How Indian Origin Nina Davuluri Became A Talking Point For Racism

…and casteism, plastic surgery and cultural surrogacy just hours after being crowned Miss America

Sharin Bhatti September 16, 2013


This morning, white supremacist minds exploded worldwide. The country of consumerism, vanity, Big Brother(ly) bullying and beauty pageants announced the winner of Miss America 2014. It wasn’t punters and crowd-favourite – the gun-totting, cross-bow aiming, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Army sergeant Miss Kansas Theresa Vail who got to wear the tiara on her pretty little head. But 24-year-old Indian-origin American citizen Nina Davuluri (Miss New York) who won the coveted crown instead. Within moments Wikipedia had a page chronicling her so-far diminutive history and red-neck Twitterati exploded with racial slurs expressing shock at how “this is America” and “Al Qaeda’s next terrorist is now Miss America.” For the NRI and the immigrant Asian community at large, it was probably a big win as they saw a representative of their community gaining acceptance at USA’s most symbolic organisation, after the US Congress. It isn’t a Miss Senator, but it is Miss America, a beauty pageant that has owned the onus for setting the biggest benchmarks of beauty in USA (and by that extension the world) for 87 years. A Miss Universe or a Miss World is not an aspiration as high as Miss America is, for she is the “most prettiest of all in the free world.” Pretty, not fair.

This buzzfeed article, measured the quantum of rage and “shock” on Twitter of how an “Arab wins Miss America” and parodied on how it’s a win for 7/11 (convenience stores across US known to employ people from minority communities) and some even wondered, “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets Miss America?” Meanwhile in India, folk from the home-state of Davuluri’s parents Andhra Pradesh, sent congratulatory (and some even redemption-winning) messages in Telugu, Hindi and English alike on the far-reaching empire of twitter verse. Never mind that NY-born Davuluri is a first-generation US citizen.

Immediately reacting to the highly racist stance of the Americans, some Indians even defended this consistent name-calling most Indians themselves resort to. ” Everyone form the North East is labelled a “chinki” and considered “easy” (women esp), every South Indian is a “Madrasi,” anyone who is from the Hindi heartland is a “Bhaiya” and by default will be illiterate, women might not eat enough green vegetables but will save money to buy “fairness” creams. It’s your bad karma from past life if you are born dusky or dark in this country because then for the rest of your life, you will have to wage a battle with your constantly dipping self-esteem! We genuinely have no rights or face to call anyone else racist, we discriminate on the basis of caste,” said one comment on Facebook.

The young Davuluri, who under any other normal circumstance would have been partaking in some celebrating otherwise, became a social-media campaign of ethnicity, cultural surrogacy, racism, casteism in India and even fairness creams. Like this above comment, another article in Firstpost built on how Davuluri’s exotic (like a former beauty queen would want us to believe), dusky complexion would never win her the Miss India crown, for we are a nation still obsessed with fair skin, a lingering symptom from the British-Raj era.

As the fires rage on through the day on Indian soil, even as Americans now sleep off their shock, one can’t help but reach out to the newly crowned Davuluri, whose winning moment came when she spoke candidly against plastic surgery to alter exotic looks to more American looks. “I don’t agree with plastic surgery, however I can understand that from a standpoint. More importantly I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving… I wouldn’t want to change someone’s looks. Be confident in who you are.” Davuluri was reacting to a procedure that Asian TV presenter Jule Chen underwent, where she altered her eyeslids to look less, for lack of a better word, Asian.

Davuluri is born to doctor parents and she herself aims at becoming a cardiologist one day, a career choice made by the most stereotypical immigrant Indians in USA. Even though we are not attempting racial profiling here, one does wonder what if Davuluri goes on to win the Miss Universe pageant, being a dusky Miss America and all. The closest such coloured Indian that did come close to clinching the title was in 1992, when the then athletic, honey-coloured, graceful Miss India Madhu Sapre came first runner-up for choosing sport over world peace.

This is however a different time, a different country and a world largely disillusioned by photo-shopped models and might we add even the fair skin. Despite all odds, Davuluri’s judges deemed her the most glowing citizen amongst 53 other contenders who maybe were all “American.” Did she have the right? Hell yes. Did she deserve it? You decide. In the meantime though, let’s try not to make #racism a trending topic.



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