By: Luke Ronneberg and Scott Newby
For our final project we wanted to analyze the recent crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America and the controversy behind it. There has been hatred surrounding her ethnic background and religion of Hinduism and in turn has become a mainstream topic of religion in the United States. She is not seen as the ideal Miss America but this topic shows that times are changing in the United States as far as acceptance of ethnicity and religion. America is becoming more diverse with culture and religion and events like this are occurring more consistently.
On September 15, 2013 Nina Davuluri became the first Indian American to win the Miss America pageant. She is also the first person in Miss America history to preform a Bollywood dance at the competition.
Nina was born on April 20,1989 in Syracuse, New York. Nina’s parents are from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. When Nina was a very young girl she was brought to Vijayawada to live with her grandmother. She lived there until she was two and a half years old. At this point she was brought back to the United States, and nearly ever summer she returned to India to study numerous forms of Indian dance that would one-day help her win the Miss America pageant. Up until her High school days, Nina studied many forms of dance including ballet, tap dance, and jazz dance. Nina attended St. Joseph High School. There she was a marching band clarinetist, cheerleader, varsity tennis player, and Science Olympiad team member.
Nina’s family has many of its members working in the medical field, and she plans to follow this trend. Moving forward to her college days Nina recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science. During her college years Nina was able to achieve a few impressive awards. These include Dean’s list, Michigan Merit Award, and National Honor Society Award. Nina is in the process of applying to medical and she one day hopes to become a Physician.
Although Nina Davuluri’s victory at the Miss America pageant showed a lot of progress from a social standpoint, her win also brought forth a lot of controversy. Many Americans were upset due to her appearance, ethnic background and religious background. The fact that Davuluri is Indian-American and practices Hinduism stirred up a lot of anger for people across the country. After Nina Davuluri won the pageant the social media website, Twitter, exploded with countless amounts of hateful tweets directed at her and the pageant. Fox News and Commentary Host, Todd Starnes, was quoted tweeting that the runner-up Miss Kansas should’ve won because “she actually represented American values”. Sadly many people shared Starnes’s same view. Nina, by many people, wasn’t seen as the “girl next door” unlike some of the other contestants in the competition. One losing contestant, Miss Kansas, caused many people to get upset because they believed she represented the All-American girl and also serves in the Kansas National Guard. A lot of these tweets were brought about by the misconception that Davuluri is Muslim. This belief along with the timing of this event being four days after 9/11 caused many people to become angry. There were many tweets calling this event a “slap to the face” to the 9/11 victims’ families. Having a contestant with brown skin was called disrespectful and unpatriotic. Ignorant people were referring to her as a terrorist and even an actual Al-Qaeda member. Also, Nina’s talent performance, which was a traditional Indian form of dance, stirred up a lot of emotion. Many people were challenging the idea that she was actually American.
Progress and Attitude Changes towards Religion and Race
This Miss America pageant has been looked at as both progress and regress for attitude changes in America toward religion and race. The competition started back in 1921 and it wasn’t until 1970 that a black woman competed in the competition. Since 1983 eight African-American women have won the Miss America crown and in 2001 the title went to a Hawaiian born Pilipino, Angela Perez Baraquio. In the United States many positions that have been dominated by white Americans are starting to spread to other races. The fact that our president is black, we have a Latin Supreme Court justice and many other mixed races at the forefront of TV and Film shows that times in America are changing. Although Nina Davuluri has received a lot of hatred for her crowning of Miss America she has received even more support for her success. For every tweet or comment bashing her she has received countless comments supporting her for her historical victory. Nina Davuluri is not only the first Indian-American woman but also the first Hindu woman to win the competition. This shows a big step forward in the United States for progress in religious acceptance. Popular figures in the focus of the media and people in political positions no longer need to be Christian to be accepted.
Unlike the people who saw this competition’s crowning as progress many believed that the reaction to the victory overshadowed the progress. Some see all the hatred in the negative tweets about her race and ethnicity actually as regress. This competition possibly stirred up more anger and hatred toward Arab and Indian then there was before the competition. In many ways the victory has actually showed that there is still a large amount of racism in the United States. Even though Nina Davuluri is Indian, she was instantly considered Arab and connected to the same group associated with 9/11. Also, immediately after seeing the color of her skin, people believed she was Muslim. Obviously because of the fact that she is Hindu, this isn’t the case. These misconceptions and the hatred because of the beliefs that she is Arab and Muslim show the lack of knowledge and ignorance of many people living in the United States.
In our opinion this event strongly represents progress in our country as far as Religious and Racial acceptance. Nina Davuluri’s crowning clearly shows that times are changing in the United States and positions that have over the history only been represented by whites and Christians are now spreading to different ethnicities. Although there was a lot of hatred generated out of this situation all Religious and Ethnic progress is always going to face resistance. The United States has always been a melting pot for all types of people and different cultures. This event shows that strength in diversity is still one the core values in America and has been a backbone in this country since the beginning. The best way to deal with the resistance against these positive changes is for people to become more educated with their surroundings, which will allow people to become less ignorant of the changing world. This is just another step toward equality in the United States. It may just be a competition but because it is in the center focus of the media this event gives hope for more leaps toward equality in the future.
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