Nina Davuluri won the Miss America pageant over the weekend, shattering the ages-long tradition of the tiara going to a Caucasian winner (with the exception of a few African-American and Latina winners, here and there).
Davuluri is the first Indian-American to win the title. However, what should have remained a happy moment for Davuluri as well as others excited to see this country’s stringent beauty standards begin to loosen quickly devolved. Naysayers–upset that this woman of color could win a pageant usually dominated by her lighter-skinned, fairer-haired sisters–quickly began to tear Davuluri apart on social media.
Some choice Tweets regarding Davuluri’s crowning as Miss America include the following (via Elite Daily):
“nice slap in the face to the people of 9-11 how pathetic” – @wnfraser (I think I must have zoned out when we evidently decided that Indian-Americans orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks)
“Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11.” – @JPLman95 (Because cultural stereotypes are always so apt…)
“Congratulations Al-Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you.” – @Blayne_MkltRain (I think this was an attempt at witty repartee that fell flat)
“Miss America is a terrorist. Whatever. It’s fine.” – @_AudreyAnn (Someone sounds bitter)
“Well they just picked a Muslim for Miss America. That must’ve made Obama happy. Maybe he had a vote.” – @EJRBuckeye (Davuluri isn’t even Muslim…)
Miss America is, at its core, a beauty pageant. Though we can acknowledge that it does try to masquerade as something less superficial with its talent and scholarship portions, we can’t ignore the fact that, for the most part, the contestants compete mainly on the basis of their swimsuit-wearing skills and choice in eveningwear. It might be the 21st century and we might have deconstructed some of our beauty ideals, but I doubt we will see any Miss America contestants who can’t rock a barely-there bikini and skimpy evening gown any time soon.
Then, what is perhaps more startling to me than people’s culturally insensitive and blatantly racist reactions towards Davuluri is the notion that they — that we — can’t just accept a type of beauty that is less vanilla and more Imagined Whirled Peace.
Would people (i.e., those hiding behind the infallible self-righteous platforms of their Twitter accounts) have reacted less adversely if Davuluri had lighter skin, if her hair were not so dark? That is to say, if her features reflected her culture of origin less, would people have been so inclined to make comparisons between her and terrorists? If she more closely resembled her Caucasian cohorts, would they so easily suggested that she replace her tiara and sash for a 7-11 uniform? What if Davuluri was an Indian-American girl with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and light hair — which is very much within the realm of possibility? What if she looked more similarly to what we’ve been taught to imagine Miss America should look like?
Are we really upset that Davuluri’s family immigrated from India long, long ago? Or are our knickers in a twist because she is a black-haired, brown-skinned bastion of what we now consider beautiful in the 21st century?
I think that we are less threatened by Davuluri’s ancestry than we are her ethnic beauty, which catalyzes our racist remarks. I think that much of our bullying comes from a xenophobic insecurity — a fear of calling and considering anything beautiful other than the features we have become accustomed to seeing in media and popular culture.
But, come on, it’s 2013 (almost 2014…): white is beautiful, but so is everything else.