New Miss America confronts narrative, met with racism

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(Contributed Photo)

After Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, it was suggested that a progressive step forward had been taken and that racism was finally looking like a thing of the past, a twisted set of ideas without any future.

Leading up to Obama’s election there was under-whelming media coverage of racism among registered voters, and once he was elected there was once again sparse coverage on any racist backlash to his victory.

A few days ago, Miss America was crowned just as she is every year—except this year she was a woman of Indian descent.

Nina Davuluri, representing the state of New York, was born to immigrant parents and is the first winner of Indian heritage.

Although she is fully American, and of course identifies as such, the outrage over her victory, especially on social media, has been profound. In addition to the scale of the backlash, the message was crystal clear: Davuluri shouldn’t have won because she isn’t a real American.

On Twitter, people are calling her an Arab, a Muslim, a terrorist. Apparently those are all acceptable insults but perhaps more offensively, synonyms.

In my mind, a “real” American would have some basic understanding of who an Arab was after all these years, but as people declare an Indian-American to be tied to al-Qaeda, I digress. My personal favourite was the tweets that read something like “I am not a racist but come on, this is America.”

What does that even mean? Since when did America mean white? What about when Aboriginals were here living without any Anglo-European presence? Or when slaves were brought over to build the United States from the ground up?

If people can grasp that “American” and “white” are not the same in any sense, then we may finally be getting somewhere. Even the term “white” strips people of individuality and heritage. It lacks all logic to suggest that a Polish-American or an Icelandic-American or an Australian-American or Serbian-American are more acceptable Miss America winners than an Indian-American when the only difference is skin colour.

To be clear, this is an extreme minority of Americans who are making their racist, misguided comments public.

But the criticism of Davuluri, despite being covered more heavily in the media, was surely not as widespread as the racist sentiment in America after Obama was elected. It stands to reason that racists would be more offended by a black president than a non-white Miss America.

So, either racists have their priorities a little mixed up, or the media decided to cover up some of the more disturbing instances of outrage following Obama’s election and re-election.

The real reason behind the racism and the mysteriously inconsistent media coverage is about something much deeper and more historically rooted than bigotry or hatred. It is about narrative.  All countries have a history and a narrative that tells the story of their nation’s evolution and development to the present day.

In the United States, the common narrative seems to begin somewhere after the American Revolution while simultaneously ignoring events that may negatively impact the narrative.

We think of the framers of the constitution, political figures like Abraham Lincoln and inventors like Thomas Edison, while all but ignoring the massive contributions of indigenous populations, slaves and immigrants in building America.

Even when considering notorious criminals, the media has perpetuated images of Al Capone, John Dillenger and “Bugsy” Siegel. These men and others like them were responsible for the deaths of thousands of people but are almost celebrated in infamy in a way that visible minority criminals never will be. And rightly so.

There is still a football team in the NFL called the Washington Redskins. Despite petitions for years to have it changed, it remains an ongoing battle.  You’d think it would be an automatic change to be made in a society that supposedly has changed so much in the last few decades.

Imagine if there was a major sports team called the “Crackers.” The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

Racism is still as much of an issue today as it was decades ago. Policies have changed, sure. But until we acknowledge the falsities and flaws in the narratives we so selectively pieced together, comprehensive progression will never be fulfilled.

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