Vox: 'The knitting community is reckoning with racism'

At long last, social justice has come to the knitting community and Vox is there for it. Of course, the experience of “social justice” often winds up being a lot of ugly insults uttered by an online mob targeting anyone who doesn’t immediately toe the party line. But Vox is just sure this is a positive development. Here’s how this started. A woman named Karen Templer runs a knitting company called Fringe Supply Co. On her site she also has a blog where she writes about personal things. Last month, she wrote a long post about her desire to travel and announced she was going on a trip to India:

I’ve wanted to go to India for as long as I can remember. I’ve a lifelong obsession with the literature and history of the continent. Photos of India fill me with longing like no other place. One of my closest friends from that pink-striped tube skirt era (we originally met at JC Penney) is Indian, and her family had offered back then that if I ever wanted to go with them on one of their trips, I could. To a suburban midwestern teenager with a severe anxiety disorder, that was like being offered a seat on a flight to Mars. It was fun to think about, but are you kidding me? I was so young and dumb then that I didn’t even partake of her mother’s Indian cooking. (Talk about regrets!)

In recent years, my wish to go there had intensified. And then there came a point where I decided it just wasn’t meant to be. Bob has no interest, and it’s not like I’m going to go by myself. So when? How? I’d have to content myself with books and movies, and it was sad to think that way. Then about six weeks ago, the opportunity presented itself — a chance to go with a friend who’s been. I talked it over with Bob and we agreed I should do it. And I took a hard gulp and pushed a button. I said yes. And I felt like the top of my head was going to fly off, I was so indescribably excited. Within 48 hours, three of those friends of mine who are so much better travelers than me — but who are all equally humbled at the idea of actually going to India — also said yes. There has hardly been a single day since that I haven’t said in disbelief, either in my head or out loud, I’m going to India.

Not seeing the problem? Well maybe it’s because you’re missing a key piece of information: Templer is white. Still not seeing the problem? Well, thankfully we have Vox to explain it for us:

On January 7, she blogged excitedly about her upcoming trip to India. She wrote that 2019 would be her “year of color.” She said that as a child, India had fascinated her, and that when an Indian friend’s parents offered to take her with them on a trip, it was “like being offered a seat on a flight to Mars.” She spoke of her trip as if it were the biggest hurdle anyone could jump: “If I can go to India, I can do anything — I’m pretty sure.” Templer, it should be noted, is white.

As someone who is mixed-race Indian, to me, her post (though seemingly well-meaning) was like bingo for every conversation a white person has ever had with me about their “fascination” with my dad’s home country; it was just so colorful and complex and inspiring. It’s not that they were wrong, per se, just that the tone felt like they thought India only existed to be all those things for them.

The initial comments on Templer’s blog post were supportive, but quickly, knitters and fans began to criticize her tone. “Karen, I’d ask you to re-read what you wrote and think about how your words feed into a colonial/imperialist mindset toward India and other non-Western countries,” wrote commenter Alex. “Multiple times you compare the idea of going to India to the idea of going to another planet — how do you think a person from India would feel to hear that?”

It couldn’t be more clear that some people are desperate to take offense at anything. She wasn’t saying that India is Mars. She was saying that the decision to take the trip after a lifetime of wanting to go and then finally getting a chance made her feel like she’d been offered the adventure of a lifetime (going to Mars!). In fact, here was her response to the comment about imperialism:

Hi, Alex. What I said is that, as a teenager, India felt as far away and unattainable to me as Mars — that it was impossible to contemplate actually being able to go to either place. I’m not sure how that’s imperialist but will give it some thought. I have had responses from several Indian friends and readers today who had nothing but positive and encouraging responses. I’ll have to see if anything I said offended them.

Alex responded:

Instead of asking your Indian friends to perform more emotional labor for you and assuage your white women’s tears, maybe do some reflection on how your equation of India with an alien world reinforces an “other” mindset that is at the core of imperialism and colonialism.

And it goes on until eventually, Karen is apologizing to one of the many other social justice warriors who’ve become convinced she’s an imperialist colonizer:

To everyone I offended by what I’ve written here, I want to say I hear you and I am sorry.

I have read your comments, and am thinking about everything you have said. I will be thinking about what’s been said in response for a long time to come.

That was not enough as the response from Rachel demonstrates:

You’re sorry people are offended? That’s not an apology for your deeply racist and reductive statement. Please rethink this trip. Don’t force the people of India to deal with you and your colonializing mindset.

