Why Miss America Matters: Thoughts on Nina, the crown, and being brown

Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri (abc.com)

Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri (abc.com)

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.

14 Comments on “Why Miss America Matters: Thoughts on Nina, the crown, and being brown”

  1. Bravo! Love your blog post!!!! i’m glad you have brought this issue to light. I have to tell you that even as a Caucasian European immigrant who has lived in the US most of my life, I have recently been experiencing the same kind of discrimination from those few ignorants out there, who think that as they put it a “foreigner” such as myself doesn’t deserve the same rights to an American Dream. They look past the fact that I have worked very hard at school since the 4th grade to get the best grades, studied my butt off in college, or worked 18 hours straight days at work for months to succeed in my career, paid my taxes, contributed to many charities and done lots of volunteer work, according to them I’m not deserving of the American Dream that I have built for myself, because according to these people I am taking away their right, their entitlement to the achievements that I have achieved. It’s funny almost how entitled these people feel, like they have some priority to being “American” because their ancestors got here a generation before my family. This is the land of opportunity and it’s the immigrants and their ancestors who built this country, cause unless you are Native American you really have no right to be judging others about being American!!! But I guess in tough economic times the weak and ignorant always look for a scape goat for their problems instead of actually working at them.

    • I’m glad that you liked this post so much! I think it’s something many people can relate to on some level. I like your statement regarding when your ancestors arrived to this country!

  2. Well stated! And you make an excellent point about being marginalized as people of color. Like you, I’m disheartened by the backlash, but I honestly believe that those sentiments are not the norm. Looking at the backlash to the backlash, so to speak, and also at the response to the University of Alabama sorority thing, I have hope that the generations behind us embrace diversity and from what I can tell, are actively seeking ways to unite instead of divide.

    • Thanks Rahkia! I think you are right in that it’s not the norm, and that the younger generations in particular are making more progress on this front. I am definitely optimistic on that front!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. Nina Davuluri’s win should be celebrated as it sends a reminder that we are a melting pot and this is something we should relish in and embrace. Diversity is a good thing! And I absolutely love what she said about the image of “the girl next door” changing. Great post! So well written!

    • Thanks for the compliment – it means a lot coming from you! I think the “girl next door” comment resonated with a lot of people… it turned out to be quite the powerful message!

  4. As if I couldn’t love you more! GREAT post!

    When I first saw the Buzzfeed article, I literally said, “Hey America, thanks for stopping by and acting stupid.”

    So proud of you, friend. xo

    • Thanks Kristy! As you know, I don’t generally do opinion pieces like this but these events really struck a chord with me and I had to say something about it! Feels good 😉

  5. Love your post, as an almost 60 year old white woman I’m happy to say that although there are still way too many people in this country who seem to clearly be racist or at least too stupid to understand that in essence a real American is by definition culturally a hodgepodge of almost every nationality on the planet, the numbers of people who do recognize and embrace that truth are growing. I actually have some hope that eventually we will all understand what all men(and women!) are created equal means!
    Congratulations Nina Davuluri!

    • The point is that it’s for no one to judge how American anyone else is. I think it’s more about honoring and respecting all of our unique backgrounds, whatever that may be.

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