New York's 24-year old Nina Davuluri made history last night by becoming the first American of Indian descent to win the coveted Miss America title. But now she has found herself at the receiving end of a slew of racist comments online, proving that beauty, for many, remains merely skin-deep. Ironically, because many did not know her actual heritage, comments and tweets vented ire against Arabs, Africans and Muslims, in addition to Indians. There were also references to terrorism and 9/11.
Davuluri has brushed off the stream of online racism, saying she prefers to “rise above that” and that she has always considered herself “first and foremost American”. In this YouTube video by the Miss America Organization in the run up to the Miss America 2014 pageant, Davuluri speaks of her upbringing and the fact that New York, which she represented in the pageant, is essentially a multicultural hotpot.
While Davuluri may not have been provoked by the racist comments, others have pushed back. In India too, there is a lot of discussion about Davaluri's win, making it a trending topic of the day.
Curiously, netizens in India have been divided in their opinion of the new Miss America.
On the one hand, there was a lot of support for Nina Davuluri and anger at the racist comments that have been dogging her victory. On the other hand, a section of netizens debated whether Davuluri would have ever have won a beauty pageant in India, given the country's fetish with fair skin.
Mumbai-based author and journalist Deepanjana Pal (@dpanjana) tweeted:
Nina Davuluri's Miss America win brings out American Twitterati's racist side. http://t.co/jbdEY5ZR42 Trolls are the same the world over.
— Deepanjana Pal (@dpanjana) September 16, 2013
Food blogger and nutritionist Nandita Iyer (@saffrontrail) pointed out how many of the people making racist comments were not even aware of the differences between Arabs and Indians. She tweeted:
There are ppl so dumb to think Indian & Arab are same- Go to school, yo! Outrage over Indian miss America http://t.co/XUYW00tg6H
— Nandita Iyer (@saffrontrail) September 16, 2013
Engineering student Siddhartha R Thota's anger at the onslaught of racist verbal attacks on the newly crowned Miss America was evident in this tweet:
Free boil for my blood and disrespect for stupid “Americans”, this #MissAmerica issue. Some heartening exceptions though.
— Siddhartha R Thota (@tweetingsid) September 16, 2013
His anger found resonance with Ankita Singh (@VaanarMukhi) who commented via tweet
I'm sure the people making jokes on Nina Davuluri have the sharpest of features and they are the fairest ones there are.
— Ankita Singh (@VaanarMukhi) September 16, 2013
Gyanonymous pointed out the hypocrisy embedded in the racist comments through this tweet:
It's funny how the world sun-bathes to get a brown tan. And then they hypocritically attack brown skinned Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014)
— Gyanonymous (@ASShishism) September 16, 2013
Too dark-skinned for India?
Davuluri's dark skin was the focus of many. In one tweet, journalist and author Samar Halarnkar (@samar11) wondered:
Interesting. “Dusky” Indian-American becomes Ms America but would she ever make it in India? http://t.co/MZsmcyw9E5
— Samar Halarnkar (@samar11) September 16, 2013
Kushan Mitra echoed the sentiment in his tweet:
The question is whether a girl as dark as Nina Davuluri could possibly have won Miss India? Knowing our fascination for fairness, maybe not!
— Kushan Mitra (@kushanmitra) September 16, 2013
Writer and columnist Salil Tripathi (@saliltripathi) wondered along the same lines, reminded by this article in FirstPost that ‘dusky’ skinned models and actresses in India often underwent “colour adjustments” before they got accepted.
— Salil Tripathi (@saliltripathi) September 16, 2013
There were still others who used humour to underline the fact that Ms. Davuluri was indeed dark complexioned and not the quintessential (white-skinned) American. For example, stand-up comedian Atul Khatri (@one_by_two) tweeted:
Hey you guys sure Nina Davuluri won Miss. America and not Miss. Africa ?? #JustAsking
— Atul Khatri (@one_by_two) September 16, 2013
Challenging notions of beauty
However, a section of netizens celebrated the winner and saw this as another milestone to champion “Dark is Beautiful”.
From Mysore, author and blogger Ratna Rajaiah (@alphabetiya) tweeted:
if my eyes serve me right, Nina Davuluri is a dark-skinned girl, no? Take that, Fair&Lovely
— ratna_rajaiah (@alphabetiya) September 16, 2013
Kaveri Jain (@Mehitabel) from Delhi proclaimed via this tweet
Dark is beautiful campaign just got its newest ambassador “@ndtv: Miss America crowns first winner of Indian descent ”
— Kaveri (@Mehitabel_Delhi) September 16, 2013