Oh, how the pageant world has changed. Pageants now span all ages, education and socio-economic levels, with everything from Toddlers & Tiaras to our country’s most renowned pageant, Miss America, representing the genre. Yet the one barrier we have consistent trouble overcoming in this arena is the race boundary. Isn’t it amazing that we as a nation can welcome into our homes a beauty queen as unrepentantly ridiculous as Honey Boo-Boo, but a great number of us shudder at the thought of one Nina Davuluri being crowned Miss America. What’s the reason behind the outrage? What’s the one obvious thing Honey Boo-Boo has that Nina Davuluri does not? White skin.
Yes, the old, white, bleach-boned skeleton in the closet of our national heritage came out once again. For every racial barrier that we break, there’s a group of outspoken fools on Twitter ready to glue the broken pieces back together, when all this accomplishes is creating something even uglier than the original product. The pageant world has been no exception.
As annoying as I typically find pageants, they do have their positive aspects. At their best, they sponsor a sense of national pride, often provide little girls with role models and successful contestants with scholarship money and a platform from which to speak out about an issue they hold dear. At their worst, however, they present a misguided ideal. Fewer than 100 years ago, Miss America contestants were required to be unmarried (I’ll give you that one; it isn’t Mrs. America), in “good health”, at least 5’4”, and “of the white race”. Disappointing in hindsight, to say the least, but the organization has actually come a long way since then. In 1945 the pageant selected its first Jewish-American winner, and in 1970 it finally allowed black contestants to enter with the debut of Miss Iowa, Cheryl Brown. 1984 saw the pageant’s first black contestant win the title, Miss New York, Vanessa Williams. This year’s Miss America 2014 has produced a new landmark. Another Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, is crowned and is the first Indian-American to win the title.
The backlash Miss Davuluri has endured through social media has been ridiculous and completely unfounded. Tweets have come out calling her a foreigner, an Arab, a Muslim extremist, and a whopping total of 705 Tweets (and counting) referencing “Miss America Terrorist.” All of these are hilarious and illogical, but I think the best fallacy regarding this matter on the web right now are the statements that Miss Davuluri’s winning so close to the anniversary of 9/11 is an insult to the state of New York—the state that selected her to go to the pageant in the first place.
Miss America 2014 is going to have her work cut out for her. Her platform of celebrating diversity through cultural competency is admirable and a message we could all take a lesson from. She has had to overcome complex misconceptions about beauty in her family’s own culture, and now she will have to deal with the idiocy that breeds on the internet and often seeps out into our culture at large. As an American, I’m proud of her accomplishments so far and of her message of social progress. While the corners of the internet continue to house the xenophobic crazies, this recent pop-culture win is a success for us as people and a sign of things to come. Our nation is changing and I’m happy to see the people who act as our social and cultural ambassadors are changing to reflect that, too.
Image source (both): Elle Magazine