I believe fully in the work Miha is doing; in the strength of our business partnerships, the mutually enriching exchange of skills, and the positive impact of the commerce we engage in. I also think we can always do better.
As a White woman, the recent protests against police brutality and the spotlight on racial inequity have inspired me to reflect in a deeper and more honest way than ever before about my privilege and my personal failings in resisting the racist systems that I have benefited from. As a White business owner who lives and works in Southern Mexico, that reflection has focused on the colonial structures still in place and issues of white saviorism within the ethical fashion and artisan goods sector.
If you are unfamiliar, white saviorism refers to the “White Savior Industrial Complex," a term coined by Nigerian-American author Teju Cole that describes the idea of a white person, or white culture, swooping into another country to rescue people of color from their own situation, often lacking understanding of complex historical and current affairs, and centering the narrative on their own emotional journey.
I want to preface this post by saying that I acknowledge I have not always gotten it right, and likely will continue to stumble. While I believe my intentions have always been good, I know that there are places I’ve failed in talk and in action.
The privilege I enjoy of crossing borders with ease, while many of the artisans I partner with cannot, is a burning reminder of the imbalance and injustice perpetrated by colonialism. I wholeheartedly believe that supporting the work of artisans by bringing their goods into a market that they cannot currently access has a positive impact. However, I acknowledge I have not done enough work to address the systemic injustice and racist policies in place which allow me that privilege in the first place.
And although I don’t see or position myself as a “savior” or someone who is offering help or handouts, I think there are subtle (and perhaps less subtle) ways in which my language has unwittingly reinforced these stereotypes. For example, using the verbiage, “offering economic opportunities,” without mentioning the ways in which I benefit economically as well. I am personally and professionally committed to addressing these failures.
While I don’t want to center this on my story, I do want to say that my involvement in the artisan goods community in Oaxaca is in no way short-lived or on a whim. The Miha project is one borne out of over eight years of involvement and interest in sustainable and mutually beneficial working and personal relationships. If interested, you can learn more about my journey here.
The following points are ten ways in which Miha is actively working towards being a more anticolonial and antiracist brand.
Miha is committed to:
- Excluding savioristic verbiage from the conversation. We will continue to avoid the use of wording that perpetuates stereotypes or positions the brand as a savior or charity project. It is not.
- Representing Oaxaca and Oaxacans in a multi-faceted and positive light. We don’t focus on or fetishize poverty but rather highlight both the beauty and wisdom of indigenous Zapotec culture and the ways in which Oaxaca is modern, developed and wonderfully complex. We pride ourselves on having close personal relationships with the artisans we work with, and won’t generalize or stereotype them in our representation.
- A mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge. We are honored to be in a position to learn from artisans and recognize the wealth of their knowledge. We are also dedicated to sharing ideas and techniques in hopes that we can all learn and grow personally and in our businesses.
- Paying artisans and other collaborators exactly what they ask. We don’t ever haggle or try to talk prices down, and we don’t tell them what to charge either. We respect those we collaborate with for being the talented artisans and savvy business people they are.
- Working with an inclusive group of people of all genders and classes. The origin of the brand was focused on working primarily with indigenous women, who traditionally have less opportunity for economic development. While we still work with indegenous women and believe that to be an important focus, we have expanded to work with men, artisan collectives, local brands, and designers, and we want to be fully transparent about that. We do this to highlight not only traditional craft, but also modern makers. We avoid portraying or celebrating only the parts of Oaxaca that are seen as quaint, but rather seek to share the rich tapestry of traditional and modern that is Oaxaca.
- Using photos of locals only and always with the individual’s permission and with full disclosure on how it will be used.
- Giving back a portion of proceeds. We will always have a dedicated product on the shop whose profits from sales will be donated to a just cause. At the time of writing the current cause is Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, and the future causes will primarily focus on immigration policy and Oaxacan non-profits.
- Continuing education. We will strive to continue to educate ourselves about issues regarding decolonization and anti-saviorism. (Currently learning from this scholarly paper entitled Branding White Saviorism: The Ethics and Irony of Humanitarian Discourse on Instagram by Elizabeth Smith Cooney-Petro and the sharp and important work of No White Saviors.)
- Actively working towards affecting more just policies as they pertain to immigration rights. We have had monthly donations set up for Raices for the past year and will continue to pursue actions we can take and causes we can share.
- Always being open to critical feedback, suggestions and change.
It is my intention to share the work we are doing in a way that is honest, educational, and positive for everyone involved.
I welcome any feedback and would love to hear your thoughts.
(Pictured below with Ludivina Lazo, a friend and collaborator of many years who is a master dyer and weaver, and who gave express permission for the photo to be shared.)