Defending Miss America’s Nationality

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri

As a little girl, I plopped myself in front of the television whenever the Miss America pageant aired. I hoped and hoped that this year, the new Miss America would look more like me: tanned skin with dark hair. I usually rooted for Miss Hawaii because, of all the contestants, she looked the most like me. As I grew older, the flashy dresses and sparkling tiaras lost their shine. I gave up watching the Miss America pageant some time during my early teens.

Yesterday, Miss New York Nina Davuluri was crowned as Miss America 2014. She’s the first Miss America of Indian descent. For me, an Asian American, this momentous occasion. She was barely crowned when Twitter blew up with racist tweets attacking her American-ness. Or lack thereof.  I didn’t watch the pageant, but I learned about her crowning and the subsequent tweets through my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

When I read my BlogHer Voices of the Year 2013 Kenote post “I’m Tired of Defending My Nationality” in July, I received plenty of feedback during the reception. Many bloggers approached me to share their stories of how others assume they are not American based on the color of their skin or even their facial features. Some didn’t realize that how they worded their curiosity might be construed as an assumption that I am not an American.

I even had several people who didn’t understand what I was so angry about.  How could I be upset by people who just wanted to know about my background? I even had someone use those dreaded “you people” term. They didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Miss America 2014 is a big deal. A 24-year-old American of Indian ascent who is so proud of her heritage that she performs a Bollywood fusion dance as her talent. That’s very unusual in the pageant world. Usually it’s belting out operas or Broadway songs or classic Western-style dances. Even her platform (which all Miss American contestants are required to have) “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency” shows how important diversity is to her.

Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri

As Americans we should be celebrating her win. Instead her accomplishments are marred by ignorant people are upset because she’s not American.

We should all be angry about the racism directed towards Nina Davuluri. It’s a reminder that even though the current United States President is black, America is not post-racial anything. Let’s express our shock and indignation on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr or whatever social media platform appeals to you most.

I hope you’ll do more than express your anger. No matter the color of your skin, you can help. Use your words by educating those around you. If you are a parent, start with your children. Talking about race and diversity at a young age are extremely important. More and more research shows that children form their opinions about race at a young age. As adults we are scared to talk about race with each other because we don’t want to say the wrong thing so we ignore the elephant in the room until something like this happens.

Empower yourself and your children. Expose them to diversity with books, cultural festivals, and food (especially food!). Teach them to respect everyone’s cultural heritage. Do the same for yourself.

I plan on tell my daughter about Miss America 2014 and what a milestone it is. I’m also going to tell her about the racism that was expressed afterwards. We’re going to celebrate and educate.

I hope you’ll do the same.

Photos courtesy of MissAmerica.org

13 Comments

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