Thursday, September 19, 2013

Miss America Proves We Have a Ways to Go Regarding Race


Undeserving? Some think so.
America is getting better about dealing with racism. I’m always running into folks striving to do the right thing when it comes to people different from themselves. Some go so far as to admit they harbor unwanted prejudice but are fighting hard against it. I count myself as one of these flawed yet honest human beings. On those days I breathe easy. But sometimes I rub up against something else.
It felt like a punch to the gut when I got wind that the newly crowned Miss America (an Indian American) had been attacked with a flurry of racial and cultural epitaphs. Against today’s backdrop in which many insist we now live in a post-racial society, this incident should be a wake-up call.
There’s no room to share the numerous repugnant comments folks tweeted online via Twitter that graphically illustrates racist bias against Nina Davuluri in particular and apparently people of color in general. A simple web search should satisfy those interested in determining what I did: that a lot of folks still refuse to get comfortable with the fact that Americans comes in all shades and ways of being.
Perhaps the biggest gripe I have regarding those nasty tweets is that they infer, because Ms. Davuluri is a person of color, she is less of an American than other folks and therefore undeserving of the Miss America crown. But nothing could be further from the truth. To my mind, it’s unpatriotic to figuratively and literally wave the Stars & Stripes, dutifully recite the Pledge (condescend those who don’t), rise to your feet for the Star Spangled Banner, then go home, kick back and trash fellow Americans – just because they are different from you in some ways.

With liberty and justice for all (...if you're of a certain ilk)
A little about Ms. Davuluri: the 24-year-old was born in Syracuse and lived in Oklahoma before moving with her parents to St. Joseph, Michigan, and later graduating from the University of Michigan (Go Blue), earning her share of scholastic honors along the way. Among them: the Dean's List, Michigan Merit Award, and National Honor Society Award. Her college degree is reportedly in Brain Behavior and Cognitive Science. Not rocket science but dang close.
Why does being a person of color always seem to trump all the other trappings of Americanhood? Bet Obama has some insight into that quagmire. Nevertheless in my experience, liberty and justice for all can often evaporate when persons of color rub up against historically all-white institutions. In this case the Miss America pageant. In Major League Baseball it happened to Jackie Robinson, an African American. In our judicial system, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Hispanic American. There are many others.
'American' Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
The great thing about the Internet is that we can instantly connect with each other. The down side is that we can instantly connect with each other. That means if you’re not careful, your first thoughts about something (or someone) can appear instantly for all the world to see. What can result is that a person’s true thoughts and feelings about a topic (or group of people) are ‘on blast.’ Forever.
What’s rather stunning about the Miss America affair is how many folks were using their real names to post what they felt about an Indian American being crowned. That’s especially telling because many believe, as I do, that the levels of racist attitudes among individuals is less of a concern than institutional racism, which is the more significant issue. Time to reconsider that assumption.
Still, there’s cause for hope; it resides in the hearts of everyone who tries to live into their belief of equality for all.

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