Miss America backlash illuminates underlying racial ignorance

On Sunday Sept. 15, Nina Davuluri became the first woman of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America. Instantly, she became the target of vitriolic backlash on social media sites because of her ethnic – or “nonwhite” – background. Numerous people decrying her victory incorrectly referred to her as an Arab. Many who did get her ethnicity correct were still unhappy, repeating the theme, “This is America, not India.” Would anyone question Davuluri’s “American-ness” if she was not named Miss America? Save for a few horrible racists, probably not. The answer seems to be that whiteness is still perceived by many to be inextricably bound to American-ness.

Putting aside the fact that immigrants founded America, the United States has been multiracial longer than it has been a country. Though whites have long comprised the majority of the U.S. population, even that is starting to change. Projections based on census data indicate that by 2043, whites will be a minority in the U.S.

While the U.S. markets itself in the international arena as the melting pot of the world, there remains an unspoken and unresolved social tension between members of the white and nonwhite communities.

Focusing on Geneseo and college campuses across the U.S., we see a showcase of increasing “diversity” among the student body, also known as more “multicultural” or “nonwhite” students. It’s a very ambiguous statistic that immediately pinpoints students of color as the one, singular “other.”

It characterizes white students as the norm in a recognition that problematically generalizes hundreds of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In a supposedly pluralistic society, why is white the default skin color?

What we are seeing is a manifestation of white supremacy. It may not be the white-robe brand you are familiar with, but instead a subtler version that pits whiteness as the standard against which all other skin colors are judged. Anything that deviates from the “norm” is met with hostility and confusion.

By lumping all nonwhite ethnicities together, we get the type of ignorance directed at Davuluri. At the root of this ignorance is a lack of awareness for cultures that are not traditionally white. It would behoove all members of the world community to educate themselves about cultures beyond their own and to understand the similarities and differences that exist between people worldwide.

Deconstructing the myth of America as a white nation is a major step to dismantling white supremacy throughout society. True racial equality is unattainable as long as ignorance such as that directed toward Miss America continues to exist.