Do people in India care about ‘racist’ knitters?


There is a weird controversy about a white knitter who was perceived to be racist against Indians because they were worried about going to India because it was so alien from her experience? At least that’s what I get from the conversation. See the above exchange for some more context.

The mainstream website Vox, published something relating to this, The knitting community is reckoning with racism. The post shows that this is really about Americans more than about Indians. For example:

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 author of the piece is a mixed-race American. Her mother is Irish American, and her father an immigrant from India.

My question is simple: what do people in India think about this?

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24 Replies to “Do people in India care about ‘racist’ knitters?”

  1. I’m from Muncie which if you don’t know where it is, it’s the closest big city of the state of Indiana to Toledo, and i think the knitting thing is cool if that’s what your into, though personally I have never knit or gone to a foreign country.. my guess is most hoosiers feel the same way.

    I hope this is helpful!

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  2. I have a separate question related to this topic. Where does this association of India with “color” spring from? It seems like half the time a Westerner is asked a question about what strikes them about India, they say that it is “colorful” (presumably in contrast to their own countries ). Aren’t Western countries colorful? Are there particular shades of color that one sees in India but not in the West?

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    1. fabric. food. henna. clothing.

      it’s my impression too. and it’s not just indian. looking at how pakistanis decorate their buses and taxis…they’re colorful.

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      1. ; the West (and even Islam) have a very black & white palette.

        it’s the victory of puritan/roundhead sartorial styles. suits are based on puritan garb. catholics and royalists had bright vivid colors for aristocrats.

        also, what we say about of ‘american’ vs. ‘india’ is probably ‘america-northern europe’ vs. ‘india.’ southern europe is quite different. tuscany is not drab.

        in any case, pakistanis still like it bright from what i’ve seen.

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        1. Tehran is pretty colourful too but I would hazard when Westerners speak about “colorful” India, they are also referring to the cacophany and chaos implicit.

          This is more about India’s dysfunctional governing structure (democracy for a billion + people) rather than anything intrinsic to Indian civilisation..

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  3. 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.

    In my experience, every Indian who goes to the US, temporarily or permanently, thinks exactly this way about the US.

    This is a universal condition. Calling it racist is daft.

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    1. it’s more of an indian american issue (and in that regards a minority american issue) than an indian one. indians dont care about “appropriation” as they themselves are huge “appropriaters” of american culture.

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      1. adapters rather than appropriators.. Indians are brilliant at “jugaading” it..

        the resilience of Hindu culture and civilisation is simply remarkable; Westernisation will not defeat it.

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        1. + 10

          I think there is a solid case to be made for an Indian exceptionalism. Its ancient civilization bears directly on the modern day like no other culture, not even among Jewish peoples. The stories certain Hindu children are told at bedtime would be the equivalent of reading European children Greek tragedies* or some local Pagan equivalent (e.g. Norse Sagas among Scandis, even though this is not really a thing for them).

          If you chip off a bit of the veneer, Hindu stories have quite incredibly graphic undertones. The semiotics of Hindu rituals (rich in sublimated sexuality) is also unparalleled among major civilizations. This profound effect this must have on Indian psyches is worth further study (to my knowledge, Sudhir Kakar is the only person to have made any notable attempts at this). How this scales up to the collective, and how this might account for the cultural resilience and syncretism that characterizes India would be exhibit A in the case for this exceptionalism.

          * If you could even say Greek civilization `belongs’ to Europe. I’ve always found that something of a stretch considering the Ancient Greeks didn’t think of themselves as having much to do with the folk to their North and West, and whose cultural outlook had more points of reference with Asia and Africa than Europe. Although this remark probably belongs in another thread…

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  4. When it comes about exceptionalism, no group beats the Islamic ummah. Tons have been written about it already. I just want to add that most Muslims cannot even comprehend the possibility that their religion could be wrong or other people genuinely think Islam is a mistaken belief system. They either think that other people are zealous and envious of Islam because it is the superior faith or vaguely think that somehow other people’s reasonableness gets clouded when it comes about Islam (clouded by none other than the creator himself), aalthough other people can be superior in reasonableness in other things of material world and social aspects. Every group is exceptional until it breaks. Of Muslims, Hindus and Chinese, I think the Chinese have better chance of not breaking in the short term but may be it will break the fastest and cleanest when the time comes.

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  5. There can be more than one exceptionalism, of course 😉 Although ranking them as better/ worse is kinda meaningless imo. It’s a mathematical fact that you can only order things unambiguously in one dimension.

    India has profoundly influenced Chinese culture much more than vice versa. The most visceral example is something as quintessential as Shao Lin Kung fu, and Ch’an (or Zen ) Buddhism were brought to them by a monk from southern India. Multiple Chinese legends refer to India. No Indian legend refers to China. If your notion of exceptionalism means having sui generis traits, then that waters down China’s case relative to India’s.

