Miss America’s critics need remedial civics class

Nina Davuluri, of New York, was crowned Miss America on Sunday.
Nina Davuluri, of New York, was crowned Miss America on Sunday.


To paraphrase Shakespeare, uneasy lies the bouffant that wears the tiara.

Who would have thought, in the joyful anticipation of the pageant’s return to Atlantic City, that the coronation of the new Miss America would be fraught with controversy.

Yes, one contestant had tattoos and combat boots, but she was also hot, blond and the favorite among “real, 100-percent Americans.”

Which, come to think of it, was part of the controversy.

As we all now know, Nina Davuluri was crowned queen Sunday evening, prompting jubilation among some and revulsion among others.

The first Indian-American to be elevated to the symbolic throne presented herself as the “diversity” contestant, which is a little strange since her first runner-up was of Chinese descent, one of the other ladies had Native American blood running through her veins and the runway was filled with a rainbow of skin colors, from dark chocolate to freckle-speckled.

But you understood where the former Miss New York was coming from when she said that she was “thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to the new Miss America.” She was channeling the philosophy that makes this country great, the recognition that we are all immigrants and that the most beautiful American Miss is the one in New York Harbor.

Still, I’m always a bit uncomfortable when someone talks about how great it is that little kids can “finally relate” to someone primarily based on cultural complicity. It dilutes, for me, the potency of that wonderful masala stew in our national melting pot. Children should be able to identify with accomplishment regardless of color, religion, physical ability or political affiliation.

It is Miss “America,” after all, not Miss “Special Interest Group.” When Nina made reference to those non-Caucasian kids who would likely be delighted at her win (because let’s be honest, she wasn’t exactly thinking about Marcia Brady), I had a brief flashback to Michelle Obama, who made an offhand but ill-advised statement about finally being proud of her country after husband Barack won the Democratic nomination for president.

And then, all of that went out the window when I saw what happened moments after the tiara was affixed to her head. Social media went crazy, with people making very specific comments about why this lovely Indian American didn’t represent them. The pageant’s Facebook page started filling up with comments like “Disgusted that a true 100-percent American did not win,” and Twitter fielded outrageous attacks on her patriotism.

My first thought was that people who make a big deal about national purity aren’t that far removed from the guys who manned Auschwitz in the 1930s. Anyone who questions the legitimacy of a person based on the fact that they diverge from the mythic blond (even dark-rooted) ideal should take a remedial civics class.

And as someone who spends most of the day dealing with people who want to become Americans and make huge sacrifices to that end, the thought that my native-born brothers and sisters could be racist enough to attack another native-born sibling because she looks more Bollywood than Hollywood is enough to make me join the ACLU (well, not really, but I wanted to show the desperate lengths to which I’d be driven).

The story doesn’t end there, however. There is some blame to be laid at the sea-dipping toes of the newest beauty queen. Nina Davuluri didn’t deserve any of the invective thrown at her by cowardly racists typing away in their parents’ basements. She showed a great deal of dignity in reacting to the attacks by saying, “I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost an American.”

Which is, indeed, admirable. But if that’s the case, perhaps she shouldn’t have started talking about the little children out there who, finally, would feel as if they had a piece of the Indian-American samosa simply because the lady in the sash looked like them. Diversity is always valuable, except when you start considering it an end in and of itself. I’m thrilled to be Italian, and love the fact that the smartest guy on the Supreme Court is also a rowdy paisano, but it’s the rare day that I actually think about my ethnicity as something to sing about. Maybe it would be different if the new Miss America were an Italian-American named Anna Maria Scalia, but I doubt it.

There is no excuse for bigotry. The knuckle-dragging idiots who wanted Miss Kansas to win because she was the “real” American since she was in the military (and, one suspects, because she looked the part) are making it a lot easier for the Nina Davuluris of the world to continue advancing the kind of diversity agenda that, whether we like it or not, tends to divide instead of unite.

As our versatile dramaturge once said: “A plague on both their houses.”

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

©2013 Philadelphia Daily News

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