Miss American 2014: A tale of racism and sexism hand in hand

Published: September 17, 2013

A Twitter controversy ignited on Sunday night after Nina Davuluri won Miss America 2014. PHOTO: AFP

A Twitter controversy ignited on Sunday night after Nina Davuluri won Miss America 2014. PHOTO: AFP A Twitter controversy ignited on Sunday night after Nina Davuluri won Miss America 2014. 

Though you may not care – and neither do I – on Sunday a “beauty” pageant was held here in the US. These are contests where a panel of judges evaluates a group of women on their looks, talents and answers to random questions. Then one of them is crowned “Miss something”. This one happened to be “Miss America“.

As luck would have it, this year for the first time an Indian-American won the pageant. Her name is Nina Davuluri and her parents come from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Nina, however, was born in the state of New York, so she is not a naturalised US citizen, but a citizen by birth.

Understandably, the social media was inundated by racists who called her everything from “terrorist” to “Arab” to “Un-American” and downright “unattractive” because she’s not white. Now like every good progressive man who is anti-racist, I found the tweets appalling. Not only were they racist, but also clueless, dumb and literally designed to zap your brain cells and make you dumber so you’d stoop to their level and pick up an internet fight.

Perhaps because I was bothered by the racism, I tweeted something that no one cautioned me on:

I really wasn’t thinking much when I sent that tweet. It was a gut reaction after watching people hating on a woman because of the colour of her skin and calling her un-American because her parents were born in a country that happens to not be in Europe.

However, 24 hours after sending that tweet, I think I’m ready to concede that I was wrong. By “either way”, what I meant then was, “regardless of what the racists are saying,” and I still mean that, as what they think is too stupid to be considered. However, I shouldn’t have followed it with congratulations to the winner. Maybe I was happy that someone with my skin colour won something in a country where white people winning everything is the norm even though a third of this country’s population isn’t white.

I was not alone.

Many others felt the same sentiment in the moment and I saw and heard a lot of their sentiments that started with “Sexism aside…” or “Even though I hate pageants…”. Honestly, though, I cannot put sexism aside. Yes, sure, I hate the racism, but I don’t want to congratulate someone on winning a contest that is based on objectifying women. Pageants are inherently sexist. As Ms. Magazine put it in 2011:

“Miss America still reflects many of the complaints that New York Radical Women made in their original brochure for the Atlantic City protest: The contestants “epitomise the roles we are all forced to play as women.” They must be “young, juicy [and] malleable.” Little girls who sit in front of their TV on Saturday night will be taught that “men are judged by their actions, women by their appearance.”

The Miss America pageant still implies that a rigidly stereotyped notion of “beauty,” the ability to put a few words together in a coherent sentence and a “talent” are what a woman most needs to succeed.”

To drive in the point, America’s biggest beauty pageant is Miss USA – a contest wholly owned by misogynist-in-chief Donald Trump. Dare I explain more?

Sure, racism is terrible. I have felt it. I suffer from its effects and I will fight until I die or it disappears. However, sexism isn’t a joke either. It’s serious and it’s holding back over half the world’s population from achieving equal rights to fulfil their dreams and pursue their lives as they see fit. How can I put “sexism aside” when I live in a world where women are brutally marginalised simply because they are women? How can anyone?

I would like to apologise for my tweet.

Racism is terrible, but sexism is, too. So while the racists who lambasted Nina Duvulari are dead wrong, the people responsible for holding these “beauty” pageants and the pageants are no better themselves.

Josh Shahryar

Josh Shahryar

A US-based reporter and blogger, covering human rights in South Asia and the larger Middle East. He tweets @JShahryar (twitter.com/JShahryar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • BlackJack

    Nina, however, was born in the state of New York, so she is not a native US citizen, but a citizen by birth. Umm… what do you think native US citizen means? Or did you intend to say naturalized, and ended up saying the opposite?
    Second, these women are participating in a pageant – no one is forcing them to. Much of the entertainment space (cinema/ music etc) is involved in reinforcing stereotypes, I assume that you have stopped watching movies as well in your noble campaign against sexism? Pls use this platform to campaign against those who actually practice misogyny on a much larger and more brutal scale – I am sure you can find them closer to home.Recommend

  • Kappa

    Races are made by god or evolution and racism is going to stay there as a reality until the time ends. Similar is the case with sexism so no need to over react for something that is natural.Recommend

  • Noor

    Americans think every brown person is muslim or Al qaeda …
    They can’t even differentiate between a Sikh beard and a Talibani beard.Recommend

  • Aneka

    I dont like her. Bad choice.Recommend

  • Deepwater

    Firstly, Ms. Davaluri is not a victim of racism. Were that the case, she would not been selected in the first place. Demographic changes are happening in America and white folks are going to be a minority in the coming decades. That fact is known and understood by all especially those in media.

