I didn’t watch Miss America, but now I wish I had. Monday morning I woke up to a fascinating news feed about backlash on the winner, Miss NY, an Indian-American, and a first. But just as her mascara-punctuated tears began to flow as the tiara graced her perfect coif, the haters on Twitter reared their narrow-minded heads. Here’s an example of the media coverage, from CNN.com, with the headline:
The Tweets included this racist one from Todd Starnes, host of Fox News and Commentary: “The liberal Miss America judges won’t say this – but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values. #missamerica”
Many, many Tweets protested her being “Arab” (really?!), Muslim (she’s Hindu) and not American (she was born in Syracuse, NY and has lived in Oklahoma and Michigan as well).
In spite of cringe-worth flaws of the pageant [like the bikini-in-heels (aka “swimsuit”) competition], Nina Davuluri, the new Miss America, probably represents some of the best qualities and aspirations of “modern” America. Here’s why:
- America was built on a dream of hard work by people from all over the world. She and her family certainly fit that ideal. Her father is a physician and she aspires to be as well.
- The founding fathers were slave owners and came from Europe. Obviously, to be true to the ideals they enshrined, we don’t need to continue to live and look like them.
- Thanks to the life her parents built (from scratch), and her own hard work-ethic, she graduated from the University of Michigan debt-free.
- She’s a great example of working through failure and difficulty, and getting back up again. This shows in her struggle against bulimia. For fifteen years she studied classical Indian dance, refining a nuanced art form. She was gutsy enough to showcase a fusion of classical and Bollywood dance in her talent act (this made me want to try it!). Here’s a clip:
- Her platform: “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency” couldn’t be more timely. She chose this in part since she had to dispel so many misconceptions about her culture through the year, such as whether her parents will arrange a marriage for her. With the national spotlight, these prejudices are obviously rampant and growing, but it also offers an opening for a meaningful conversation: What is “cultural competency” and why does it matter? What are the values you hold dear as an American? Does she represent them? Does her brown skin and non-European heritage stand in the way of appreciating her accomplishment?
Finally, a message for the Twitter-haters outraged by her win four days after 9/11: Nina as Miss America might have actually been one of the most important military strategies to save the lives of service men and women. When headlines all over the world proclaim Nina Davuluri as Miss America, this stops anti-Americans in their tracks. They see that the USA can live up to its values, as the land of the free, home of the brave. It’s where dreams for a better life come true. It’s where diverse people are welcomed. It’s full of beauty and sparkles and anything is possible. Millions of dollars in weapons couldn’t convince youth in Iraq or Afghanistan or Egypt of this fact, but Nina’s smile just might.