As soon as the Miss America crown landed on the head of Nina Davuluri, a Syracuse, New York resident, the backlash began. She was not American: She was Arab, Muslim, a terrorist. She did not represent "American values" like Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail: a white, blonde-haired beauty who serves in the military, loves to hunt, and has tattoos.
Miss New York and Miss Kansas ignited a debate around the question, "Who is American?"
As a Canadian woman of color with an Irish-American significant other in the U.S. Army, the backlash against Davuluri came as no surprise. My time spent on Army posts and in small town America has been met with "harmless" curiosity and patronization to threats of violence. While the racial epithets stung, it is the curiosity and constant questioning of my identity that takes a toll.
"How do you pronounce that name?"
"Where are you from?"
"Were you born in Canada?"
"Do you have terrorists in your family?"
"Your English is impeccable!"
"You have such lovely brown skin."
A January 2007 study on microaggression, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, found that questions and comments similar to those above left Asian-Americans feeling "alien" in their own homes. Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue noted that, "These incidents may appear small, banal or trivial, but we're beginning to find they assail the mental health of recipients."
America has great potential to be a "post-racial" society but it's not there yet (and neither is Canada). While many believe it will never get there, there are those like myself who continue to hope. Racism is pervasive in every facet of society, dismantling it will not come easy. Recognizing complicity in both overt and covert forms is the first step for Americans who wish to see a more unified America. While I do not support beauty pageants, I do support Nina and I applaud her for standing tall.