    What Ms. Davaluri is a victim of are some ignorant, racist remarks made by people who obviously do not know what they are talking about. Many of these very people make these very remarks when an Indian-American wins a spelling, math or geography bee.

    Media outrage aside, it is best to ignore such dumb remarks which is what Ms. Davaluri chose to do. Her future will be dictated by hew own hard work, dedication and intelligence not by what someone with limited intelligence has to say. Hopefully, she will join the tens of thousands of other South Asians who are accomplished and respected in their fields.Recommend

  • Adhitya

    Who cares what the ignoramuses think? White people are much more inclusive then we are! If our countries would have one-third white population or for that matter any other race……..we would have a riot and choose to ostracise them.

    Congragulations Nina! You make South Asians, Indians, South Indians and Andhra-ites proud! Go Girl!Recommend

  • Pappu

    She is soooo un attractive.Recommend

  • GrimmJow

    People should realize that there is NO concept of Native Americans.

    Murika was born out of Immigrants…Recommend

  • Canuckski666

    Back in 2010 a Lebanese-born American girl(Rima Fakih) won the Miss.USA beauty pageant, and many racist people called her a “terrorist” and pretty much everything that was said to the new Miss.USA.Recommend

  • Canuckski666

    He meant she wasn’t a Native America, but an American citizen.Recommend

  • Canuckski666

    You’re really ignorant, Native Americans have been inhabiting the Americas for over 12,000 years, unfortunately they are now a minority in their own country and have been forced off their land to live in rundown reservations.

    95% of Native American died within the first decades of contact with the European invaders.Recommend

  • Canuckski666

    Would you like to explain apartheid,segregation,the genocide of Native Americans,Amerindians,Australian Aborignes,Maoris,Tasmanians,the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Holocaust.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I haven’t the faintest idea as to what you have tried to say……….but the girl is good looking and deserves the title.
    What I don’t like it this new format being used by ET.

  • Ronnie

    Get a life. She is gorgeous.Recommend

  • gp65

    Spot on. She is not a victim of racism or else she could have never won this contest. She must have won the contest in her city, county, state to even be able to participate in Miss America. The fact that there are some bigots in US proves nothing. Such bigots cannot prevent her from worshipping as she chooses, dressing as she pleases, pursuing a career she wants and otherwise living her life to the fullest. There are laws to ensure there is no discrimination in lending, in employment and so on.

    Whatever complaints anyone may have about US’ foreign policy, when it comes to welcoming and celebrating diversity and especially residents who were born and raised in another country – US has few matches.Recommend

  • siesmann

    You should look at some of the comments in this thread.Another facet of sexism

  • PC is BS

    Wow. You really don’t know what you’re talking about.Recommend

  • South Indian

    don’t rate her physical appearence,she is intelligent …Recommend

  • Sour grapes

    Hope you will be less judgemental when a Pakistani girl,wins the Miss.America title,someday !Recommend

  • Singh is King

    So what is the difference between Sikh beard and Talibani beard?Recommend

  • Insaan

    You have a right not to like her. Others have a right not to like you as well. She did compete with many other girls and she was selected as Ms USA based on criteria required by the organization doing the show.Recommend

  • Ajay

    Pakistani girls can surely win only if their men allowed them. I find some Pakistani news anchors very attractive…attractive enough to be considered. I just they will clear the bikini and question components of the competition. Sample question- Do you feel that religion should play any role in public administration? & Why? There is a good chance Pakistani men will squirm in their seats if politically correct answers are given.Recommend

  • TXGirl

    Standards are dropped for miss america after selecting this lady. Atleast there were other girls much better.Recommend

  • Style guru

    It’s better groomed and maybe accompanied by a net,a kara and an entirely different turban…and a job
    :) :) :)Recommend

  • WholeWorldIsMyCountry

    ligter skin tone is not the single yard stcik my dear freiend!Recommend

  • WholeWorldIsMyCountry

    ligter skin tone is not the only yard stcik to judge people……my dear friend!Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    and btw

    beards are awesomeRecommend

  • someone

    Could you please elaborate how the standards dropped? She by far was the most intelligent and talented girl in the contest. Or do you mean the a white skin is the ONLY standard? In that case US should declare the contest exclusively for white skin girls.Recommend

  • sami

    FFS, there are much better looking indian girls than her.Recommend

  • G. Din

    What is it you didn’t like about her?

  • Ajay

    Where did I say ‘Lighter skin’?Recommend

  • Dante

    I still don’t care. Nobody does and should about something as trivial as Miss America. You wasted about 15-25min of your time writing on it, and I waste 1 minute reading through it and 1 minute writing this message.Recommend

  • Andrew Sampson

    mmm Josh – not one of your better days!
    But you are forgiven because on a good day you are one of the best writers I know
    Take care my friend!Recommend