Miss Controversy. Why students should care about the new Miss America.

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w.astersamuelcolumnphoto“So Miss America is a terrorist.”

“I swear I’m not racist, but this is America.”

“Congratulations Al-Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you.”

These were just a few of the thousands of vicious tweets posted regarding Nina Davuluri, the first ever Indian-American Miss America. Davuluri’s selection on Sept. 15 was a major breakthrough for the controversial pageant industry. However, much of the enthusiasm surrounding this milestone was short-lived due to the ensuing social media frenzy.

Davuluri’s selection inspired a flurry of racist and disapproving tweets. People all over the country expressed their discontent towards the new Miss America, calling her an Arab as a slur, joking about her being a potential terrorist, sharing their offense at her selection so close to 9/11 and proclaiming their surprise that an Indian American could even win since “this is America.” Twitter, as a very public platform for speech, broadcasted these thoughts internationally. This heated response was what drew so much attention to the contest in the first place.

It amazes me how quickly we are able to turn away from the ideals of equality, meritocracy and religious freedom that founded this country.

As an Indian American myself, I am familiar with many of the misconceptions and blatant ignorance on display after the pageant, so some of the responses, while disappointing, were not altogether unexpected to me. However, in my experience, criticism does not tend to be constructive unless those making the judgments have their facts straight. Since it appears we will be spending some time with Miss Davuluri in the spotlight, It is time for Americans to grow up and step outside of their own skin.

The first misconception I would like to address is where the new Miss America is from. Davuluri is an American-born citizen. She was born in New York and grew up in the United States for the majority of her life. As Davuluri stated herself, “I always viewed myself first and foremost an American.”

Also, she is not Arabic; Davuluri’s parents hailed from India. India is a country thousands of miles from the Middle East, which the lesser informed often lump together with the rest of southern Asia under the completely incorrect and judgmental banner of terrorist region.

Additionally, while I believe it is wrong to take into account religion for the title of a country based on religious equality (the first non-Christian Miss America having been crowned 68 years ago), it should be mentioned that Davuluri is not Muslim either.

The majority of Indians are neither Arab nor Muslim which is also the case with Davuluri. She is Hindu, an entirely separate faith from that of Islam. Her representation of a minority faith is simply another of her many commendable traits.

The vicious social media quips and reactions to Davuluri’s selection were a disturbing reminder that America still remains blissfully ignorant on many important things.

However, Davuluri’s gracious reaction to these Twitter attacks led me to believe that she is in fact the right person at the right time to be selected. In a melting pot of different religions, ethnicities and ideals, the ever growing diversity of this country requires us to be more aware and accepting of diversity. Davuluri has forced us to confront this issue and learn something.

Despite the high number of negative responses, the tweets about the new Miss America weren’t all bad. Many people sent their sincerest congratulations and support to Davuluri, a positive sign America is willing to move forward as a country.

Congratulations, Miss America 2014, and thank you for the crash course in acceptance. I can’t wait to see what you plan on doing next.

 

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Aster Samuel at asamuel@hilite.org.

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