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A Lesson from a Turban Pattern: Why the Word "Gypsy" Will No Longer Be Seen in My Work

The turban that started it all

When I knit, I tend to watch Youtube videos that are completely irrelevant to my interests. So naturally yesterday, I was two hours deep into a Tati Westbrook makeup review marathon as I furiously knitted on a sample that did not seem to be progressing at all. The Youtube autoplay selected another new Tati video for me to watch, when suddenly an idea struck me.

About 3 weeks ago, before the fiber community exploded into a valuable discussion about race, privilege, and acceptance, I released a pattern on my new Etsy shop and on Ravelry called the "Gypsy Turban" The turban was inspired by my upbringing in a free spirited family that traveled frequently to developing countries, replaced cultural norms with their own, whilst dedicating their life to giving and helping others. I often refer to my parents' alternative lifestyle as "hippie", as they came to age during the tumultuous 1970's. While knitting the "Gypsy Turban" I was inspired by my family's "hippie" ways. So, with Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy" playing on my Pandora, I was convinced that I found the perfect name for my pattern.

At the time, I thought Gypsy meant "free spirit, hippie, wonderer, counterculturist". I was ignorant to its true meaning, until weeks later, when my social media platform doubled overnight and a concerned subscriber informed me about the global meaning of "Gypsy". I was digging into a fattening Italian dinner, while waiting for our "cheat" meal for the week when my phone pinged. Breaking my rule of "working" while spending quality time with my husband, I checked my messages, only to see an informational message from a new subscriber who saw the name of my turban, and very kindly informed me that there is a discriminatory meaning to the word "Gypsy".

The thing is, there are two sides to discussing race and discrimination. There's the abstract side and the tangible side. The abstract side represents those who benefit from discrimination and as a result, do not feel the negative effects because of their class, race, sex, gender, religious belief, ect. The other side is the tangible side, those who feel and are affected by discrimination in a debilitating way that directly affects their quality of life. My entire life as a non-christian African American/Latino woman living in America, I was always on the side of the "tangible". I was always climbing uphill, bracing myself against the high winds of racism and discrimination. In school, I was always the only black child in class, and so I was always the scapegoat. As a mallrat teen, I was the one who was often frisked because of the belief that all black teens shoplift. And as an adult, white males in my graduate program openly hated me, because they believed I was only there because I was black.

My entire life, I was always the tangible, until that night, whist digging into my carb laden, fat heavy dinner, when I received that message. This realization shook me to the core. It quaked my soul. My husband was openly annoyed as I frantically updated my pattern, but I didn't care. All that I cared about was fixing my wrong, and being sure that my knitters and crocheters and fiber friends understood why I was fixing this. I didn't want to brush this under the rug or create excuses about "Oh, American's weren't apart of that". Hell no. I wanted everyone to know about my mistake and that I was fixing this mistake. If I learned one thing from being the Other, it is that being sorry is never enough. You must take action, you must learn, and you must talk about it.

The problem was, five days later and I still did not quite understand the social context of "Gypsy". There are probably articles on it, but my frazzled ADD brain could not comprehend articles yesterday. Especially, not whilst designing a pattern that I did not do the preliminary math for (oops). And so I watched a stream of documentaries on Youtube. Halfway through my first documentary, my husband peeked into my office to see what I was up to.

"Learning about Gypsies, huh?" he asked casually.

"Yep," I said, still zoned into the video, metal knitting needles clacking.

"You know, I still have no idea what a real Gypsy is," he admitted. "Like I think they are Romanian, but that's all I know. It's funny because people use that word all the time. I never really thought about it."

"Yep Jake, me too."

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"I never really thought about it". Sad words of wisdom from Jake. At least people are finally talking about all of this." So glad I found you! We have an amazing amount of common ground and I'm a 70 year old white gal, married to a fantastic brown guy from South Africa. On the surface, nothing in common; dig just a wee bit and WOW! HUgs and thanks for your wonderful blog and podcast.


Rachel Miller
Rachel Miller
Feb 02, 2019

Words to live by, "...being sorry is never enough. You must take action, you must learn, and you must talk about it." Thank you for articulating this so beautifully, taking this to heart.

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