The title of this blog post is eye-catching, if a little stupid-sounding. Of course, the intelligent, worldly reader might say: Indians are not terrorists, and neither are Arabs! How could one ever lump a whole race/ethnicity/nation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it of people into one categorization and label based on the actions of a few people? But alas, the blog post title sounds stupid because apparently, many Americans are incredibly, incredibly stupid.
I’ll admit, I’m not going for any sort of scholarly writing right now (at the moment, I’m doing enough of the scholarly-talk thing at school). I also feel that it is highly appropriate to make my writing as simple as possible, so should one of the ignorant fools that DO believe that Indians and Arabs are terrorists (hell, that they’re even the same thing!) might be able to understand me. Because, clearly, those people don’t have a clue about anything.
Lest you wonder where I’m getting at, I am of course referring to the 2014 Miss America pageant, which took place on September 15th and which crowned its first-ever Indian Miss, Nina Davuluri. I did not watch the pageant, but apparently Miss Davuluri, representing New York (and hailing from Syracuse) performed an Indian “fusion” dance in a beautiful sari, discussed wanting to become a doctor, and proceeded to beat out the other contestants. Nothing abnormal happened during the show; there was no pre-show scandal. But there has been a lot of post-show scandal, of which the whole of America should be blushing in shame.
According to a Tumblr called Public Shaming and Buzzfeed, irate Americans (I’m also going to guess that not all of them watched the show) have taken to Social Media to protest against the crowning of an Indian woman, oops I mean an Arab terrorist bomber. That’s right: showing just how dire is the need for geography to be taught in schools, Americans cried foul about the fact that an Arab took home the crown, because, you know, Arabs bombed us on 9/11 and Arabs are scary terrorists who only have bombs on their mind (seriously, follow the link under sources: their comments are un-fucking-believable). They don’t realize that extremist terrorists are, you know, called extremists for a reason, and that they don’t represent the entire Arab population at all (another note: not all Arabs are Muslim, but of course these Middle Americans don’t realize that). They don’t realize that the region of the world known as Arabia or the Middle East does not include India; heck, most scholars don’t even like to lump Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan into that category, although many (myself included) often do. They don’t realize, extremely important, that she’s NOT EVEN ARAB. She’s Indian.
Better yet, she’s American! Nina Davuluri, no matter where her parents were born, was born in America. To say comments like “oh, an American should win Miss America” is downright ignorant at its highest level. I understand where these people are coming from. Xenophobia is a powerful feeling, and people the world over experience it. Although America has from day one been a land of immigrants, they were, up until more recently, mostly white–or black (don’t get me started there). However, there has been a Miss America who was not white or black before: Miss Angela Perez Baraquio, who was of Filipina descent, was crowned Miss America 2001. So why such fuss over an Indian woman? Sure, she appropriated her heritage when she danced in a sari, but it’s not like she wasn’t perfectly coiffed and groomed like the other women, and she sure didn’t appear on stage in a hijab or something conservative.
Beauty pageants seem like such outdated affairs relegated to the world of that (in my opinion) terrifying Middle America, which includes families like Hunny Boo Boo. However, I am fascinated by them, and I believe that they are still extremely relevant. I have posted about pageants in the Middle East before, because I feel that they are great barometers regarding women’s freedom to choose, not to mention feel comfortable with their looks in a region where, generally speaking, women’s looks are something to be guarded-or shamed. The 2014 Miss America pageant is a good lesson in international affairs, or the lack of them: clearly, we have not as a country come far from the post-9/11 aftermath of labeling Arabs (and mislabeling Indians as Arabs) terrorists. To America, brown=bad, even when that infamous brown (and I dislike using the word brown, especially in the case of Arabs who more often than not have skin as white as mine) lady is dressed entirely in American styles. The backlash Miss New York has faced is indicative that there are some intense cultural battles taking place in this country, where people from South Asia and the Middle East are not appreciated and can never be considered American. It makes me laugh because, again, if these Twitter commenters came to Bay Ridge Brooklyn or Astoria, Queens they would realize that there are lots of those scary Arabs, and many of them are second or third-generation.
I would like to apologize to Miss Davuluri, our new queen. If I were her, part of me would want to resign in disgust for bearing the crown for America, since Middle America clearly doesn’t like her or believe that she is American. But the other part of me would want to use my position to speak out against racism and, especially, sheer ignorance. Miss Davuluri, I think your first course of action should be helping establish a world geography program for schools.