When Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, danced her Bollywood fusion across my television screen I smiled.
By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT
The Kansas City Star
This is America, I thought. Here is this gorgeous woman, born and raised in America a New Yorker at that paying homage to her culture as an Indian-American. Isnt that the beauty of our country, built up of so many different people? Is that not symbolic of the salad bowl so many of our elementary school teachers taught us in social studies?
But when she won the Miss America pageant Sunday night, the backlash was immediate.
This is America became a form of outrage. It stirs up sad memories of Rima Fakihs Miss USA win three years ago, when haters tried to connect Fakih, who is of Lebanese descent, to the militant group Hezbollah.
Now, the shock that an Indian-American took the crown brought out everyone from the common Internet trolls with their misguided attempts to tie her to 9/11 to Todd Starnes, the Fox News & Commentary radio host. His tweets kept coming and were retweeted hundreds of times over. But one really struck me:
The liberal Miss America judges wont say this but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values. # missamerica
I championed Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, as much as anyone. I applaud her commitment to empowering women and breaking down stereotypes, but isnt that the same exact thing that Nina Davuluri is doing? She has a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science and plans to follow in her dads footsteps, go to med school and become a doctor. Vail wants to be an Army dentist like her dad.
Davuluris platform is about celebrating diversity. The two women ultimately have the same mission.
Did you hear that answer she gave to the competition question about TV host Julie Chens decision to have plastic surgery to look less Asian?
I dont agree with plastic surgery. However I can understand that from a standpoint. More importantly, Ive always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving. I wouldnt want to change someones looks. Be confident in who you are.
Natasha Kothari, a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, doesnt understand why we arent past ethnicity yet.
As exciting as it is to see the first Miss America of Indian origin, I see her first as an American, says Natasha, who is also of Indian descent. I was born in Kansas and have been in Kansas (Overland Park) my whole life. I am American. For the same reasons we looked up to Theresa Vail with her combat boots and tattoos, we should look up to Miss America. The image of Miss America is not only pretty blond white girls. I have nothing against them, I am just saying that is not the only standard of beauty.
But no matter how far we think weve come, we still have far to go.
We still have vestiges of racism that are in the fabric of our culture, says Susan Wilson, associate dean in the office of diversity and community partnership at UMKCs medical school. Beauty comes in all colors and cultures, but there are still people out here that only want to celebrate the white standard of beauty.
People harbor prejudice and are not knowledgeable. They lump Indians in with Arabs and are anti-Muslim without learning about the cultures. Things like this are reminders that there is still work to do.
As a father of a baby girl, Roger Ngo says its important to celebrate differences.
Being open-minded opens the door to growth and education, says Roger, a Vietnamese-American in North Kansas City. Im not interested in hanging out with people just like me. You dont learn anything that way.
Miss America isnt stressing over the negativity. Shes too busy celebrating diversity and her mission to raise awareness of it.
I have to rise above that, Davuluri says of the racism. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.
Stereotypes be gone and let the empowerment begin, honey. Like it or not, Miss America is rocking that crown.