The Miss America Pageant is a long-standing American tradition. What first started as a beauty contest almost a century ago has since developed into a scholarship pageant. As the pageant has progressed, there have been many controversial “first” winners. On Sept. 15, Nina Davuluri made history as the first Indian-American to be crowned Miss America.
Davuluri ran on the platform “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency” and now plans on using her $50,000 scholarship award to fulfill her dream of becoming a physician.
For many, this story is all well and good and serves as a perfect representation of the melting pot of the United States. However, every “first” winner has faced backlash and criticism from non-approving U.S. citizens, and Davuluri is no exception.
When Davuluri was crowned last Sunday, Twitter blew up with harsh and racist tweets about her Indian heritage. The Washington Post documented and published tweets mislabeling Davuluri as an Arab, a foreigner, and even a terrorist due to her non-traditional beauty and dark skin combination.
One minor, who later deactivated his Twitter account, tweeted “9-11 was 4 days ago and she gets Miss America?” Other tweets even went so far as name Davuluri as a member of the al-Qaeda terrorist group.
Nina Davuluri, age 24, is a born and raised New Yorker. Born to parents who immigrated more than 30 years ago, Davuluri remained connected to her heritage growing up by studying Indian dance forms as well as making a yearly trip to India to visit her relatives there.
Davuluri further celebrated her heritage during the Miss America Pageant by preforming an Indian and Bollywood-style dance during the talent portion of the competition.
Unfortunately, many people do not see her life as the traditional “American dream” story. Unable to see past the color of her skin, people continue to slander Davuluri and the Miss America Pageant more than a week later.
According to the Miss America website, this is not the first time a pageant winner has received criticism based on her background. In 1984, the first African-American winner Vanessa Williams received similar public outcries of disgust. On multiple occasions, Williams’ even received death threats.
Other “firsts” include Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America in 1945, Irma Nydia Vasquez, the first Miss Puerto Rican and first Hispanic contestant in 1948, and Yun Tau Chee, the first Miss Hawaii as well as the first Asian contestant. More recently is Heather Whitestone, the first deaf Miss America in 1995 and Angela Perez Baraquio, the first Asian-American to be crowned in 2001.
Like the women before her, Davuluri is receiving the racist comments with the poise and grace expected of her in her new role as Miss America. When asked about the remarks by USA Today, Davuluri responded simply “I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.”
However, it is a shame she has to deal with such backlash.
There has been a slue of Davuluri supporters defending her on social media sites during the past week. Unfortunately, the support has not been enough to completely outweigh or even balance out the anti-diversity hate coming from the Twitter universe.
It is disappointing so many Americans view diversity as a threat instead of a confirmation of our freedom. Nina Davuluri is a true representation of the American dream and her win is something that should be celebrated as a milestone instead of criticized.