Hell freezing over alert: I'm about to write something nice about Miss America.
Okay, I'm still not a fan of the beauty pageant. But I have new respect for Miss America as I have watched the new queen cope with the seriously depraved Neanderthals that troll through the dark side of American life. Dissing Miss America for her ethnic heritage is a new low in American life.
To recap: in case you missed it, Nina Davuluri became Miss America last week. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science, she aspires to become a physician. Born in Syracuse, New York, she and her family lived for a while in Missouri where her father practiced medicine; her mother is a software engineer. She moved back to New York after college and won successive pageants, becoming first Miss Syracuse and then Miss New York before taking the top crown as Miss America last week in Atlantic City.
The tiara was not on her head for more than a few seconds when the racist haters crawled out from under their rocks to spew their ignorance into the Twitterverse. Using the words as epithets, some of the more printable posts denounced Ms. Davuluri as "Arab" or "black" or "Muslim" -- as if any of those identities would be a problem, if they were true, which they are not. Some claimed she is not an American.
In fact, Ms. Davuluri is an American of Indian descent -- her highly accomplished parents came to the United States from India, just like the parents and grandparents of tens of millions of Americans came to the United States from other nations.
Ms. Davuluri handled the hatred with dignity and poise. Her grace and courage in the face of shameful ignorance has actually given a boost to the whole idea of Miss America, a concept that was sliding dangerously close to irrelevance.
Ignorance is the fuel of hatred, and ignorance spreads its noxious, dangerous fumes all over the internet. Calling Miss America a "terrorist" may seem obviously ridiculous, the writer more to be pitied than scorned, but for the fact that the phenomenon of genuinely despicable hatred repeated over and over again on the internet is evidence of a profound sickness in the American soul. Just look at the comments sections of most online news articles; the volume of ignorant and racist comments is a disgrace.
Racial hatred in this nation remains a profoundly serious national disease, and evidence of educational failure at many levels. Sadly, amid all the talk of school reform, we hear nothing about the obvious need for pervasive improvement in education to build acceptance of the diverse cultures, ethnicities, races and languages that are America today, and will be even more so in the future. Quite the contrary, a suggestion that education for diversity is critically important to our national future probably will evoke derision and scorn in the hater habitats.
What does it matter if we improve the math scores of third graders if they grow up suspicious, fearful and hating people who do not look like them? Will improved outcomes on standardized tests make any difference if the Irish-American kids -- who think nothing of wearing green on St. Patrick's Day -- look with disdain on the colorful garb of the Indian-American beauty queen while calling her a terrorist? If we create a smarter but less tolerant nation, where will we be by mid-century when this nation will no longer have a white majority?
The gravest danger this nation faces is the hatred sown within, an evil yeast brewing ever more lethal instincts for new violence each day. Schools must be the places that open the minds of students to the idea of peaceful community, of respect for others, of openness to other cultures and different ways of experiencing the world. A curriculum that lacks learning goals for cultural competence, community building and peacemaking amid diversity fails our national future as much as deficiencies in math and science. All must be on the school reform agenda.
I sure wish the world would arrive at a place where talented, beautiful young women could win college scholarships without having to prance half-naked down runways. While respecting the diversity of a culture that includes those who love beauty contests and those who find them repulsive, I wish we could all agree to stop objectifying women for a reason that's actually larger than plain old-fashioned feminist polemics. Objectifying women is just one symptom of the larger disease of human disrespect and prejudice based on personal appearance, characteristics and beliefs.
Too much of the suffering in the world today has its roots in racial and religious hatred. If Miss America can help expose the bearers of this ugly disease more clearly, then perhaps this old-fashioned ideal has a truly useful new meaning in modern life.