To be fair, there are some people who believe Karen’s comments were at worst, unintentionally offensive, and who encourage her to go to India and have fun. There were even some people of Indian descent defending Karen:

I’m brown and I grew up in India. I teach about racism and sexism and all the isms everyday to university students. You didn’t offend anyone. The people screaming at you are another form of white Colonialists who want will clutch their pearls anything that has to do with race. Racism goes away with education .. Which is precisely what you want to do. You aren’t appropriating anything. You are wanting to travel and learn about a country, whose culture is horribly portrayed my western media.

My heart and my support will go with you whenever you want to go visit India.

But the SJW’s kept at it and eventually, Karen felt obligated to apologize. Here’s a sample:

For those who didn’t see anything offensive in my post, I feel it’s important to spell it out for everyone to see and think about, and hopefully learn from:

First, it reads like I’m a tourist looking for an exotic location for my next selfie, which is inherently horrible — India is not a set or a backdrop for white people…

Second, and more egregiously, when I said that to my anxiety-ridden teenage self the offer of travel to India felt like an offer of travel to Mars, I gave the impression that I equate the people of India with aliens — literally alienizing people who aren’t like me. It doesn’t matter that that’s not how I intended it. By being careless with my words, I perpetuated the harmful notion that Indians (and POC in general) are “other,” or even to be feared. People who are the target of racism every day were rightly offended by it, as were others. And I am so sorry.

It does matter that that’s not how she intended it. At least it should matter. But of course, it doesn’t matter to the SJW’s who are demanding this apology. Did anyone actually feel offended by this or is this all just something that maybe could have been offensive to someone in theory? I think it’s the latter. Surely there are a lot of people in India and other parts of the world who dream about visiting Hollywood (for example) and who would consider it as wonderful as a trip to Mars. Those people aren’t racist either. It’s just human nature to want to explore new things that we’ve only seen and heard about at a distance.

Anyway, with one scalp under their belt, the SJW’s began casting around for other things to be offended about and people to bully. A woman named Maria Tusken who runs a small hand-dyeing company decided to leave Instagram as she saw the storm approaching. She made a video about the experience which you can watch below.

“There was a very intense social justice issue that started infiltrating Instagram a few weeks ago,” Tusken said. She continued, “I would say it was very hostile and people were being attacked and threatened and accused of things…Everyone was saying, ‘it’s a conversation,’ but it is not a conversation. It’s a one-sided—I don’t know what to call it—belief?

“There was no room for discussion. It was just arguments, trolling, bullying. I saved some of the stories that these people were sharing and spreading all over the place on Instagram. I took screenshots of some of these images and saved them, not to look back and say ‘Oh, this was terrible, I was right’ or to share these images. I’m not going to share them because they’re awful…I saved these images because, as time goes on, I might start to forget that this happened or think ‘Oh, it wasn’t really that bad’…I can look at this and remember, ‘No, you were not overreacting.'”

Tusken went on to say that she received a lot of feedback from other business owners who felt afraid to say anything about the mob behavior for fear of becoming its next target. “There are a lot of people that are afraid to speak up because it is so dangerous online,” she said. “You can be bullied and you can be destroyed quickly. You can be destroyed in less than 24 hours,” she added. She goes on to recommend a Joe Rogan interview with Jonathan Haidt as a summary of what she believes about the larger issue.

For saying this, the SJW’s went after Tusken and accused her of being a Nazi and a white supremacist. The former claim was apparently based upon her fondness for Guinness beer? The latter had to do with her following some knitting outlet online who followed a white supremacist. Guilt by second-hand-association. But according to Vox, Tusken’s refusal to engage with the bullies was taken as an example of white fragility:

Her video was held up as an example of the fragility of many white knitters — even if they’re not leaving explicitly racist comments, many are refusing to engage with the conversation, and appear to agree with Tusken that the real “bullies” are those who point out white privilege to begin with.

When the mob comes for you, you can a) kowtow or b) refuse to engage and thereby demonstrate your guilt. It’s a neat little system the SJW’s have, one reminiscent of the medieval test for witches. If you sink and die, you were innocent. If you float, you’re a witch and deserve death. As Tusken said, it’s definitely not a conversation.

This makes me angry because so much of it is obviously ludicrous and yet there are outlets like Vox who overlook the mob’s ugly tactics to focus on some perceived good. Maybe there really is room for the knitters of the world to be more respectful of people of color. It’s not my hobby so I don’t know what it’s like from the inside. But I do know that this form of public interrogation and bullying by an angry mob is not helping. In fact, it seems designed to deepen whatever divisions exist rather than to appeal to people better natures.