31 March, 2014

The MISSunderstanding of AMERICA

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Category: Discrimination, European Action Week, Racism
Gubaz Koberidze
3 pm

By Raftropia Camassa

Race, Gender and Beauty Pageants in America of 2013

It comes as no surprise that the 2013 Miss America is at the center of spiteful comments post-crowning. Why? For various reasons; the apparent being that her skin colour is not ‘as white’ as a ‘typical’ American. When I refer to ‘American’, the term obviously does not capture Native Americans, since if that was the case the former reason would be fallible ab initio. However Aasif Mandvi, actor and comedian, stated: “You took this country from Indians…a different group of Indians is taking it back”.

Comments like “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets Miss America?”, “It’s called Miss America. Get outta here New York you look like a terrorist. #bye#americanforamerica”, or “And the Arab wins Miss America. Classic” evidence little understanding of the so-called ‘war on terror’ or the ‘other’ than American. Instead, they intentionally terrorise beauty ideals and alienate the value of diversity, let alone the gender-based discriminatory connotations. Nina Davuluri forms a paradigm of being victimized due to multiple discrimination solely based on the fact that you possess interlinked characteristics, perceived to constitute a threat to the ‘archetype’.

This is what also caught the attention of third-wave feminists who explicitly wished to mainstream ideas of anti-racism and transnationalism within their pursuit of a more culturally relative female identity, rather than a universal one- portrayed often in white, middle class women. Such sentiments, also generated by movements like the riot grrrrl have managed to deconstruct the puzzle relationship of race and gender. It is no coincidence that Rudyard Kipling refers to the ‘White Man’s’ burden and not to a black/brown woman’s burden – which if I may add is a disproportionate one to carry in a society.

The opinions of hundreds of Americans who hastily verbally attacked the ‘Arab’ (in their words) winner illustrate the distorted mindset of a ‘privileged’ group which does not recognize their own privilege and of power relations that seek to maintain the status quo. In the words of Edward Said, “So far as the United States seems to be concerned… What we have, instead, is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world”. Not even to mention the misrepresentation of historically oppressed groups with distinct traits as constituting one large minority group (thus a paradox by definition) in possession of all those traits – in this case Davuluri was labeled as black, Arab, Asian, Muslim, sand nigger, some type of Indian, bitch, black girl. In all cases, she was the paradigm of the Western understanding of Other as a weak, feminized, non-rational intruder.

The 2013 pageant also gave prominence to the adjective “desi”, a self-identifying epithet used by South-Asians of the diaspora, although linguist Ben Zimmer pointed to desi’s potential “as a term of derision, as in the form ‘ABCD’, short for ‘American-Born Confused Desi’…to make light of second-generation youth who have ostensibly lost touch with their roots. There are even longer alphabetic epithets, such as ‘ABCDEFGHIJ’ (‘…Emigrated From Gujarat, Home in Jersey’)”.

However…what it all comes down to really is that opinions on a beauty pageant are not really a source of credibility for race and gender issues. If we cannot render pageants to magically vanish though, visibility of such issues within those circles can significantly raise public awareness. They may shape a platform to educate on gender and ethnicity rights, given the example of what Alix Shulman perceived as a brilliant response to the “blatant example of sexism” that Miss America pageant portrayed and it might shackle beauty standards. And Davuluri has herself been talking to students about beauty, skin color, and race. The response that I personally find powerful and amusing to ‘penis-envy’ beliefs and sexist remarks is that women have “Ovaries so big, we don’t need no fucking balls!”. In a similar tone, a common way to identify a racist undertone in day-to-day discussions echoes in the No Hate Speech Movement’s motto for this year’s Anti-Racism and Discrimination Week: “I am not a racist but…”.


Source of Hate Speech Watch report: http://jezebel.com/racists-being-hella-racist-because-miss-america-isnt-w-1323360259?rev=1379312102

Practical ways to find more about racism and sexism:

  • To work on your sense of empathy you can download the ‘Everyday Racism’ App, which challenges players to live a week in the life of an Aboriginal man, a Muslim woman, an Indian student or just yourself.
  • To generate a better understanding of instances of sexism experienced by women daily, you can visit the widely acclaimed Everyday Sexism Project, where people share their experiences and stories to shed light on modern day sexism.

 You can also check following links: Link #1Link #2Link #3Link #4Link #5.

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