    The Chinese version would also look very different. With the exception of Taiwan, Hong Kong and the diaspora populations across SE asia, the majority of Chinese people either lived through the cultural revolution or are descended from folks that did. The cultural rupture this caused cannot be understated, resulting in Chinese modes of thinking and behavior that are slightly more in sync with western modernity than Indian ones. Resorting to cliche: what’s the Chinese equivalent of an ash marked Iyer wearing a lungi walking into a bank yammering away on his smartphone?

    I grew up in a (non PRC) Chinese city, so I have a degree of personal familiarity with the frame of this discussion. China is exceptionally diverse and its cultures are extraordinarily rich, but centuries of central rule (far more than India ever witnessed) with a highly uniform writing system across a huge swath of the land (except for some uncivilized southern holdouts), have rendered it somewhat less exceptional relative to other modernities out there than is the case for India. Just my tuppence.

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  6. The most visceral example is something as quintessential as Shao Lin Kung fu, and Ch’an (or Zen ) Buddhism were brought to them by a monk from southern India.

    i don’t think you are using visceral right. india’s influence through buddhism came through elites. and the commonalities remained at elite level. ‘folk buddhism’ merged into folk daoism and chinese folk religion.

    If your notion of exceptionalism means having sui generis traits, then that waters down China’s case relative to India’s.

    why would you assume that? you lay out what you mean above and that’s what i took for granted: Its ancient civilization bears directly on the modern day like no other culture, not even among Jewish peoples.

    some classical chinese readers could actually read the characters on shang oracle bones buried 3,000 years earlier. china, like hindu india, has that level of continuity.

    I grew up in a (non PRC) Chinese city, so I have a degree of personal familiarity with the frame of this discussion. China is exceptionally diverse and its cultures are extraordinarily rich,

    if you grew up in hong kong, that’s really different. similar with singapore. diasporic life is different (HK close enough).

    also, you use language in a sloppy way, or are dumb. china is not “exceptionally diverse.” it’s actually surprisingly non-diverse when you look at genetics, language, and unity of history (as you imply right after that! you can’t have it both ways 🙂

    The cultural rupture this caused cannot be understated, resulting in Chinese modes of thinking and behavior that are slightly more in sync with western modernity than Indian ones.

    the cultural revolution point is good. and qualitatively persuasive. but there is actually quantitive evidence that BOTH chinese and indians are equally distant from western thought in terms of cognition/values https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3259613

    don’t try to bullshit me bro 😉

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  7. As the West diversifies we see the presence of “white spaces” filled with woke liberal people.

    The Wasps had their country clubs, the Wokes (our new cultural elite) have their book clubs.

    One of the reasons for the increase in niche counter culture (like knitting) is probably due to the fact that as mainstream society becomes browner, woke white people want to find a place to meet people like themselves..

    I see that a diverse West doesn’t mean a mixed up society except that there are segregated bubbles that are linked by various connectors.

    This could be my perspective on this side of the Atlantic but I have noticed that “wokespaces” happen to be “whitespaces.”

    Personally I’m pretty alright with that (I used to enjoy woke activities pre-Shire) but what astounds me is the activities. The very same people who will March to the ballot box demanding more immigration (they really cant do math; immigrants multiply) are usually the same ones who are exceptionally awkward around immigrants and coloured folk.

    The hypocrisy rankles. Usually my only discord with fellow Tories is on Winston; their incessant need to valorise them is needlessly thoughtless (at least acknowledge and accept his racism).

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  8. also, you use language in a sloppy way, or are dumb

    You didn’t consider the possibility that I might be both 😉

    I was actually responding to someone who commented after you who said that China’s exceptionalism is better or something. Your points are taken however. To push back on a few things though — I never suggested that India’s civilization is continuous in a way that China’s is (it’s definitely not). Merely that its ancient traditions weigh on present day psyches much more than anywhere I can think of, including China. China certainly has a lot of continuity, but I don’t think the Romance of the Three Kingdoms impinges on a modern Chinese persons psyche as much the Hindu epics do on modern day Hindus. There have been a lot written about how the Ramayana Doordarshan series of the 80’s presaged the rise of mainstream Hindu nationalism, for example.

    some classical chinese readers could actually read the characters on shang oracle bones buried 3,000 years earlier. china, like hindu india, has that level of continuity.

    We can definitely agree that there’s continuity between the ancient and modern Chinese superego. I’d say for Indians its at the level of the Id. Like I said above, there can be more than one exceptionalism.

    if you grew up in hong kong, that’s really different. similar with singapore. diasporic life is different (HK close enough).

