The new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, wants to be a doctor. The 24-year-old Miss New York is the first Indian-American woman to win the competition, too. The latter startled some after her victory last Sunday night.
Fox News & Commentary host Todd Starnes tweeted that Miss Kansas, runner-up Theresa Vail, lost because “she actually represented American values.” You know, because being “American” has a standard dictionary definition, which Starnes describes as a gun-toting, deer-hunting military veteran.
Several other Twitter users latched onto this skewed ideology, calling Davuluri an “Arab” and “Miss 7-11.” They also said Vail deserved to win because she “looked American.” White was the synonym they were probably looking for to describe “American.” While these folks are in the minority — I hope — it casts an unnecessary shadow over a historic win for Davuluri.
The Syracuse native touts herself as “Miss Diversity,” and thanks to the judges, she is. Her parents emigrated to the United States more than 30 years ago. Yet, she still had to defend herself a day later, telling reporters that she has to “rise above” the criticism. And that is the problem.
I have family members who are Indian — aunts and uncles, who, before last Sunday, would probably chuckle at the notion of an Indian Miss America. It is not out of ignorance, but rather how women are portrayed in American society.
Thin, beautiful and white. The social stratosphere is damning. Just ask the sororities at the University of Alabama. This week, the university moved to end segregation and admit black students to the historically white sororities on campus. There are numbers, too. A recent Reuters poll shows that 40 percent of white Americans have no minority friends.
How does that fit in? Well, it blankets the demographic. By 2050, minorities will be the majority, but you would not know it. This conservative-leaning notion of what it means to be American startles me. Conservatives’ “outreach efforts,” or lack thereof, to minorities comes across as market research.
But, it is more than the definition of an American. More than politics, civil rights or the racist remarks of a few.
Women and minorities are born into a world filled with misrepresentation. The perception of these long-ignored and overlooked groups has changed some, but not enough. A host of issues like inaccurate criticism or suppressed voting rights still exist.
And few are willing to empower those who need it, which is why Davuluri’s win is so important for women and minorities. Standing out should not involve wearing flesh-toned underwear on a major network like Miley Cyrus, but rather, a Davuluri using her $50,000 in prize money for medical studies.
The Miss America pageant is still based on an outdated platform that ultimately judges looks above intellect. Well, certain looks anyway.
Since 1983, there have been an Asian, an Indian and eight African-American Miss America winners. The token minority in a television commercial or business office is still the norm.
Airport screenings are not random, either. If I do not shave my beard, the TSA will pat me down.
It is only when minorities become those familiar “American” faces on a national stage, beyond the president, that the negative reactions will decline in the public eye. Stereotypes like “terrorist,” “drug dealer” or the “bad guy” would have to be gone.
Until then, the controversy will overshadow the progress of Davuluri and others.
Anthony Cave is a junior journalism student at Florida International University.