Last week, I traveled to beautiful Vancouver for the Design & Content Conference. In addition to enjoying the city immensely (and visiting an incredible stationery store: Paper-Ya), it was one of the best conferences I’ve attended.
In an industry where workers look mostly like me (white, male), the speakers and subject matter during the conference was strikingly diverse. We had all-women discussion panels, and at least half (and maybe more) of the speakers were people of color.
We talked a lot about diversity and inclusiveness, too. Several panels were about designing software and web interfaces for diversity, crisis and stress-cases, and I came out of it amped to make sure the stuff I work on works for everyone; not just for those I’m most familiar with.
It made me think about the communities I’m a part of, and where I exert the most influence. It occurred to me that it might not so much be the tech community, but that the stationery community (while smaller, perhaps) is a place where my words and thoughts may have the most impact.
Because of that, I was energized to read a fantastic observation made by a Melissa Chapin, an artist and active member of the Erasable community on Facebook , about something that I’m embarrassed I’ve never noticed: that all five of the Blackwing Volumes editions are tributes to white men.
We have the 725, modeled after Bob Dylan’s guitar; the 211, a tribute to John Muir; the 1138, a movie reference to a George Lucas film; the 24 for John Steinbeck; and most recently, the beautiful be-Yankeed Volume 56 for Joe DiMaggio.
These are all fantastic tributes, and I love the story behind them. But they represent just one demographic of those who made history. What about a pencil that Blackwing fans who are women, or people of color?
I’d love to challenge and encourage Blackwing to consider that for their next edition, or better yet — next several editions.
Here are a few ideas that I’ve been thinking about that would be absolutely amazing:
- Volume 11.8: The Grace Hopper Science Edition — named for the distance, in inches, that light travels in a nanosecond. Admiral Hopper was known for using lengths of wire this long as visual aids in her talks about satellite communication technology.
- Volume 1940: The Hattie McDaniel Film Edition — named for the year this actress became the first woman of color to win an Oscar, for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. It would be another 62 years before it would happen again, in 2002 for Halle Berry.
- Volume 45: The Jesse Owens Sports Edition — This African-American Olympic runner broke three world records and tied a fourth, all in 45 seconds.
- Volume 70: The Ibrahim Ferrer Music Edition — This amazing Cuban singer gained renown later in life after he joined the Buena Vista Social Club at the age of 70.
- Volume 35: The Frida Kahlo Art Edition — This is the number of surgeries she suffered through in her life, after polio and a bus accident. The constant pain she felt informed her iconic art work.
- Volume 135: The Ralph Ellison Literature Edition — This is named for the street he moved to in Harlem in 1936, where began his career as a novelist.
- And finally, how about Volume 11: The Harvey Milk Politics Edition — The first openly gay publicly elected official served 11 months in office before he was gunned down in the streets of San Francisco for his pride and bravery. (OMG, a rainbow Blackwing?!)
I don’t want anyone to think that I’m finger-pointing or declaring Blackwing to be racist or sexist. They’re creative professionals who build amazing products I use everyday. And, like me, they are inspired by heroes to whom they feel a connection. It’s pretty natural to find connections most strongly with those like yourself, and because society more loudly applauds white men for their skill and accomplishments, it’s not surprising that the five editions so far represent creative inspiration from this group.
In researching these icons of history and literature, and discovering the numbers that run through their lives, I was inspired by how vast a field of candidates could be for a Blackwing tribute. Others in the group suggested editions named for Amelia Earhart, Toni Morrison, Susan Kare, and more.
What great women and people of color inspire you? Where would you find the number for their edition? I would love to hear it, and I’m sure Blackwing would as well (though I hope and suspect they have some great ideas of their own).
Thank you, readers, for letting me opine, and Blackwing: thanks for being good sports and stepping up to inspire all of your customers, not just those who look like me.