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And while these donations are certainly appreciated by those afflicted, Sara makes a valuable point by asking who made them and from what social position this maker speaks. According to a study by sociologist Marybeth C. Stalp (2007), the majority of quilters in the US are white, middle-age and middle-class. These quilters regularly conceptualize their creative activity as a form of carework for their families and the larger community who are usually the beneficiaries of their quiltmaking. For Stalp, this carework is heavily gendered and expressive of women's role as the nurturing and loving carer of the family. It is because of the framework of carework that, according to Stalp, the women can justify spending time away from their other duties and engage in a creative activity they enjoy. Showing love and sympathy for those afflicted becomes a similar form of carework manifested in the physical quilts. Clearly, some of the recipients receive and appreciate the quilts as such tokens of love and support. For example, one user of the above mentioned Instagram feed posted: "I'm from Houston. Thank you for loving us!"
However, such outpours of love - as nice and well-intended as they certainly may be - are often nothing more than just that: a showcase of one's compassion that does not require any engagement with the context of the catastrophe and the wider social and political structures that make certain groups more vulnerable than others. Making a quilt for a Hurricane Katrina survivor from the safety and comfort of one's own home serves as a means to demonstrate empathy and compasssion without being moved to take any action beyond acknowledging that catastrophe has struck some (but luckily not others). As Jamelle Bouie argues, there exists a sort of "capusule summary of Katrina and its place in national memory" that is built on the assumption of a united America in which all citizens experience disaster in similar ways. As such, "white Americans saw the storm and its aftermath as a case of bad luck and unprecedented incompetence" not related to questions of race or class. This narrative, however, ignores how black Americans were disproportionately affected by the storm and its aftermath. Indeed, "in a city defined by decades of poverty, segregation, and deep disenfranchisement, poor and working-class blacks (including the elderly, and children) would largely shoulder the burden of the storm." In a way, making and donating a quilt to survivors as a demonstration of sympathy and love serves as a comfortable means to "help" others without facing the larger issues at stake. The quilts provides comfort not only to the recipient, but also to the maker.
This post will be followed by one which explores how quilts can be used as a form of direct political action.