Miss America Nina Davuluri: The good, the bad and the ugly in the response to American diversity

Sept. 15, 2013Miss New York Nina Davuluri, center, reacts after being named Miss America 2014 as Miss California Crystal Lee, … Continued

Sept. 15, 2013Miss New York Nina Davuluri, center, reacts after being named Miss America 2014 as Miss California Crystal Lee, left, and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan celebrate with her in Atlantic City.Mel Evans / AP

Nina Davuluri, a lovely young woman from New York, won the Miss America pageant last night. This is not normally big news, but this year the Miss America pageant became a win for American diversity.

Miss Davuluri is the daughter of immigrants from India, and she chose to showcase her heritage in a commitment to what she calls “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.” For the talent portion of the competition, she performed classic Indian dances fused with Bollywood moves.

This was apparently too much for the ‘culturally incompetent’ racists and Islamophobes in our country. They immediately took to Twitter and lambasted the pageant for picking an Indian American. They addressed racist tweets to her. One “particularly uninformed tweeter” called her a Muslim.

Miss Davuluri herself recognizes that the U.S. is far from where it needs to be on this issue. “We fall behind due to a lack of understanding the diversity that exists in our country—an issue that exists at the local, state, and national levels.”

But how far behind became dangerously apparent, also on Twitter, as Todd Starnes, the host of Fox News and Commentary, not only critiqued the pageant’s “liberalism,”

he suggested that Miss Kansas should have used a gun instead of (in addition to?) singing opera at the end.

These tweets are dangerously inflammatory and the kind of thing that keeps anger flowing at our increasing diversity. These attitudes keep us from reaching understanding on diversity and achieving cultural competency.

These kinds of provocations in the public square are really an assault on our national values, the values of freedom and tolerance.

Our national life is at stake in promoting freedom and tolerance through diversity. On some days, literally at stake.

Todd Starnes’ subsequent tweets are about the mass shooting at the DC Navy Yard.

Does Mr. Starnes appreciate how inappropriate it was for him to call for Miss Kansas, competing at the Miss American pageant, to have “fired off a few rounds” in light of yet another mass shooting? I fear he does not.

Diversity is not a threat to our values, Mr. Starnes; in fact, diversity confirms our American values of freedom and tolerance. But at every turn we as Americans are confronted with more and more examples of how an out of control gun culture does threaten our way of life.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • Prem Janardhan

    He claims that the 10:47 tweet was prior to to the announcement of the final winner.

  • jaysit

    Twitter. Now mostly for twits.

  • Charles Duval

    Todd Starnes is laughing all the way to the bank – stroking the racism of his constituency is his job; how he makes his living .

  • Green Knight

    It is pretty sad commentary on the state of education in the USA that people think Syracuse, NY is not in the USA and that they think the Hindu part of India’s culture has something to do with Arabs.

    We definitely need to improve our schooling.

  • unscum

    Hmm, have you every asked Indians in India how much they know about American geography and American culture. The answer is next to nothing. And I’m Indian. So don’t be too hard on yourselves.

  • sky3ler

    I have heard from people in Europe and Asia over the years, and they know far more about our culture than we know about theirs. Guess I’ve talked to different people than unscum.

  • ajitpk

    Absolutely wrong unscum – people in the poorest villages in India will tell you a surprising amount about the rest of the world, including the US.

  • larryclyons

    She’s hot. enough said.

    Except for those racists who had fits. Get over it, you lost. Get a life.

  • larryclyons

    Unscum, remove the UN from your name.

    That said, generally I’ve found that most people I’ve interacted with who were born outside of the US know far more than the typical American.

    In fact I bet that 80% of people born in the US could not pass the US citizenship naturalization test.

  • Secular1

    Come on guys unscum isn’t too far from the truth. Once a good buddy of mine thought he was complementing me and my fellow PIGS (Poor Indian Graduate Students) by saying “You Indians are all very smart, better than most Americans” To that I promptly shot, just to do some shock and awe of my own, “You f&*$)@# bigot” Needless to say it worked, he was definitely shocked.

    The fact of the matter is ya’ll run into us PIGS or ABCDs (American born confused desis) and think all Indians are smart and super-informed, believe me so do the PIGS and ABCDs. The fact of the matter is PIGS are probably the brightest of teh Desis coming over, due to several reasons. So you run into a very, very filtered sample of desis (indians). Then you extrapolate or stereotype all desis into that filtered sample.

    Ah!!! ajitpk is perhaps one of the PIGS or an ABCD to make his statement. Yes perhaps people in the poorest may know something about USA. That something in comparison might seem to be a surprising amount too. I wonder if ajitpk, could make the same statement about some of the brightest of inidans in the richest or biggest of the indian cities knowing about Sierra Leone or Ghana or for that matter about Kampuchea or Mynmar. Mind you the last two are in their backyard. Teh reason tehy do not know much about them is what do any of those countries contribute to technology, art or culture today compared to India – minuscule perhaps. Or affect the lives of Indians – zilch.

    If you now cast that from an American point of view vis-a-vis India, you have the explanation. So as unscum puts it, we are being too harsh on ourselves – that is me the PIGS saying to me the American. Lets not stereotype like the idiots Todd Starnes nor like my good buddy.

  • xpeterboyx

    America’s preoccupation with hatred for anybody/anything not created in the mode of the “USA” is one reason for the world resentment. Frankly, American’s are a weak people, soft in their thinking, and their hearts are worn on their sleeves. Strictly speaking.

  • leibowde84

    I wholeheartedly disagree. What you said more than accurately describes or politicians, but the American people are not “weak.” America has brought us some of the most impressive thinkers of all time, it has given us the best music of all time (even the Beatles stole their style from American Blues artists), it is the birthplace of freedom, and it remains to be a country where people from all over the world want to inhabit. Definitely can’t say any of these things about Russia!!!

  • DC Lifer

    Maybe now we can hope to more non white models on the catwalk; fashion industry has been so slanted toward white as the ultimate beauty. It is absurd.

  • PhillyJimi1

    I am an America and I agree with some of the points. It is silly to say American’s are weak without getting into a very specific definition regarding many topics. Don’t believe me we will drop a nuke on you…just kidding sort of…trying to make a point about silly generalizations like weak.

    There are way too many Americans that thump their chest and shout America is the greatest country on Earth but they have done nothing to contribute to America being great. They are most likely riding on the coat tails of their grand parents generation. America is NOT great by default we all (red and blue) need to work very hard to continue to make America great. It is and will always be a work in progress… The real danger is just sitting back and assuming it will always be this way.

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