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Parthiv N. Parekh Headshot

Miss America 2014: From Racist Rants to Multiculturalism

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Racist Rants are Not the Big Story. Multiculturalism Is!

The squeaky wheel gets the oil. And so it is that so much of the news surrounding the crowning of Nina Davuluri as the first ever Indian-American Miss America was hogged by the nasty Twitter backlash that surfaced almost immediately after the event.

Collectively, these squeaky wheels in tweeter-sphere were like a screeching crescendo of scratchy noises. And they managed to cast a shadow on something that is a major milestone not just for Indian-Americans but for America, too.

Granted, the nasty tweets from clearly xenophobic morons were indeed too much to have remained muted. Here are just a couple of the hundreds of demeaning ones: "How the f*** does a foreigner win Miss America? She is a Arab!" And: "Miss America? You mean Miss 7-11."

Gosh, how has a segment of this country so dramatically turned its back on classic American ideals, both the stated ones and the implied ones: equality, meritocracy, and an immigrant ethos that is (was?) woven into the very fabric of this nation?

Going just by these tweets would indeed be quite demoralizing. But once we are done being indignant and can zoom out a bit from the raw vents (Use comic relief if you must: "Miss America is Not American!"), we can appreciate the fact that there is no religious, ethnic, or national group that does not have its fringe elements. The effect nowadays is more in-your-face simply because technology has made it easier and instantaneous to spout out such mean inanities. Add to it the fact that electronic and social media is highly efficient in making any passing buzz appear far larger than it often is.

But a few hundred reactive tweets do not represent the national character. Indeed, it is not the fringe, but rather the establishment of the country that is a better indicator of shifting national paradigms. And when it comes to the establishment, look what Miss America, an iconic cultural institution, just did: They crowned a brown-skinned (albeit very American) young woman in a competition that has so far been an almost exclusive bastion of blondes.

This is quite a milestone. When I landed here in 1986, I could not have imagined that an Indian-American could win the Miss America title. And that she would be performing a Bollywood dance in the talent competition! (Bollywood was not even coined as a word in those days).

In the larger context, we have a black president in the White House. Sure, there is considerable racial hatred towards Obama in some circles. I am also cognizant of the right-wing extremists who are increasingly threatened by the challenge to the status of Whites as the majority demographic group. And yet, this cannot undermine the fact that this country voted for a black president -- twice!

This only means that those who portray America as racist, in reaction to a few reactive rants from lay people, are judging it against some Utopian fantasy.

Coming back to Davuluri, there has been an unpleasant undercurrent about whether or not she is a good role model, considering she allegedly called the previous Miss America title holder "fat as (expletive)." Ungraceful indeed. And quite a stain on an otherwise proud milestone for Indian-Americans. Yet, neither this nor the Twitter backlash is the story of enduring relevance here. The thing that matters most about Miss America 2014 is that it is yet another indicator of a nation willing to embrace its growing multiracial and multicultural makeup.