Home Around the Web Miss America Nina Davuluri’s Victory Impacts Black Americans

Miss America Nina Davuluri’s Victory Impacts Black Americans

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Miss America 2014

In case you somehow missed (or ignored) the news last week, Nina Davuluri won the Miss America Pageant for 2013. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Miss America Pageant that thing still exist so what?” Well, in this instance, Miss America became the first winner of Indian-American (South Asian) heritage to win the crown. Ok, so you still might be thinking, “so what?” That’s a fair assessment.

As you might imagine, the Miss American crown going to anyone but an American-American – however you visually define that stereotype – received plenty of negative and in some cases, racist backlash. There are plenty of stories on that topic, but that’s not what I want to focus on today. Two specific stories on the topic sparked my interest.

Why I’m Not Proud an Indian-American Is Miss America

There is nothing I hate more than when an Indian person does well at something.

It’s not some sort of innate self-loathing (well, not for that reason anyways) or jealousy, but because news reports of any noteworthy South Asian achievement are immediately followed by texts from friends of “Did you see? S/He’s INDIAN.” It’s as if this stranger’s victory is all the more palpable to me by some grace of shared concentration of melanin, and I never know how to respond. “Great”? “Can’t hold down that brown”? “I think that’s my cousin”?

I understand why it’s a big fucking deal that an Indian-American woman won Miss America for the first time. It’s just as important as when Rima Faikh became the first Lebanese-American, and first Muslim, to win Miss USA in 2010. I find beauty pageants moronic (the title is a meaningless honor, 35 percent of which can be attributed to how good she looks in different articles of clothing and zero percent to her ability to grasp a basic concept of percentages), but I’m aware that these victories can shake up and change previous models of “All-American.” I’m glad that we’re moving toward a future where beauty queens of color are normal and not exceptional. It’s just that every time an Indian achieves something big—a beauty pageant, a huge spelling bee, majority ownership in a major sports franchise—I feel like my excitement for my brown brethren is less actual excitement, and more just something I’m supposed to say.

Two nights ago, when Nina Davuluri became the first Indian American to be crowned Miss America, I got another flood of texts, and the cycle started all over again.

Facing a barrage of racist tweets that ranged from calling her an Arab and a terrorist to correlating her victory with a potential decline in gas prices, Davuluri hasn’t had it easy. But is being lauded for her race by those decrying the racist tweeters any better? Those that have come to her defense have chosen to mainly focus on her race as well, not just as a reason to celebrate her victory, but as the reason. Maybe I’m just looking to pick a fight with my white-hating coworkers, but where I find the racist drivel on Twitter offensive, I also find the uplifting blog posts on race condescending. Writers have done a marvelous job defending Davuluri, but in doing so, they’ve focused the entire conversation on just one facet of her life: her race.

Read the full article at [Gawker.com]

On this same story, a commenter offered a dissenting viewpoint:

KoalarinU – Beejoli Shah: You know, I really had to think about my response here because my anger at your ignorance is making it hard for me to be coherent. So, even though I know no one is going to read this, I have to apologize in advance for my incoherence.

Yes, you’re right—she doesn’t represent all Indian Americans, and neither do you. You do not represent my opinions any more than Nina represents the actions of any other Indian person. I don’t get to share in her victory. HOWEVER, as an Indian woman who has been marginalized since I was a child because I am “othered” by the majority as soon as I walk in a room, the fact that she has achieved this sort of dubious distinction is AWESOME for me, and one day for my kids.

Did she cure cancer or fly to Jupiter or do something truly brilliant? No. The victory is in how much of a non-thing this is. People think she’s pretty! She achieved something superficial and kind of silly! What that means is that we’re one step closer to being mainstream, normal people instead of “Indian” people. The more members of our race achieve by being VISIBLE IN PLACES WHERE WE HAVE NEVER BEEN VISIBLE BEFORE, the less frequently we’ll have qualifiers in front of our names when you are listed as, for example, “Gawker’s Lease Likable Indian Writer” or whatever. Now you can just be the Least Likable Writer! Isn’t that awesome?

That’s what Mindy is getting at. She doesn’t want to have qualifiers like “Indian Writer” and I don’t want to be a bitchy Indian commenter. I’m a bitchy commenter. And the more of us that are out in public, making strides, doing this shit you’re so dismissive of, the better it ends up being for all of us. It’s the opposite of the Tragedy of the Commons. Game theory, dumbass—look it up.