    Yes and no. A significant chunk of the population is first generation immigrant from the mainland, and not just from Guangdong. Fujian and Sichuan also represent. Also, up till the 90’s you could get out to the outlying islands and new territories and head to the villages and see Chinese folk living ways that are pickled in time.

    the cultural revolution point is good. and qualitatively persuasive. but there is actually quantitive evidence that BOTH chinese and indians are equally distant from western thought in terms of cognition/values https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3259613

    don’t try to bullshit me bro 😉

    Ahh, battle of the BS meters. Bring it on! 😉

    After the reproducibility crisis in psychology, I have a hard time setting the time aside to dig through such papers. It was hard enough putting my Kahneman books into storage after he admitted he placed too much faith in ‘underpowered studies’. I may take a dig through this, but my default position is to be extremely skeptical of any such claims as the one you quote. You don’t know what I do for a living, so I’d be just as wary of bullshitting me bro 😉

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  9. I never suggested that India’s civilization is continuous in a way that China’s is (it’s definitely not)

    i think it is defensible to say that the civilization promoted by the brahmins IS continuous in the same way that the civilization promoted by the chinese shih of confucius’ age are analogous in magnitude and length.

    China certainly has a lot of continuity, but I don’t think the Romance of the Three Kingdoms impinges on a modern Chinese persons psyche as much the Hindu epics do on modern day Hindus.

    there is a modern day reaction in china though. it’s hard to say how it will shake out, but like russia, china is ‘rediscovering’ its roots. eg the chinese gov. pushing ‘confucius institutes.’

    After the reproducibility crisis in psychology, I have a hard time setting the time aside to dig through such papers.

    this isn’t social psychology. the author comes out of the field of cultural evolution and cognitive anthropology. it didn’t go through the same issues in part because these are *theory rich* fields. they test precise hypotheses, as opposed to data dredging.

    in any case, this is just taking input data and generating relationships between them. i have no idea what you are doing professionally, but if you think a fussed up “PCA analysis” is something to be worried about re: “reproducibility”, yeah, no need to continue the conversation….

    It was hard enough putting my Kahneman books into storage after he admitted he placed too much faith in ‘underpowered studies’

    most of k&t is valid. it’s just the generalizability (how robust in different contexts). and the priming stuff is trash.

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    1. So I read through that paper in a bit more detail, and I have various anxieties about their methodology which perhaps you could dispel. To mention a few: given the high dimensionality of the data (a ~ 90+ question survey) that one is attempting to project onto a single distance statistic, one has to be extraordinarily careful of which one you pick. They compare and contrast different possibilities at the beginning, criticizing other distance statistics because they project out bi/multi-modality in the distribution within a population (Brazil and Turkey return similar numbers, in spite of their obvious cultural differences due to the bi/multi-modality of the views in former relative to the latter). Many societies these days are highly polarized among themselves, so it’s important to get this right. However it’s not clear to me how much better the one they went with is (cultural fixation index), since it’s original definition is a ratio of variances* and variance is terrible at capturing multimodality. What am I missing here?

      My second anxiety has more to do with the nature of the beast — wording can make a crucial difference in how respondents reply. In a cross cultural study like this where they will have to translate the same questions into dozens of languages, there will have large systematic errors not addressed in the paper. Hats off to them for the attempt though. There may be signal there, just not sure what error bars to ascribe to it (not buying their 95% CL’s). Unreliable error estimation = unreliable truth value.

      Regarding the other points you made above — don’t want to be in the BP doghouse, so I’ll just concede here 🙏🏾

      * What do these guys have against numbering their equations?!

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  10. As an Indian and a writer, I understand exactly what the author of this piece is doing. No, it’s not outrage. It’s advancing her career by using white-guilt-tripping, and she’s done that quite successfully. I’m sure now, with all this exposure, she’ll be getting more on-spec writing contracts than she can handle. Real Indians would welcome others into their homes, make you sit down and eat samosas with chai. I have to laugh at the gullibility of the American press!

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  11. I just saw the video.

    I must be very, very stupid. Because I don’t understand what the controversy is about. Can someone explain it too me?

    What does “ally theater on Instagram” mean?

    Why would any Indian feel offended by foreigners visiting India?

    Is it about her initially thinking that her visiting India was as improbable as her visiting Mars? If this is what it is about, I my head is not computing. She is writing this in the context of her visiting India for knitting now. Why would any Indian care or feel offended by this?

    I seriously am totally confused.

    If I don’t get it, I am pretty sure that Indians in India could care less.

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  12. As a knitter, I am sad. Poor lady. How come there is no longer any generosity left at the meaning of other people’s words? Perhaps, it’s just cold front freezing out my cynicism.

    Also, I wish people are a little more precise in the definition of diversity so that all the variances are properly ranked. 😀

    For all the diversity in Indian languages, it appears that verbal communication between Indians goes pretty well. The scripts could be completely different but most Indians immediately catch the tone of voice from each other.

    Chinese appear to be other way. Sure everybody can read the same thing, but do they understand it in the same way? I was completely surprised that a native Chinese person from Nantong can’t do Mandarin at all and needs help to navigate Shanghai airport.

    Despite Razib’s China province series, I am completely ignorant of China. But, I am beginning to wonder if the so-called dialects are actually different languages disguised under the same script. But maybe that is a derailment for an open thread.

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