Why Miss America Matters: Thoughts on Nina, the crown, and being brown
Sunday night, I watched as Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2014; Monday morning I watched the media storm of vitriolic hatred directed towards this young woman, all on the notion that she’s not American enough to deserve the title.
If you honestly believe that we live in a post-racial society, look no further the tweets from the now infamous Buzzfeed article. If these comments are indicative of public sentiment, it seems that a large number of people in our country believe that a brown woman has no right to be Miss America. These comments are sad and disheartening, ignorant and hateful. So it’s somewhat ironic that our new Miss America won the competition with a platform entitled “celebrating diversity through cultural competency.” Sounds like there are a lot of people who could use some of that cultural competency right about now.
Many commenters particularly criticized Miss Davuluri’s Bollywood Dance number, which she performed during the talent competition, as being too ethnic. Now, I’m happy for Miss Davuluri, and I thought it was great that she was proud of her Indian-American roots… in exactly the same way I would have been happy for someone who was proud of their Hispanic roots, their African roots, or their European roots. But let’s face it, it goes deeper than that. For example, if the contestant with another ethnic performance, Irish Step Dance, had won the pageant, I highly doubt anyone would have called her out on her Irish heritage, claim that she wasn’t American enough, or tell her to go back to Ireland.
As a South-Asian American woman, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised by some of the comments and the backlash. It’s easy to dismiss these haters as uneducated idiots (a given), but it’s shocking and hurtful nonetheless. Because the message they’re sending is this: It’s ok for you to be here in the background (to be our scientists, our engineers, our physicians), but it is not ok for you to represent us; you are not one of us.
We are a country known for our unique diversity, full of people from many different countries and backgrounds. We are a country of people who WANT to be here, people who took great risks and endured hardships to get here. Contrary to what those commenters suggest, I firmly believe that the immigrant experience is the most American experience of all. I may not look like Barbie, but I’m as patriotic as they come. My point is that it’s not for these other people, these cowards, to define who qualifies as American and who does not.
As our new Miss America so eloquently put it during her onstage question last night, “I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, and the girl next door is evolving as diversity in America evolves. She’s not who she was ten years ago, and she’s not going to be the same person come ten years down the road.” Miss America matters because she has represented the talents, service, and scholarship of young women in our country for nearly a century. Miss America matters because she has been given a platform to voice fresh new opinions. But most of all, Miss America matters because she’s breaking stereotypes, reflecting the changing views and beliefs of our country, and serving as a graceful role model to all of us.