Opinion: Racism in (Miss) AmericaPriya Kamath
Dec 20, 2013
When my Facebook newsfeed flooded with posts about an Indian American and Chinese American as finalists of the Miss America beauty pageant, I was surprised.
This is not to say that I haven’t always considered women of color beautiful. It’s just not the message I’ve always received. Given the stark lack of diversity on runways and magazine covers, it was refreshing to see contestants successfully challenge our country’s Eurocentric beauty ideals.
Although it may seem that she is merely reinforcing conventional beauty standards with her lithe frame and symmetric features, Nina Davuluri made history when receiving the title of Miss America 2014 as the first Indian American and second Asian American to win the title in the nearly century-old pageant’s history.
Plus, Davuluri looked like… me! I don’t mean that in a conceited or racist manner, but rather that Davuluri is dark-skinned in comparison to the vast majority of Indian women in both Hollywood and Bollywood.
Days after TV host Julie Chen revealed she felt pressured into undergoing plastic surgery to look more “relatable” to viewers, it was exciting to see a Chinese American, Crystal Lee, as first runner-up in the pageant.
My pride was short-lived. The next morning, xenophobic tweets such as “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets miss America” and “WHEN WILL A WHITE WOMAN WIN #MISSAMERICA? Ever??!!” abounded*. So much for a post-racial America.
Aparna Bhattacharya, executive director of Raksha, Inc., notes that this racist backlash can be tied to the “ backlash facing any person of a different race or of immigrant heritage, whether Marc Anthony and Sebastian De La Cruz when singing the national anthem, or an Indian American or Arab American winning Miss American or Miss USA.”
The controversy over Ms. Lee and Ms. Davuluri winning these titles is indicative of a larger problem which is that our “melting pot” of a country sees being Asian and American as mutually exclusive.
*Thankfully, not on my personal Twitterfeed
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.