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Miss America criticisms spark controversy

Julia Pilkington, Contributing Writer
October 7, 2013 • 1,014 views

On Sept. 15, Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, sparkled her way to the title of Miss America, becoming the first American of Indian descent to win the crown. Despite this exciting first, viewers responded with a torrent of hateful accusations via social media.

Upon reaching the final round, Davuluri told Miss California, who is of Chinese descent, that “we’re making history standing here as Asian-Americans.” Unfortunately, this encouraging attitude was not shared by all. Davuluri was ridiculed for her ethnicity in comments like a Twitter post stating, “This is America. Not India.”

Many Twitter users asked questions like “How…does a foreigner win Miss America. She is a Arab! [sic] #idiots.” Others demeaned her heritage, declaring her “Miss 7-11” or “Miss PF Changs.”

Sadly, the insults extended into blatant displays of ignorance, tying her to the terrorist group Al Qaeda. One Twitter user stated, “Congratulations Al Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you.” The prejudice-inspired connection between the contestant and Al Qaeda extended into comments referencing the anniversary of 9/11, which included statements such as, “@ABC2020 nice slap in the face to the people of 9-11 how pathetic #missamerica.”

The most frustrating part about this cruel backlash is that these claims are not only racist, but they are also false.

In the first place, some of the comments assumed that Davuluri is Muslim and incorrectly connected this to an involvement in Al Qaeda. For starters, the fact that a person is a Muslim does not make them a terrorist. Secondly, Davuluri is not even a Muslim: she is Hindu.

Additionally, she was accused of having Arab ancestry. Davuluri was born in Syracuse, New York, and, outside the few years she spent in her parents’ hometown in India, she spent her life in the United States.

This debacle highlights a current of cultural ignorance in the United States. These comments were simply conclusions that viewers jumped to and spewed across the internet. They were based upon her skin tone, heritage and talents, rather than any real information or attention to the issue platform she championed: “Diversity through Cultural Competence.”

Furthermore, the comments emphasize what a technology-focused culture we are. Social media sites provide people with the power to blurt out their thoughts without having to face any serious consequences for their words. This provides the opportunity to comment on anything: a political statement, office gossip or what you had for lunch.

In response to this reality, a market research firm named Pear Analytics observed 2,000 tweets from a two-week span in August of 2009. From this observation, they divided the tweets into six major categories. About forty percent of the tweets they examined were deemed “pointless babble,” and only four percent were considered news. These results display how real news is undervalued and how “pointless babble” is overvalued. This lack of focus on other cultural perspectives and availability of consequence-free expression breeds an atmosphere ripe for fallacious comments such as those directed at Davuluri.

It also reveals the irony of her situation. The comments have only confirmed the necessity of Davuluri’s platform. In a society whose racial undercurrents have gone unremarked, she is attempting to fix this problem at its base: cultural competence. Her victory symbolizes the American Dream and has broken another barrier for those who will follow her. You go, Miss America 2014.

Julia Pilkington ’17 (pilkingt@stolaf.edu) is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English and theater.

Image by Alli Livingston

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