At a glittering ceremony in Bali on Sept. 28, when Megan Young 23-year-old Miss Philippines won the Miss World contest, miles away in Singapore, 25-year-old Devina DeDiva grew scornful. The social media narcissist, with an irritable commenting syndrome, logged on to her Facebook account and let an outpour of derogatory polemics - insensitive and ignorant commentary of what she thought, made the stunning Megan Young; an undeserving candidate for the coveted title.
Less than a fortnight back, a girl New York, not every different from Devina DeDiva made her clan proud. On Sept. 16, 24-year-old Nina Davuluri, won the Miss American crown making her the first Indian American and probably the only second Asian-American to win the title. The vituperation that followed Nina Davuluri's victory of the Miss America crown was equal to Devina DeDiva, several times over. The Twitter taunts she got demonstrated the level of social ignorance and cultural insensitivity that the U.S. is prone to.
What Nina Davuluri faced after her victory sounds appalling. But in a country where Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh professor at Columbia University, was brutally attacked by a gang of 15 to 20 people calling him "Osama and a terrorist," and where the country's President is frank enough to admit the horrors of racism; a Miss American title holder is a fragile prey.
Miss Al Qaeda
Nina was called a foreigner, terrorist, Muslim, Arab and everything else she wasn't. In an age of social media, word spreads too fast. By the time the defenders of American multiculturalism took over, the bigots were running amok in Twittersphere:
How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! - @jakeamick5 wondered.
And the Arab wins Miss America. Classic - @Granvil_Colt got everything wrong.
If a Muslim wins this pageant screamed, Lord help me - @ChrisBlack57 asked providence to intervene in his bigotry.
How can a muslim win Miss AMERICA? - @emi_adkins wanted to know.
9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets miss America? - @max_orr3 claimed.
It's called Miss America. Get outta here New York you look like a terrorist -@LukeBrasili asserted.
Don't you have to be American to win Miss AMERICA this bitch is some type of Indian - @emi_adkins argued.
I am not okay with this.. Thanks Obama, Thanks a lot! - @pow_pow65 seemed to know where the fault lay.
We have a black president and an Asian Miss America. This ain't Merica no more guys - @CheyenneHayley affirmed.
Well we all know Obama bought that pageant! - @camillemixon yelled.
Somewhere lost in this ignominy of misinformed American identity, was the symbolism that Nina Davuluri sought to represent: "celebrating diversity through cultural competency."
"I've grown up with so many stereotypes about my culture; I just knew that it was something I needed to advocate for," said a politically correct Nina Davuluri,
What annoyed die-hard American bigots was the Bollywood mash up track Nina chose for her talent routine. "If you are Miss America, you should have to be an American," said one tweet. It is a problem several Asian Americans face. Their effort to blend native identity in a foreign land leaves them with a taste of cultural exclusivism.
It is an enigmatic attempt to grasp the good in both worlds. But the famed American identity is after all, a mash-up of all that the settlers, through the centuries, have carried from their native homelands. It is what makes them American, as Nina Davuluri, put it in her reply to the racist warlords: "I have to rise above that," Davuluri said. "I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."
Unfortunately for Nina the mindset is too widespread not only in America, but, much more intense in her native India. In a hard-hitting editorial, "Pigment of our imagination," India's leading newspaper The Hindu asks:
"...before rushing to denounce American attitudes, it would be pertinent to ask if Ms Davuluri would have ever made it past the qualifying rounds of a beauty contest in India. In a country where a multi-crore rupee cosmetic industry thrives on promises of lightening a woman's skin colour in 10, 20 or 30 days, it is fair to say that the dark complexioned 24-year-old would not have stood a chance. At least multiculturalism is held up enough in the U.S. for the jury to have given her the title, and full marks to America for that. Had she been in India, far from entering a beauty contest, it is more likely that Ms Davuluri would have grown up hearing mostly disparaging remarks about the colour of her skin; she would have been - going by the storyline of most "fairness" cream advertisements - a person with low self-esteem and few friends."
Malice Runs Deep
Pageants have been a favourite cultural battleground for racist bigots, and the malice runs deep.
Vanessa Williams, the first African-American Miss America in 1984 received death threats and hate mails.
More recently in 2009, the first runner-up at the Miss USA contest, Carrie Prejean of California got entangled with gay rights activists for voicing her views against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
With drawing room banter having move into Internet chat rooms, Angela Perez Baraquio, the American of Filipino descent who won the Miss America title in 2000, puts it succulently "Everyone has an opinion, and unfortunately, some people impulsively post how they feel without thinking or realizing how their words have a lasting impact."
Angela is grateful to have won the title before the onset of Twitter and Facebook. We couldn't agree more.
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