Miss America proves we don’t live in post-racial society
Yesterday morning, I woke up and grabbed my iPhone to check Facebook just like any other day. As I looked at my news feed, I noticed that 10 of my friends posted a link to a Buzzfeed post that had compiled several racist and Islamophobic tweets regarding Nina Davuluri, the first Indian-American winner of the Miss America beauty pageant, which happened Sunday in Atlantic City, N.J.
As I scrolled down the page, I was increasingly angered with the blatantly racist and ignorant remarks people were making, referring to Davuluri as an Arab, “Miss 7-11,” “Miss al-Qaeda” and a terrorist. People were upset that a woman of Indian descent was crowned in an American beauty pageant (“This is America, not India”), and they were offended that the Miss America judges had the audacity to crown Davuluri mere days after the anniversary of Sept. 11 — as if the two events are somehow related. I was so horrified that I went on my laptop to see even more racist tweets lamenting that a “damn dot-head” won, followed by an emoji of a red circle. And the list goes on and on. It amazes me how Twitter has emerged as this social media platform where people feel like it is acceptable to let their racism loose in short, 140-character bursts. I’d prefer 1,000 tweets about what you had for breakfast, honestly.
Now let me say that I’m not a huge fan of beauty pageants. All contestants conform to a certain Eurocentric beauty standard — that is, they are tall and thin with long hair and soft-featured faces. They flounce around the stage in swimsuits and high heels and have to prove that they are not just conventionally attractive, but also conventionally talented and intelligent. And whoever is crowned is the new face of what it means to be a perfect woman in the United States, I suppose. There is no room for the many, many, many American women who do not fit these constraints — and Davuluri fits the mold, save for her skin color. Beauty pageants perpetuate these ridiculous standards that most women, especially women of color, cannot attain no matter how much they tweeze, bleach and paint their faces and bodies.
I’ll admit I was surprised to even see that an Indian-American woman had won. I did not bother to follow the coverage, but my roommate had been telling me for a week about a classmate who was obsessed with Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, a blonde white woman who is in the Army National Guard, likes hunting and has tattoos. While Vail is tremendously accomplished and certainly a viable contender for Miss America, I was disappointed to see tweets that Vail should have won the pageant because she is a “real American woman.” And Davuluri, who was born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., is not? It’s so unfathomable that in a nation that prides itself on being a historical refuge for immigrants and a melting pot of diversity still discriminates against its own citizens on the basis of skin color. It’s unfortunate that we as Americans are not even on the same page about what it means to be an American and that, more often than not, being American means being white. I myself grew up feeling awkward about how to identify myself as “American.” Whenever my parents used that word, they were always referring to white people.
I, for one, congratulate Davuluri for representing Indian-American women on such a visible scale. It truly is momentous to see a dark-skinned, South Indian-American woman embracing both of her identities to be crowned Miss America. This is not a retreat from Americanism, but a call for public support to expand our narrow definition of it. The backlash against Davuluri is absolutely deplorable and yet another reason (atop the countless racially inflamed incidents in the last year) we do not live in post-racial America — and it’ll be a long, uphill struggle to see the day that we do.
Rashmee Kumar is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in women’s and gender studies and South Asian studies. She is the former copy editor of The Daily Targum.