Never thought I'd find myself commenting on the Miss America Pageant, but the insane eruption of hate that followed the crowning of Nina Davuluri forces my hand.
Ms. Davuluri was born and raised American. That ought to be enough, but since she was born to Indian immigrant parents, has milk-chocolate skin, and a name that sounds neither British nor European, thousands -- maybe millions -- of outraged Americans of the John Wayne variety were prompted to issue tweets like this gem from "JimmySlimmy": "You have got to be kidding me... First we have a black president, and now Miss America is an ARAB. Maybe the world really is coming to an end."
About half the tweets I saw attacked her for being a Muslim or a terrorist (which, I suspect, comes to the same in what passes for their minds). A number of them linked her appearance with the anniversary of September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack: "9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets Miss America?"
You can find the above and many, many more at the aptly named PublicShaming tumblr site. Take a look. This is the Cirque du Soleil of hate. Racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, ethnic hatred, and ignorance wheel, prance, and parade across the stage in breathtaking pomp.
Never mind that Ms. Davuluri is from a Hindu family, and that her parents are in the business of delivering babies not blowing up stuff. For Amiericans who since 9/11 have circled the wagons to defend right-wing (Judeo) Christian patriotism, the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Did I say Indian? I meant terrorist. Or whatever. To quote another tweet, "Miss America is a terrorist. Whatever. It's fine."
The mystery is how, more than a decade later, so many Americans can remain so ignorant. When I was young we moved to one of the first integrated neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Our dog was in the back yard when some African-American boys passing by stopped to tease him. They poked sticks through the iron fence and threw clods at him. Outraged, he developed an embarrassing prejudice. When any black person came to our door (and here I say "black" purposefully), he would go nuts.
But as my dog got to know my African-American friends, like Mark Royal, now a senior member of the Philadelphia Fire Department, his views moderated. My dog learned to distinguish between people who were friendly and people who might not be trustworthy based on more subtle cues than the color of their skin.
And here's the mystery: my dog didn't have the advantage of a prefrontal cortex packed with reasoning circuits. He never learned to read. He didn't have a free public education. He didn't go to a house of worship to hear weekly messages about loving your neighbor. Yet, he got over his prejudices.
Why can't they?