According to the Tweet posted by @JAyers15 on September 15, 2013, she’s not racist. She does, however, apparently have some very definite ideas on what is America, and a Miss America of Indian descent doesn’t fit into her definition.
I, for one, am glad to know that she and many like her who expressed similar opinions on Twitter aren’t racists. I shudder to think what they would have said if they were.
To say that I am beyond embarrassed for my country at the negative comments posted in the wake of Nina Davuluri being crowned as Miss America would be an understatement. Why so many people feel like their thoughtless, uncouth, ridiculous and, yes, racist remarks are something to broadcast to the whole internet is beyond me. What baffles me further is why these people want to let the whole world know that they are at best massively ignorant and, at worst, blithely stupid.
It occurs to me that one of the biggest issues I have with the phrase “I’m not racist, but…” is that somehow “not being racist” makes it ok to be culturally ignorant, racially insensitive, completely obtuse and utterly clueless about how to engage with the rest of the world.
I find it alarming that people with smartphones and internet access don’t know that people from India or of Indian descent are not “Arabs” , that Muslim extremists like Al Qaeda would execute a woman who paraded around out in public alone, never mind in a bikini, and that having brown skin doesn’t make a person a foreigner any more than having white skin makes someone an American.
But, that is the problem, isn’t it? Where America once represented a place where people from all over the world would be welcome, allowed to enjoy freedoms they would not have otherwise had and given space to cultivate their own version of the American Dream, somewhere along the way, for some the American experience became the white experience. To them, non-white equates to non-American, and social media gives what is perhaps a small fringe element of our nation a platform to shout out their beliefs about ‘Merica around the globe. And we, with the same morbid curiosity that causes us to rubberneck at a road accident, give these people the attention they so desperately seek.
This is not to say that having a unique perspective on what being an American means is a bad thing. We all have different experiences that inform what American means to us all individually. The problem comes in when people think that THEIR America is THE America. In some people’s cherry-picked version, Miss Kansas in her Army BDUS, Bow hunting, bikini and tattoos represents their idea of “real” Miss America because the activities depicted are things that “Real Americans” do. To other people, the daughter of immigrants who has overcome a host of issues and obstacles to become the first Miss America of Indian descent could actually be the quintessential tale of the American Dream come true. Referring to her as a terrorist or in connection with Subway Sandwiches and Slurpees not only diminishes Nina Davuluri’s stellar accomplishments, it diminishes the dream that she represents.
And by no means does the American Story end at bow hunting and beauty pageants. America is the place where “Real Americans” of all races, creeds, colors become staff sergeants and sex symbols and scientists, but it is also the place where “Real Americans” committed genocide, brutally enslaved a race of people, incarcerated Japanese Americans, engaged in nuclear warfare, spit on soldiers who fought in Vietnam and killed a quarter of a million innocent people in Iraq. “Real Americans” use their right to “Free Speech” to speak words of peace and promise, and to bluster hateful comments on Twitter in an attempt to steal another’s thunder.
Few people seem to want talk about these things also being what “Real Americans” do, and almost nobody who utters the phrase “I’m not racist, but…” wants to think that while they may not think of themselves at racists, in following that statement with a derogatory remark, they are ACTING like a racist. And while I commend @Jayers15 for issuing an apology for her statement and admitting to not thinking before she tweeted, the fact that it didn’t occur to her how insinuating that Miss Davuluri was somehow not American because of her heritage might be offensive is somewhat chilling and demonstrates a lack of empathy and awareness that seems to permeate the internet. And if this lack of empathy is indeed growing, how can anyone genuinely profess a true Love for our nation? It’s easy to love the things about America that we are proud of and can easily identify with, but real love is embracing everything about that which you love and celebrating American diversity as much if not more so than the things that we most readily identify with. True love is perpetuating the good, correcting the bad, and allowing space for everyone to contribute to making the whole of us greater than the sum of our individual parts. Empathy is what allows for that to happen.
Has whitewashing the American Experience stripped people of their ability to empathize with those different from them? Has our tendency to define America as a place of sameness rather than variety done severe damage to our country’s ability to fully embrace its diversity and truly become Indivisible? Because until we are in a place with our thinking where we can become One Nation, the American Dream is just a fantasy.