Last night after I watched Breaking Bad and did my post-Breaking Bad deep breathing exercises, I was scrolling through Facebook and learned that an Indian-American woman, Nina Davuluri, had won the 2013 Miss America pageant. Wonderful, I thought — this is a huge step for diversity. Recognizing that "American" is a sprawling and ever-evolving identity that is unique to each citizen of these United States is a huge step! Finally, a mainstream pageant queen that I can identify with culturally and physically! Progress!
And then I saw the Buzzfeed post that so kindly aggregated the highlights of the racist twitter vitriol that abounded in response to the fact that Miss America wasn't white, and I slammed my trident to the earth and released the Kraken.
I sighed, closed my Macbook, and went to sleep. Because as an Indian-American woman myself, the comments that emerged on Twitter were just so disgusting and not to mention downright idiotic that I had to look away. But that's the problem — the looking away. How much can we force ourselves to look and respond to racism before we get exhausted?
I'm not going to repeat any of the tweets verbatim here because they make me so uncomfortable and pissed off, but the basic crux of the racists' argument was: it was ABSURD that an "Arab terrorist" could win this contest. "I thought this was America!!!," they protested, confused. "And what the hell was up with that dance she did?" "What gives her the right to have a last name that I can't pronounce?" "What even is an India?" "How could we dishonor the victims of 9-11 so close to the anniversary by crowning a member of Al-Qaeda as Miss America?"
It goes on, like that, grossly and inaccurately until you claw your eyes out, Oedipus style.
What can I say? What can be said about our country that in so many arrogant ways thinks it's post-racial because we have a black president, and then confuses Arabs with Indians? The sheer ignorance is more offensive to me than the actual comments, because how are these the people that surround me? Maybe this should be an invective about the American education system. Look at a fucking map, assholes, is what I want to say, but instead, I have to be eloquent in my outrage because I fear being labeled as just another angry woman of color "making such a big deal" out of something that "isn't even that racist!"
It's exhausting that this has to be my thought process every time something racist happens (which, newsflash, is A LOT.) My immediate reaction is always, always blind rage mixed with sadness at the fact that 1) such racism is still being perpetuated and 2) I will have to censor my response for fear that I will be written off as an angry person of color. Because when people of color get angry, there's no way they can be taken seriously.
I think it is so strong of Nina Davuluri to respond to the racism in such a graceful manner, saying "I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American." She ran on the platform of "celebrating diversity through cultural competency" which seemed like a preemptive "hate on haters" to the later sludge that leaked from Twitter.
Nina is first and foremost an American — and so am I. Because America is literally a country full of immigrants, something that these racists fail to see and understand, even though they claim to be standing up for "true" American ideals. If true American ideals are hating someone based solely on the color of their skin and being xenophobic about a dark-skinned woman being called beautiful and not knowing the difference between Arab and Indian, I don't want to be a true American.
I don't think I'm as strong as Davuluri. For as much praise as she is receiving for bringing diversity to the Miss America pageant and reopening a conversation about race and identity in America, she will also be the victim of racist hatred. Her crowning as Miss America is positive to me in that, finally, an Indian-American woman has been accepted by mainstream media as beautiful (I know this is a minimal and normative benefit, but it's something), but it's also a reminder that the a large slice of people will always hate me because I am not white, pure and simple.
If anything, I am grateful that there are such strong women of color like Davuluri, who participate in public spaces like pageants to represent the America we actually live in — one where racism is still rampant and bold-faced and needs to be confronted in order to be rectified.
She represents the kind of American I strive to be — one that is proud of her cultural heritage as well as her American upbringing, not shying away from either, embracing her new cultural identity, and knowing she is no less American than someone whose white family has been here for generations.
That's diversity, y'all. Look it up.