What defines an American? A quick google search and skim through the omnipresent Wikipedia defines an American as: “a citizen, or native, of The United States of America. [A] country home to people of different national origins . . . as a result, Americans do not equate their nationality with ethnicity, but with citizenship.” Obviously, the ignorant citizens of America, more specifically, the ignorant, xenophobic, Tweeting Americans who watched (or didn’t watch) the Miss America Pageant equate their nationality with ethnicity.
But before I continue my rant, let’s look at a few more criteria for Americans.
The U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services states that any persons born in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and Swains Island) is a legal citizen; or children born to one or more parent who is a U.S. Citizen, but was born abroad is a legal citizen once certain paperwork (a Consolar Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America, or CRBA) is completed.
Many definitions of America will use the words melting-pot, and hodgepodge, both emphasizing the plethora of ethnicities within the American population. America and its Dream enticed many immigrants from all nationalities to move to America throughout the 20th century, and still today, to seek a higher degree of life. Few, if any of us, (with the exception of Native Americans) are full-blooded, pure bred, one-hundred-percent American.
So, what does this have to do with the eighty-three-year-old tradition of the Miss America Pageant? According to the Miss America site, absolutely nothing. There is no category to be judged, and no criterion for contestants to be all American. In fact, I would argue that a fifth of the women in this year’s Miss America Pageant wouldn’t fill-in the Caucasian circle during a standardized test or survey, choosing, instead, to color the bubbles for African American, Asian, and various other hyphenated ethnicities—Asian-American, Mexican-American, or (oh my god!) Indian-American.
“Miss America represents the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace, intelligence, artistic, and refined.” As quoted by Frank Hickman on the Miss America website. Although a fair bit of superficiality abounds throughout the judging of Miss America—notice no contestant ever struts down the walkway free of makeup and hair product, in sandals and sweats—she is intended to represent a female ideal of strong morals, values, and ambitions.
Which I’m sure Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, represents, and, yet, Twitter comments such as, “Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11?” or “the only reason she won is bc (sic) her people said they would lower gas prices,” and others calling her Miss Terrorist and Miss Al-Queda, littered the cyber world. Hundreds of tweets followed her crowning and just as many backlashes followed the tweets from the NY Times to the Huffington Post.
But who can we blame but ourselves for the racism and prejudices that still cloud our American existence? Some Twitter users apologized, claiming they didn’t think before they tweeted, but impulsiveness isn’t an excuse for incompetence. We should be ashamed that our society has descended into such a realm of judgment and racism following 9/11. Now to join the African and Asian Americans in their fight for equality, we welcome the citizens with Indian and Middle Eastern descent because the media and propaganda are littered with the equation that Muslim, Arab, Indian, etc. equals terrorist, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Nina Davuluri’s platform is “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency.” I hope that the Twitter disgrace helped launch the 2014 Miss America’s campaign. By proving how incompetent Americans are and can be about diversity, it quickly proved that the judges chose well. I, who have never been able to sit through an entire Miss Anything pageant, offer my congratulations with hopes that in coming years more and more ethnic women will walk the stage baring sashes of different states. May we substitute the blonde-haired-blue-eyed American ideal for caramel and ebony skin, brunette and jet-black hair—a contestant list that celebrates the cultural diversity that our country (is supposed to) define.