Racist comments towards Miss America pageant-winner illustrate ignorance
Shelby Smith, Staff Writer
October 4, 2013
Filed under Opinion
Terrorist. Un-American. Miss 7-11. Miss al-Qaeda.
This was the reaction to the crowning of Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri.
The pageant took place Sunday, Sept. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J., where the pageant was first born in 1921.
As I watched the pageant, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Davuluri’s poise, talent and ability to speak so eloquently about every topic that was given to her. Even though I was rooting for two close friends who were vying for the title, I couldn’t help but be excited to see someone of her character win.
Not all of America shared my enthusiasm. Twitter was bombarded with racist tweets about Davuluri.
“And the Arab wins Miss America. Classic,” wrote @Granvil_Colt.
@EJRBuckeye said, “Well they just picked a Muslim for Miss America. That must’ve made Obama happy. Maybe he had a vote.”
Here’s my personal favorite, from
@JAyres15: “I swear I’m not racist but this is America.”
This level of racism is not new within the pageant industry.
“I had a contestant tell me there was no way that Miss Virginia (a state preliminary to the Miss America pageant) would crown a black girl two years in a row,” said Hester Fletcher, director of the Miss Virginia Dogwood Pageant, in an interview with The Guilfordian. “It’s sad.”
Having a Caucasian military member as a contestant also fueled the fire.
“I saw tweets about how Miss Kansas is the ‘real Miss America,’” said Asian pageant contestant Laetitia Hua to The Guilfordian. “On one side you have the Caucasian blond who can shoot a gun. Then you have a woman of Indian descent who graduated from med school.
“People’s anger stems from the fact that the woman who seemed ‘more American’ in terms of stereotypes didn’t win.”
Yet no contestant is “more American” than the other. According to the rules, every contestant must be a citizen of the United States, making them all American.
But this is more than an issue of citizenship. This is about perceptions of what is culturally American.
“I experience racism on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis because I look Asian,” said Hua. “Even in the states, where I have been living for over ten years, many people see me and ask, ‘Where are you from?’ But I’m an American.”
We live in a country culturally dominated by Caucasian traditions. Anyone who is not of European or mostly Caucasian descent must place a label in front of her or his American status like “Asian,” “African,” “Indian” or others.
Also, we can’t seem to accept that a woman who was born in Syracuse, N.Y., raised in the United States, attended the University of Michigan to become a doctor and espoused a platform of “celebrating diversity through cultural competency” could truly be American because they don’t look white enough — and therefore, not American enough.
However, our new Miss America has not been quiet about this issue.
“I have always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, and the girl next door is evolving as the diversity in America evolves,” Davuluri said during the Miss America finals.
Indeed, despite traditional racism, Miss America has evolved along with the “girl next door” image. Past winners include African Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans — Norma Smallwood, a Cherokee, took the crown in 1926. 2014 marks the first Indian American and the second Asian American to win.
“Race is not a factor when I judge,” said pageant judge Penny Smith to The Guilfordian. “The fact is, Nina was extremely consistent across all the categories. She had enthusiasm and passion for the organization.”
Though disturbed, racial minority contestants are not discouraged from pageantry.
“I know that as long as I work hard and persevere past my obstacles, everything will fall into place,” said Miss America contestant Chrissy Ching to The Guilfordian. “Is there a chance I may encounter people similar to the infamous ‘tweeters?’ Maybe. However, as long as I am the best ‘me,’ that’s all I can control.”
I’m not discouraged, either. As a queer, non-Christian pageant girl, I’m inspired to see someone like Davuluri win what is known as the “Super Bowl of Pageants.” It lets me know that someone like me could be in such a position one day.
In the meantime, we can learn from Davuluri. As a society, we must take control of our thoughts and words to realize there is no one definition of what a Miss America — or any American — should look like.