Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks | Regal racism
Think Twice | In the wake of the Miss America pageant, let’s remind ourselves to be culturally conscious
September 24, 2013, 7:52 pm · Updated September 25, 2013, 12:04 am·
Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
When Nina Davuluri, a med-school-bound University of Michigan graduate, became the first Indian-American to win the Miss America Pageant two weeks ago, the media pounced on the barrage of ignorant and downright racist tweets that surged through the web.
Those who called her an Arab must not have not passed seventh-grade geography. Worse, many labeled her as a terrorist because of her appearance. The only Miss America these people could see was the blonde, tattooed army chick from Kansas.
Despite the haters, the Miss America Pageant — a representation of beauty in this country — gave Davuluri its stamp of approval, forever sanctioning that by the most sweeping of American standards, an Indian-American woman could embody our nation’s cover girl. After all, we gave her a crown, right?
This is not the first time that the Miss America pageant has celebrated diversity — the first black woman to win, Vanessa Williams, won the pageant in 1984, and eight black women have won since.
Even beyond the gates of the pageant, American media is making a little room for a more inclusive image of beauty, as it should. We’ve seen this in moments like model Iman’s 1994 launch of a line of cosmetics for ethnic women and responsible advertising like the recent Dove beauty campaigns.
As the United States makes strides forward, some of the more recent press in India has demonstrated an increasingly narrow image of what it means to be beautiful. Allegedly in India, where fair skin is the pinnacle of beauty, Miss Davuluri could never have won Miss India because her skin is too dark. India’s skin-lightening industry is worth a whopping $400 million, and according to BBC, more skin-lightening creams are sold annually in India than cans of Coca-Cola. Even the dudes are doing it.
An anthropologist who observed behind the scenes of the 2003 Miss India pageant reported that “every single one of the young women was taking some sort of medication to alter her skin, particularly in colour, in the training programme,” some with unpleasant side effects.
Looking at racism in 2013, we were reminded of a lesson from Stephanie McCurrry’s course on the American South: Race is a social construct. As professor McCurry told us, the reaction to the Miss America pageant “is really about who gets to call themselves an American. Being American is not just a matter of citizenship, it’s a matter of belonging.”
Though the Miss America Pageant is problematic in it’s narrow, superficial method of validating women on a national stage, we are pleased to see the pageant pay homage to the melting pot that America prides itself on being.
This brings us back to Penn, a melting pot in its own right. According to Penn Admissions, the undergraduate community includes students from over 100 countries, and 40 percent of the class of 2016 is black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American. It’s clear that Penn values diversity, but even beyond the numbers a lot of work is being done by groups like the United Minorities Council, which acts as an umbrella organization to celebrate and advocate for many ethnic groups.
Chair of UMC and College junior Joyce Kim explained that though we are meant to be living in “a post racial society … there are remnants of racism in the form of micro-aggressions.” Kim cited statements correlating getting good grades with being Asian as the standard jab.
It seems that racist remarks are still embarrassingly more common than we might think. Just this week 34th Street’s Roundup reported that “racial slurs flew as a St. A’s boy and a Theos bro got into a fight … over Judaism.” Really guys? We’re disappointed.
We like to think of Penn’s diversity as an incredible resource. One of our roommates is taking us to a special dinner for Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights — we could not be more excited! In exchange we might share the secrets of challah french toast, a beautiful fusion in itself. So, this week, take a moment to be culturally curious, we’re sure you have a lot to offer and even more to gain.
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College seniors from New York and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every other Wednesday.