The NEW Miss America

Unless you count Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, I don’t remember the last time I watched a pageant show. I was completely put off the pageant world after the Caitlin Upton fiasco in 2007 in which  the then Miss (Teen) South Carolina was asked to give answer as to why a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the US on the world map. She went on to deliver a stumbling, bumbling speech so heinous in its contents that educators across the country buried their heads in a collective, thunderous face palm. What in the name of Zeus have we done to education, surely they must’ve asked. I’ve put the video right here for you to watch. Six years later, and it’s still just as cringe worthy as they night Ms. Upton half grimaced, half grinned her way through her idiotic reply.

Nina Davuluri, and her crop of co-contestants for the title of Miss America 2014, has made the pageant world relevant yet again.

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The real story was about the contestants, who this year, as far as my limited knowledge about the pageant world can tell, truly reflect the America we live in. The internet was abuzz over Theresa Vail, the tattoo sporting, gun toting blonde representing Kansas. She was the first contestant in the pageant’s history to openly display tattoos. Standford graduate and runner up Miss California, Crystal Lee is of Asian descent. And of course there was Nina Davuluri, who went from being Miss New York to Miss America with one proclamation. The nation was stunned, as was she. She went on to thank the organization for embracing diversity. And we must admit, those of us who are well into our 30’s and older can attest to a time when Miss America would most likely be blonde (maybe even brunette if the salon’s had run out of peroxide that year) and from Any City, USA. It didn’t matter where she was from… it only mattered that she looked like a “real American” – preferably of pure Irish or Scottish descent.

And that’s when the racists came flooding out of the woodwork, like termites after a torrential rain. A quick search on Google will inform you of the kinds of vile things they had to say. It’s no wonder 20% of Americans can’t find their own bloody country on the map. Many of the idiots (who, by courtesy of the innernets were able to display their idiocy for the whole WORLD to see) wrongly attributed Ms. Davuluri’s race and ethnicity to the dreaded Al-Qaeda and the equally dreaded, ubiquitous term ‘Muslim’. Just so ‘real Americans’ know, ‘Muslim’ is a religion, not a race.

I digress.

The 2014 Miss America Competition - ShowI was really pleased when I perused the pictures from the pageant. They represented the America that most of us live in. I get my nails done by a group of congenial Vietnamese women. A Hispanic woman serves me lunch at the Italian restaurant I often dine at. I myself serve women from all walks of life at my store: Gambian house maids and German CFOs. The American Dream has eluded many who have come here in pursuit of it, but this weekend, it came true for Nina Davuluri, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

Ms. Davuluri’s parents are from Andhra Pradesh, which is situated on India’s southeastern coast. I have never studied Indian history outside of Ghandi, a couple of Bollywood films, and the very westernized movies Karma Sutra and Mississippi Masala.I have a couple of (casual) Indian friends and I love dhosa, nan and curry. I’m no authority on India or its culture and I will never claim to be. The only thing I know for certain is that the further north you go in India, the lighter the skin and the further south, the darker. I know for sure that Indians are just as racist as their former European colonizers and just as color struck as we Africans who were also subjected to colonization. I just didn’t have any idea to what degree Indian self-hatred and racism ran.

Have a look at this ad selling Ponds skin lightening cream:

When I first saw it, my mouth was a fly trap: wide open with shock. I’m sure yours is too. Unlike advertising in West Africa – or Ghana at least, where advertising for skin lightening is a little a lot more subtle – this series of ads blatantly proclaims that the path to success, the path to perfect beauty, the ONLY way to capture the heart of your true love is by whitening your skin. Not lightening; whitening.

I suppose that this is because unlike Indians, Polynesians, and people of Asian descent, Black people can never have “white” skin. The best we can hope for is “lighter” skin. And even though we all have accepted that lighter skin gives you easier access to favoritism and therefore fortune, no one has ever dared suggest we completely shed off our black skin and opt for all out whiteness. That would be absurd.

Not so in India, apparently.

Models, actors and actresses, public figures, etc. are all under pressure to whiten their skin. The caste system in India is thousands of years old, and the idea that lighter (or whiter) people are superior is a hard one to break. Which is why I can only surmise that Indians both on the continent and in the diaspora were so dumbfounded by Nina Davuluri’s big win.

“In my country, she would have been a servant girl.”

“Or a whore.”

“She would never be acceptable in management, and even if she were, she would not be respected.”

Confounding, isn’t it? That one can think with their brain and not their skin? Here’s a newsflash: Nina Davuluri is taking her $50,000 all the way to the bank and using it to fund her medical degree, color struck haters be damned!

This… THIS is the America that I love.  Every once in a great while, we get to see The Dream come true. That a little girl with dark skin and bright eyes, who would be deemed nothing just by virtue of hue and gender in another country, has gone on to apply herself and don the pageant crown of the world’s last Superpower. (It’s supercilious talk, I know. Just stick with me.) And what is America if not a veritable masala of all the world’s cultures that have made it what it is today? We have a mixed race president and an Indian Miss America… let’s bloody celebrate!

Nina DavuluriHer parents worked hard, her aunts and uncles who came here before worked hard, and she is continuing a legacy of excellence and hard work herself. Nina Davuluri’s skin didn’t do that for her: Nina Davuluri did. And as much as people want to spit, and hate and angrily tear at their flesh in racist and racist self-hatred, the crown isn’t coming off her head. This is the NEW Miss America.