Last Monday, when I read about the racist and hateful reactions of a small, yet vocal, part of the population to the newest Miss America, Nina Davuluri, I cried.
As I read these comments, each one stung as if directed at me personally. And you know what? In a sense, they were. Nina Davuluri, the first Indian-American to win the Miss America pageant, was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and grew up in the U.S. I was born in India, but English is my first language, and I am a naturalized citizen of the U.S. If Miss America is a U.S.-born citizen, yet isn’t considered American in the eyes of some, then the implication is, as someone who was born abroad and has lived here for 16 out of my 17 years, neither am I. These hateful comments, though not directed at me, still suggest that people wouldn’t consider me American because of the color of my skin.
The amount of hate that flooded the screen as I scrolled through Twitter was overwhelming. Davuluri was misidentified in several of the tweets and comments as an Arab and an Egyptian. “So miss america is a terrorist,” one tweet said. Another called her Miss Al-Qaeda. Others said that it was disrespectful of ABC, the network on which the pageant airs, to “let her win” because the anniversary of 9/11 had just passed five days earlier. Even if any of these descriptions did apply to her, it doesn’t matter. It is pathetically ill-informed to assume that all brown-skinned people are Arab, and all Muslims are associated with Al-Qaeda.
Commenters also said Miss Kansas should have won because she represents “the real” America. One of the most heavily shared pictures through social media on the night of Davuluri’s crowning was a four-panel image of Miss Kansas saying: “Loves her country, loves hunting, loves tattoos, Real Miss America.” This narrow idea of what people believe America to be is exclusive of many cultures within this country — including those of white people.
I am proud to see myself as an American, but I am horrified at the levels of intolerance that still exist — and could potentially steal that U.S. identity from me. Factors such as the color of your skin do not define your nationality. One of the greatest qualities of this country is the variety and abundance of cultures and ethnicities that represent nearly every corner of the world. If we want to fully appreciate this diversity, we need to work toward making sure everyone feels included and represented. The new Miss America is as American as you or I.