If it weren’t for hateful bigots, I wouldn’t have any idea who the new Miss America is.
It’s hard for me to care one way or the other about who wins beauty pageants. (Excuse me. “Scholarship pageants.”) But the level of ignorance and bigotry involved in some people complaining because a woman of Indian ancestry won is disturbing.
After Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America Sunday night, racist bigots took to Twitter to denounce an “Arab” — yes, seriously — winning the title. The sorts of people who would attack her for having Indian ancestry are the sorts who wouldn’t understand that India isn’t home to Arabs.
After Vanessa Williams was crowned the first black Miss America in 1983, some people grumbled, but they didn’t have the Internet to spread their bigotry for the whole world to see. I didn’t care one way or the other at the time, but some people did. They just didn’t like the idea of a black woman being held up as our ideal woman. (Don’t we all have a different idea of who the ideal woman is?)
The pageant isn’t “Miss White Girl Who Looks Like Me,” so it’s natural that people from different backgrounds are going to win. I assume that Davuluri was the best contestant this year. I don’t have a clue, but I also don’t have an opinion about who should have won last year or the year before that or pretty much any other year.
Fortunately, I haven’t seen any examples of the anti-Indian bigotry in real life since Sunday night, but I’ve seen enough online to disgust me. I’ve only heard it discussed a couple of times, both times at a restaurant Monday afternoon, but those conversations gave me room to have a little bit of hope.
I was eating lunch in the middle of afternoon when I realized that two older white women at a nearby table were talking about the pageant and who won. I braced myself for some possible bigotry, but I listened.
They were indeed debating who should have won, but only because one of the women thought Davuluri should have been second. She simply preferred the contestant from Oklahoma. Neither of the women even mentioned Davuluri’s Indian heritage. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the discussion.
Then there was a woman and a little girl who came a little while later. The woman appeared to be the girl’s grandmother. After chatting about a number of other things, the woman asked the girl whether she watched the Miss America pageant. The girl — who appeared to be about 6 or 7 — said she had watched. The two talked about the talent performances of a few of the contestants.
Then they talked about how nice it was that the winner got scholarship money to pay for school and how pretty the winner was. The subject of the Davuluri’s ethnicity never came up.
Most people aren’t bigots. We all have a little bit of prejudice in us, but most normal people try to be fair and they don’t hate others. But the online world amplifies the bigots who are out there and makes us worry that they’re more typical than they are.
There’s a lot of racism left in this world and I think there always will be. But we’ve made tremendous progress in reducing hate. I deplore the bigotry of certain people, but I don’t want that progress to get lost as we worry about the ugliness that Twitter and Facebook sometimes amplify.
Congratulations to Ms. Davuluri. And now, I’ll go back to not caring that she and her fellow beauty queens exist.