Anyway, thanks for being a great example of an Indian person who is absolutely not someone I want as a role model for my kids. We have things like Black History Month not just to remember the tragedies of the past but to remind our children and ourselves of what struggles Black people have faced and overcome, and so that we don’t forget them. Maybe you haven’t faced struggles because of your race, but I have and I’ll be damned if you try to take away my pride every time one more Indian person pushes forward and shows a racist group of people who would otherwise marginalize me that I’m not some exotic spicy whatever. I’m a normal damn human fucking being.

Miss America Nina Davuluri Is Not a Symbol of Progress

During my Tuesday morning subway commute, I encountered a man who felt the need to stare at me while I walked by. As I passed him, he whispered, “Miss America” at me. I kept walking, slightly confused at this unusual catcall. And then I remembered: as of Sunday night, Miss America was, like me, an American-born desi. Nina Davuluri, from Syracuse, New York—both conventionally gorgeous and medical school–bound—had won the title. Between this new form of catcalling and the inevitable comparisons to her by my nosy aunties, it was clear: she was put on this planet to make my life miserable.

Of course, this historic achievement wasn’t all roses for Davuluri either. Upon her crowning, Twitter overflowed with angry, post-9/11 racial hatred. “Miss New York is an Indian. With all due respect, this is America” chimed one tweeter. Another angrily writes, “How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots.” Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent.

Here’s what I think those racist commenters are trying to say: We (brown people) did it again; we managed to take another seat that had, for the most part, been occupied for nearly a century by a white face. Miss America, like the president himself, is an important (if illusory) signifier of who’s in charge around here. All of a sudden “we” brown people were two for two in Obama’s America.

Read the full story at [TheNation.com]

What struck a chord with  me about both of these stories (and the associated comment from KoalarinU), was how much I could identify with the opinions despite not being of Indian-American heritage. Instead, I identified with their struggles, frustrations, opinions and general tone as a fellow representative of minority racial heritage in the United States of America. I thought all the writers made good points, and I felt a bit taken aback about how I could identify with their points through the viewpoint of a (relatively) young African American male.

I wondered if others felt the same way. I don’t want to assume, but it’s no secret that if you’re reading SBM, you are likely of African-American or Latin descent (we have the stats to back this up). You are more than likely a woman as well. Therefore, I wondered if others, especially women, identified with the frustrations, backlash, or if you are simply tired of race being thrust into the forefront of every discussion in America?

As a minority, do you view the accomplishments of other racial minorities as an accomplishment for all or is it completely different? Regardless of your views on the Miss America Pageant, does Ms Davuluri accomplishments make it easier for the next brown, black, or other racial minority to achieve successes? As some others have suggested, is her victory in anyway indicative of the progress we’re making in America with our progressive or regressive views on race?

I ask these questions, because in reading the pieces above, I felt that many of the words could have easily – and I don’ mean this to be insensitive – been changed to reflect the Black experience, or Hispanic experiences, and by extension, the Caucasian experience in America. Perhaps those in the majority are equally frustrated to be constantly reminded of the perceived inequities in America that, in most instances, they too must face and overcome – although we can obviously debate ad nauseum which of us truly has it the most difficult.

Did Nina Davuluri’s victory impact you or your views in any way? Did you find you identified with her accomplishment as a minority, whether that be by race or as a fellow woman of color? Do you feel America still needs to recognize every time a “first” occurs whenever someone of a race that varies from the majority achieves an accomplishment? Which of the opinion pieces above do you most identify with?

Comment(12)

  1. My life didn't change that much when she won.

    I was happy for her. She can dance. And I hope in the future I say I slept with at least 5 different pretty Indian Women (0 for now).

    The reason why I don't identify with Indian-American or Arabs, because AT LEAST

    – They collectively have their culture, their values, their FAMILY, their structure still intact. And they work as a collective like Asians, like Russians, like Africans or any other group that comes here & makes their money & makes a splash in America.

    YES they experience racism or just plain discrimination socially.

    BUT IT IS NOTHING LIKE BLACK AMERICAN PEOPLE. NOTHING.

    I don't feel like getting into specifics, because I am no one's victim, but we have reasonable reasons, and a unique situation. They have their issues, we have ours as blacks.

    Da Blacks. Lol

    We need to worry about our financial situation & our social standing & how we are being treated out here.

    We are all we got.

    Good Day

    1. The reason why I don't identify with Indian-American or Arabs

      Just to be clear… (I'm addressing your comment but many people get this confused.)

      From the second story above: Actually, no she’s not an “Arab,” she’s an American-born Hindu of South Asian descent.

      I'm not the subject matter expert for giving a geography lesson, but to keep it simple, Hindu's tend to be from India (South-Asia); whereas, Arab's tend to be from the Middle East. To the more germane point, they are not equivalent. More importantly, Nina was born and raised in the United States of America – New York, by way of Oklahoma no less. If that doesn't qualify her as "American," I don't know what will.

