I had an entirely different post planned for today. However, when I got home from working a midnight shift, and I saw this article on my Facebook Feed, I knew that post would have to wait. It seems as if quite a few people are upset that Nina Davuluri, the new Miss America, happens to not be white. In fact, she isn’t just not white, but is brown, Indian-American, though a lot of people are seemingly confusing her for being Arab, which apparently means she’s a terrorist. Because all Arabs are terrorists—right, my bad @pizzo_nick, thanks for the reminder. I’ll be sure to inform my Arab friends of this fact.
The tweets are disgusting, blatantly racist, and apparently a lot of people’s ancestors must have spontaneously generated from the Purple Mountain’s Majesty, considering the volume of people claiming that Miss America isn’t a real American because her ancestors haven’t been in the U.S. since the time of Pangea. I could point out a lot of the racist shit. Because, unfortunately, there are layers and layers of gross, racist shit tied up in this. But I’m going to hone in on a few tweets in particular—namely, the ones claiming Miss Kansas should have won.
I like Miss Kansas. She’s charming, super cute, and her tattoos are wicked cool. And, being a Kansas girl myself, it was nice to see someone like Theresa Vail representing my state. It was definitely ground-breaking that she decided to not to hide her tattoos, to show without shame, in a contest that reflects what mainstream U.S. society defines as the ideal for female bodies, a body that rejects some of those traditional standards of feminine beauty. But the thing is, while her body rejects some of those standards, it also falls into a great deal of them. Namely, the fact that she is white—and whiteness means her body is valued above that of the non-white woman who beat her.
Many of the tweets claim that Theresa Vail is a real American, which is a really super subtle way of saying she’s white. She’s blond, she’s in the army, she shoots guns—this, they claim, is what Miss America should be. This is, what they say, all “true” American women are. This IS America, this body, this whiteness, this white supremacy. Because apparently it doesn’t matter if your family called the United States their home for a day or a decade or a century—not white? Not American.
All the tweets saying, in confusion of Miss America’s win, “This is America?” see America as the land of the white. Where people of color should be hidden in the dark (or as some suggested, serving them behind a 7-11 counter). They don’t see them standing in a spotlight on the national stage.
Nina Davuluri’s body isn’t white enough for much of America. Theresa Vail’s is. And mine is.
Because, the thing is, that this isn’t an isolated instance. This is a constant reality that is lived, that we all live, that I live, just because of where we fall on the white and non-white divide. By the nature of my skin being white while another’s isn’t, my body, grants me the enormous privilege of never having to worry if people believe my skin negates my right to represent my country in some form—hell, I never have to worry if someone believes I’m a “real” citizen of this country. But this is the reality of many people of color. For many, they will never be “American” enough, whereas I? Will see an outcry if my skin isn’t the color of Miss America’s.
Theresa Vail, despite her tattoos and her shirking of many vestiges of traditional femininity, still makes many far more comfortable picturing her as a representative of their country. She reflects their own skin, their own white privilege, and therefore, their own power. Theresa Vail’s body doesn’t threaten them. Nina Davuluri’s does. She threatened the traditional structure of white-washed femininity in the U.S., the moment they laid that crown on her head. Because that crown says, “I won. I won, and by my winning, white women lost to me.”