Reflections on the New Miss America

Full disclosure: I have never watched the full Miss America pageant. I actually didn’t even know it was still televised until this year. It’s been a few weeks now since Nina Davuluri made headlines as the first woman of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America. Honestly, I was a little torn between my urge to cheer her on as a fellow Asian-American and my urge to scoff at the existence of the pageant altogether.

Miss America has long been one of critics’ favorite examples of the ongoing objectification of women in American culture. I, myself, have never really thought of it as much more than a parade of bathing suits. Seriously, the only televised portion of the pageant that requires the women to speak lasts all of 6 minutes.

But winner Nina Davuluri has turned much of the discussion surrounding the pageant to a more positive note. Actually, not since Sandra Bullock as Miss Congeniality (in a thinly-veiled imitation, the Miss United States pageant) has a person helped the pageant world receive such good publicity. Almost everyone praised the Miss AmNina Davulurierica pageant for its pick of a winner that accurately represented this country’s diversity.

Something else that has been largely overshadowed by her descent is the fact that Nina Davuluri is also an aspiring medical school student. She also hopes to serve as a spokesperson for STEM education. As such, Nina Davuluri seemingly breaks the stereotype that Miss America is selected only on the basis of a pretty face and reminds the public that the Miss America pageant is technically a scholarship program, a fact also conveniently highlighted in Miss Congeniality (seriously, that movie was like a Miss America 101 course).

But since we can’t seem to have nice things, much of the reported controversy following Nina Davuluri’s win also came from the slew of racist comments about her descent. The racism that followed failed to show much beyond maybe the apparent need for more education in geography (c’mon guys, India and Iraq aren’t remotely the same place). Although the negative comments found its way to various corners of social media, the general response were words of encouragement and approval.

Personally, I’m starting to come around a little on Miss America. When I was living in Europe as a kid, my family was pretty consistently the only Asian one in the neighborhood. So when we first settled down in the States, I liked being able to see women who looked like me in movies and on TV. Watching Lucy Liu kick butt in Charlie’s Angels was actually pretty important to me and my feeling of belonging. In that sense, I think Nina Davuluri serves a similar purpose: she is someone who showcases the country’s cultural diversity, appropriately one of the issues she hopes to promote in the upcoming year. I, for one, look forward to Nina Davuluri’s reign as the new Miss America.

Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Standing Your Ground and Walking Free: On George Zimmerman

It’s been weeks since the jury decision on July 13th that allowed George Zimmerman to walk free. And while protests are dying down, although not completely, the topic still seems to come up frequently. Or maybe that’s just because I work in a coffeehouse with a large morning crowd of lawyers. And they talk and argue about it as I make their morning lattes.

It’s not about race,” claims one of them. To which another replies that it’s hard to imagine a white kid walking through a neighborhood with a pack of Skittles being stalked and labeled a suspicious character. There’s a sub-conscious stereotype in place that many people no longer even see as racist. It’s become so engrained that a stereotype can excuse racism.

"Justice For Trayvon" Rallies Held Across The Country

But with all the focus on race, there’s a second important issue that is being obscured. After the shootings at Sandy Hook in December of last year, gun violence and gun control became central issues. Six months later, the trial surrounding Trayvon Martin’s shooting called them to attention again. And now? We seem to have forgotten about them completely. Those protestors manifesting their displeasure at the Zimmerman verdict are voicing concerns over racial issues, and issues of civil rights thought resolved. But far fewer people are up in arms (no pun intended) over laws like “Stand Your Ground” that allowed the shooting to happen. Take the gun out of his hand, or don’t allow a man who clearly knew the law intimately to shoot a claimed assailant, and then call it self-defense.

I hope I’m wrong, but it does feel like a dangerous precedent is being set. Self-protection is one thing, and certainly valid, but to think that a gun owner has the right to use their weapon and, by claiming to feel threatened, be absolved of any blame is a worrying issue. Provoking someone into attacking you, a fight or flight response in this case, and then responding to that unarmed assailant with a bullet, point blank…

Race or not, there are some things very wrong with this picture.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Racism Today: The Voting Rights Act and Paula Deen

In the midst of several landmark cases, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Prior to the decision, Section 4 of the Act established “preclearance” methods to determine which states needed federal approval to change voting laws. Intended to protect minority voting rights, Section 4 largely affected southern states with a history of discriminatory practices.

Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the majority, acknowledged that voting discrimination still exists, a hard-to-dispute reality given the numerous claims of voter suppression during the 2012 elections. However, the more conservative side of the bench found that the current formula under Section 4 is an outdated measure, applicable in 1965 but not today.

VotingRightsAct

In other news, Paula Deen, one of America’s most recognizable celebrity chefs, has been battling accusations of discrimination and use of racial slurs in her restaurants. It’s unclear whether this latest scandal will crumble Paula Deen’s deep-fried empire, but her statements are reminiscent of the South’s complicated racial history.

There is no doubt that the fight against racism and discrimination has come a long way since the 1960s. As a result of her comments, Paula Deen has been harshly judged in the court of public opinion, and sponsors are fleeing. But the Paula Deen debacle also highlights the continuing existence of racist attitudes today.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act oversimplifies a complex problem. No, we are not where we were in 1965, but it would be naïve to think anti-discriminatory safeguards have outrun their course.

The ruling does allow for the possibility that Congress will instate a new formula for the Voting Rights Act, an updated preclearance equation. But with the current state of a deadlocked Congress, people are far from optimistic that such a measure will pass. In the meantime minority voting blocks are left especially vulnerable.

Historically, the path towards racial equality has been an uphill climb, and we have been steadily pushing upwards. It will be significantly more difficult to continue on without the buffers that prevent us from sliding back.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.