      1. @WIM

        Thanks for clearing that up. I was just being intellectually lazy.

        She is definitely American. No question. It is just older immigrants throwing shade on newer immigrants (from an ancestral standpoint)

        Good Day

  2. This post, and the subject matter in general is more of a personal nature for me, as I 1) served on the NY board for Miss America and was the local director for last years' Miss America (Mallory Hagan) and 2) Am a first-generation Black Hispanic that shared many of Nina's struggles while competing myself (which basically means, apologize for the length). A few points that some may not be considering:

    1. 1) As a pageant judge and coach, I can tell you right now that Asian, South Asian and Middle-Eastern women are the group most likely to be discouraged from "competitively" competing in pageantry (meaning, they are encouraged to do it 'just for the experience' as they have little chance of winning). "High-level" coaches often pull no punches when discussing the standard of beauty that works best, often bluntly encouraging contestants to get cosmetic surgery and the like, and yes, I have heard often that the Asian look is "too generic" to stand out (as in, they consider you all to look the same). Nina's win, along with Miss USA Rima Fakih's, is a HUGE step in the right direction to recognize them not only as beautiful, but as "diverse". A win for her is a win for us all. Now, if we can only get a woman that looks like Mary J to be included in the "american beauties" discussion we will see real progress.

      1. 2) The reson I point out the "1st generation" thing is because assimilation is the root of the blog authors' issue. At our core, we have been taught by our parents to "blend in" and not stand out, to avoid stereotypes as often as possible, to eliminate our accents and any identifying qualities that make us 'other. By force of habit I don't speak Spanish at work, I have no accent (despite the rest of my family having heavy accents), tie up my natural hair and, aside from food, have very little distinguishing me from others at work. Nina was discouraged from using "Bollywood" as her talent for YEARS. The fact that she has pushed her culture to the forefront makes us camouflagers…uncomfortable. We don't like having to answer for our culture as much as you hate having to answer for your race.

    2. As far as the commenter's…comments, I'm in complete agreement. I'm on the Chris Rock side of the fence where I believe we haven't arrived until we have a black "President Bush". Until we are so accepted that our mediocre becomes great, we have to acknowledge the "firsts".

  3. Don't care about pageants, but very happy for Davuluri and it is important for little girls (brown, black, white, etc) to see women of color in positions like this. I mean shxt how much blonde and brunette white girls do we see ALL THE TIME.

    I think the girl from the first article is corny and if she can't be happy for Davuluri, she should just shut up and stop hating. It's not about "melanin" and we all know it is deeper than that. All the other stuff she said is unnecessary pandering to white folks who push for "colorblindness."

    I was born and raised in the US but parents are from Africa and this was definitely one of those moments that reminded me why I struggle with identifying myself as American.

  4. WIM, like you, after reading those comments, I felt as though they could have been easily talking about black experience. Do I identify with the current Ms. America???—Yes and no, there is this double-edged sword that is occurring with her win for me.

    I'm glad that Nina Davuluri won Ms. America, because it does show that there is slight growth when it comes to diversity as well as beauty norms here in America, and that people (—> let's be real….White people) are starting to recognize the beauty of other individuals with different ethnicities and different cultural backgrounds and different skin tones. I also feel that it's imperative that minorities in this country, stick together.

    However, with that being said, just because Davuluri and I share the same skin tone, I can't fully "relate" her win as a platform to open doors for others, especially those who are of African decent, in winning those kinds of pageants. Not to say that her win actually hinders than help in promoting diversity, because I surely do believe that it helps, i just feel that there are more "socially acceptable" minorities (I don't know how else to say it) that Caucasian people tend to accept, more so than other minorities here in america. As a woman who comes from a mixed background (afro-latina) myself, I have seen this dynamic play out.

    I feel that white people are more so able to "accept" those minorities that are more or less prone to "act" a certain way in which they (those who are white) find socially/culturally acceptable. When I say "act" I mean assimilate to white-washed american ideals, and norms. I'm not exactly sure how to explain it in words, but I feel that if the pageant was to pick between say an afro-latina american woman like Zoe Saldana or an African american woman like Kelly Rowland whom was up against say a British Indian woman like Katrina Kaif or even an Indian american woman like Nina Davuluri, I believe that, because of "white washed" america's ideal of whom and what is "beautiful", the women of Indian decent (Katrina and Nina) would be chosen as "winners" of the pageant in comparison to the women of African decent (Zoe and Kelly).

    I can't really fully express this idea, but my two cent: Yes…glad she won, No…can't relate to her.

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