Reshma Kirpalani offers an Indian-American perspective on this controversial win. Who knew that the Miss America pageant, that Never-Never Land of stick-figured females, could turn into a cultural diagnostic of modern-day America?
Yet, this year’s crown had barely graced the top of 24-year-old Nina Davuluri’s head when social media sites exploded with vitriol about her Indian-American ethnicity.
Surprisingly, critics included those from Davuluri’s own South Asian immigrant community.
You’ve already read the racist comments that lit up Twitter minutes after Davuluri was crowned as the first Indian-American winner of this year’s pageant.
But just in case you have not, here’s a brief refresher. Davuluri was called a 1. non-American, 2. Muslim and 3. an Al Qaeda plant.
These are easy to refute by stating the obvious: Davuluri was born in Syracuse, New York, to Indian immigrants. She is not Muslim, a fact that her 89-year-old grandmother, who resides in Southern India and who no doubt lived through the bloody India-Pakistan partition would be hard-pressed to clarify.
Amid the carnage of tweets, these two in particular managed to snag my attention:
@JPLman95: “Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11.”
@JTomes84: “Miss America is brought to by their sponsors PF Changs and 7-11.”
What an interesting Homer-Simpsonesque view of the world. But while some criticize Miss America for being the poster-child of an underachieving Indian-American immigrant, others criticize her for the exact opposite: raising the overachievement bar for South Asian immigrants everywhere.
And one only needs to walk into any computer lab or hospital to know that we’re already a pretty stressed-out demographic.
Case in point: I came across the following post by a fellow desi while canvasing Facebook for responses to the Miss America win — and for clarification, “desis,” are people of Indian, Pakistani, or Bengali origin, which include both Hindus and Muslims.
“Thanks desi lady for winning Miss America. As if our parents didn’t already have enough overachievers to sap our self-confidence with–forever,” the Facebook post read.
The tone of this post was sarcastic, and not the overwhelming response from most other desis. But it also “cut a little too close to home,” as one Facebook friend said. “I’ve seen that attitude in action,” said another. “Dead on,” said a third.
I am reluctant to admit that this post bears some cultural accuracy, and is highlighted by the fact that Davuluri is not only a looker, but also an aspiring cardiologist with a degree in Brain Behavior and Cognitive Science from the University of Michigan. Still, it seems like there is no winning for Miss America 2014.
And given that Davuluri is bringing diversification and therefore, modernization to an otherwise disturbingly outdated institution,this is a shame.
My response to desis: stop the comparison madness! Just because Davuluri shares our skin-color doesn’t mean that her achievements make yours inadequate.
To the flagrant racists: I am embarrassed for you.
But to both, equally: Here’s a suggestion, why don’t we we try judging people by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin? That idea was proposed 50 years ago by someone you may have heard of.
His name was Martin Luther King.