Seconds after 24-year-old Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2014 on Sunday night, social media sites were flooded with racist remarks against Davuluri — the first Indian-American ever to win the Miss America title.
Upset about Davuluri’s win since she is darker-skinned, some viewers tweeted messages such as “If you’re #Miss America you should have to be American,” “This is America, not India,” and “WHEN WILL A WHITE WOMAN WIN #MISSAMERICA? Ever??!!”
While some tweeted comments about her the color of Davuluri’s skin, others wrote that the crowning of a “non-American” was particularly insulting since it was so close to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“9/11 was four days ago and she gets miss America?” wrote one Twitter user. “Well they just picked a Muslim for Miss America. That must’ve made Obama happy. Maybe he had a vote,” another posted.
Other cringe-worthy messages included: “Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11,” “Miss America right now or miss Al Qaeda?,” and “Congratulations Al-Qaeda. Our Miss America is one of you.”
The annual Miss America pageant pits 53 women against one another – one from each state, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – in swimming wear, evening gown, talent and interview competitions. During Sunday’s competition, Davuluri represented her home state of New York.
The first Miss America pageant took place in 1921 and was viewed as a way to extend the summer tourism season in Atlantic City, N.J.
This is not the first time a pageant contestant has been bullied or erroneously linked to terrorist groups. In 2010, rumors swirled that Miss USA 2010, Rima Fakih, who is of Lebanese descent, was linked to Hezbollah.
A large group of those who publicly chastised Davuluri were professedly in favor of Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, winning the title of Miss America, who some dubbed the “Real Miss America.”
Vail, a U.S. army sergeant, is believed to be the first Miss America contestant to openly show tattoos on her body. Vail’s visible tattoos, which were highly visible during the swimsuit competition, included the Serenity Prayer on her rib cage and a small military insignia on the back of her shoulder. While she was voted “America’s Choice,” Vail was not selected by the judges to be in the top 10.
Moments after her win, Davuluri held her first press conference as Miss America and expressed her support to the Miss America pageant for embracing diversity, saying, “I’m thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America.”
In response to the negative comments about her win, Davuluri said, “I have to rise above that,” adding, “I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.”
Davuluri was born and raised in the U.S.; her parents are Hindu immigrants from the Indian state of Andhra Prades.
The beauty queen said she was proud of her talent portion of the show, which consisted of Davuluri performing a traditional Bollywood dance. “It’s the first time Bollywood has ever been performed on the Miss America stage and it’s such an honor for myself, my family and the Indian community, as well,” she said.
Talking to the Associated Press via telephone from her home in southern India, Davuluri’s grandmother, 89-year-old V Koteshwaramma, said that she cried when she saw the news on television. “I am very, very, happy for the girl. It was her dream and it was fulfilled,” she said.
During an interview Monday morning with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Davuluri reiterated that the pageant is “all about scholarship and service,” saying her win means that she “just won $50,000 to further my education.”
Davuluri, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science, said she plans to go to medical school and possibly study psychiatry.
According to a statement from the Miss America organization, “During her year as Miss America [Davuluri] will serve as spokesperson for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) this year as she travels to Washington, D.C., to work with the Department of Education.”
While much of the media focus has been on the racist comments directed at Davuluri after her win, there’s also a large group of people in the U.S. and around the world applauding the crowning of the first-ever Indian-American Miss America, whose platform was “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.”
One woman tweeted that “meanwhile in america, our country’s citizens have officially reached their lowest point. #MissAmerica is Indian; GET OVER IT,” and Questlove, drummer for the Roots posted,
i think its amazing that @NinaDavuluri was crowned Miss America. THIS is the american story.
— Questlove Jenkins (@questlove) September 16, 2013
An Indian-American blogging under the name Nincy said that Davuluri’s win is a huge victory for women of color, especially since “Indians by and large are not interested in staying their skin color. Being dark or brown is an insult,” she explained. “We want to be lighter, we want to be white, we want to be fair. It’s an unfair standard that’s been part of our culture for centuries and it tears our society apart (especially when 96 percent of us are not fair).”
It’s not just the color of Davuluri’s skin that has people praising the new Miss America. During the question-and-answer portion of the competition, the contestant was asked to comment on the revelation that CBS talk-show host Julie Chen had undergone plastic surgery to make her eyes look “less Asian” in order to improve her career chances.
“I don’t agree with plastic surgery, however I can understand that from a standpoint,” Davuluri, said. “More importantly I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving … I wouldn’t want to change someone’s looks. Be confident in who you are.”
In her blog post, Nincy thanked Davaluri for encouraging women to be confident with who they are, even if they don’t look like the women on the covers of magazines:
Nina is more than just a pretty lady. This young woman is on her way to being a doctor. She’s a talented dancer who battled bullimia [sic] and weight before making it to Miss America. She is a remarkable person and this is a definite win for every little girl who’s ever noticed that she’s different.
Davuluri was not the only contestant who hoped to change what America viewed as beautiful. After she was eliminated from the pageant, Theresa Vail wrote on Twitter “Win or not tonight, I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have empowered women. I have opened eyes.”
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