown people out of school uniform looking great in something I would never wear to even notice the other ways fashion might not be diverse enough, the other ways someone might struggle to find something made with someone like them in mind. Part of that was a profound disinterest in fashion especially femme fashion, but mostly it was white cluelessness.

    And YES to the idea of standing up for the other people who might be watching. I’m Australian, we just held a nation wide vote / 2 month long campaign on the merits of same sex marriage (results still tbd), and even as someone who can usually be out and proud I couldn’t possibly engage every time, and was so glad any time someone else made effort so it didn’t have to be just us struggling to stay civil and respectful in the face of bigotry every time. I hope that white cis queers remember how difficult this time was and how important allies are whenever trans or indigenous rights are getting discussed, and makes the same effort to not let anyone stand alone in the face of being told they don’t merit equality or respect.

    Reply
  20. Lucy Kemnitzer
    Lucy Kemnitzer says:

    As a toddler and preschool teacher, I had no hesitation in breaking out the markers to change up the characters in the picture books when they were too homogeneous. When I started there were only a few books with people of color in them. We grabbed all the nice representational picture books as they came out, but we sure weren’t going to wait on them. Our kids needed to see those colors while they were still little!

    Reply
  21. BCarr
    BCarr says:

    I looked at the photos before I read your article because I loved the look of your skirt and wanted to see it up close. I saw that there were a variety of pretty skin colors so as I started reading your article I couldn’t understand what the problem was … until your mention of magic markers and coloring the women on the fabric stopped me in my tracks.

    Ahhhh, now I understood. YOU had created the NOLA women’s identities. Not the fabric designer.

    I commend you on flipping the whole story upside down. And showing that sometimes what you see isn’t what you get..

    You taught this ordinary white bread chick a valuable lesson. And I thank you.

    Reply
  22. J. Espinosa
    J. Espinosa says:

    You are awesome Jasika. Really. I found this post through Abby Glassenberg’s newsletter.

    I’m 62, Chicana, and have lived through the civil rights movement, my own family’s activism, my family’s long and deep roots in New Mexico. I grew up in a white community in Southern California. My parents were focused on higher education and opportunities for us that they could not access although they both very bright.

    We all did well relatively well. We had to survive.

    My whole life it’s always been a struggle to deal with the majority society’s Euro-American white-focused hegemony. Racism in short. I’m brown skinned with dark eyes and hair. I’m retired now and have returned to sewing. The frustrations you mention are on point for me. I am so encouraged by reading your articulate post.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Thank you so much for your reply! It’s really been great for me to read about the difficult experiences growing up in a white supremacist culture from other perspectives and writing this post has made me feel so much more connected to the community of makers around the world than I anticipated…I thought it was going to be divisive, but so far I feel a lot of gratitude and appreciation for all the people that have read this and all the dialogue it has started. Thanks again for reading, and for sharing with me 🙂

      Reply
  23. Ann Madison
    Ann Madison says:

    First, I do love your skirt! Second, I have alwwys thought that Living Single is so much better than friends. I love those women, okay some of the guys too, and I search for the reruns. I do get bothered by the paleness of so many things, fabric, dolls, advertisements, well I guess too many things to list. I am a very pale person ( my parents came to the US from Ireland) and I notice the lack of variety in so many things. I do hope that fabric designers/manufacturers read your oost and the many excellent comments. Maybe they will realize the insult to their customers or, at least, the increase in sales if they add some balance. Great post!

    Reply
  24. Laura J
    Laura J says:

    Hi not all people of little color are raciest. As my very colorful father comes to mind. What a life we have had skinny white girl with a very dark Dad. When I hurt my leg and my Dad had to drive me to school I was asked who the black man was and why he was bringing me to school. All of a sudden I realized they were looking at my Dad. My Dad is also white just Italian, I look like my German mother blond and blue eyed. I don’t remember asking God to make me this color. However I am one of 7 children and we are a range of colors. We were also poor, we gleaned the fields for potato’s grew other veggies in the home garden, my grandfather fished an uncle hunted we got by . Aunts ,Uncles, Cousins, we traded cloths and remade what we could We girls would add a few embroidery stitches ,ribbon or fake flowers to change the clothes just a little. The one thing we were never taught was to hate anyone. Children are not born hating it is a learned affliction. In my family today I have One white and Japanese nephew, two white and Hispanic nieces, one black and white niece 3 Italian brother’s in law a Scotsmen and an Irish man. I also have a 3 color niece white black and Spanish . I was never taught being gay was a bad thing. or that they were different.. Only that people love who they love. I thought we were all the same. We are people first and all can sit at the table and talk and listen. I now know that there are good and bad decisions none made by the color of my skin.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Instead of writing a long reply to your defensive and shortsighted comment, I have decided to channel the great Maxine Waters by vehemently stating that “I AM RECLAIMING MY TIME”. Have a nice day, ma’am.

      Reply
  25. Ellen Davis
    Ellen Davis says:

    I love that you changed the skin tones to make the NOLA fabric to more fully represent NOLA and that you wrote about it. Thank you for speaking out.

    Reply
  26. Dona Hightower Perkins
    Dona Hightower Perkins says:

    I just wanted to say that I LOVED “Living Single” and I’m as white as they come…it was more clever, funny, and real than any “Friends” episode will ever be. I love that you gave life to the women of NOLA and voice it every time someone comments on your skirt. Rock on!

    Reply
  27. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful and important post. I wish it could be read by everyone. You’ve concisely and eloquently described the reasons why it is imperative for white people to acknowledge their privilege and to work on educating their white friends and colleagues. As a white woman who daily tries to understand the extent of her privilege, I appreciate your willingness to share your story.

    Reply
    • Jasika Nicole
      Jasika Nicole says:

      Thanks so so much for reading and for your supportive comment! I am really thankful that this post has resonated with other people of all different backgrounds, and I feel validated and seen and grateful for this community of awesome, intelligent and inspiring makers 🙂

      Reply

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