The news of an Indian-American contestant winning the national Miss America beauty pageant, has resulted in a barrage of racist messages over the internet.
Although Nina Davuluri told a press conference after winning Miss America that she was “so happy this organization has embraced diversity,” social networking platform Twitter erupted with users expressing their displeasure at her victory.
Reactions to Davuluri’s success in the competition included claims that she was of Arab origin.
Offensive comments ranged from outrage at the proximity of the “Arab” win to the Sept. 11 attacks, to her faith, to jokes about her having possible ties to militant group al-Qaeda.
One Twitter user wrote: “This is Miss America... Not Miss Foreign Country.”
Some users even questioned Davuluri’s links to militant group al-Qaeda asking: “Miss America right now or miss al-Qaeda?”
This added to a plethora of messages deeming Davuluri’s win as inappropriate a few days after 9/11.
“9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets Miss America?” a Twitter-user said and another added:
“@ABC2020 nice slap in the face to the people of 9-11 how pathetic #missamerica“
Perhaps the tip of the iceberg was the outright claim that the problem with Davuluri’s success was her “Arab” nationality.
“I am literarily soo mad right now an ARAB won,” said one user.
Ibrahim Hooper, the National Communications Director at the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said if people “falsely label her as a Muslim, I would assume it is the same people who are engaged in anti-Muslim bigotry on the internet that would attack somebody that they perceive to be Muslim even though it wasn’t the case.”
“Obviously we would be against any kind of racist attack on this individual,” Hooper added.
Davuluri brushed off the comments against her saying: “I have to rise above that,” emphasizing that she is “first and foremost” American.
Moreover, when the contestants were questioned, the future pageant winner explained her view of the contest: I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door. And Miss America is always evolving…Be confident in who you are,” she said.
Supporters of the competition and the new winner rushed to defend Davuluri.
TonySals93 said: “I can’t believe people are tweeting racist things about our new crowned Miss America! People like that need to vanish. #MissAmerica”
Another user, Aashkey, tweeted: “A country full of racists. That is America. #MissAmerica”
The estimated Twitter reach for tweets related to the famous beauty pageant is in the millions; at the time of writing exposure to the hashtag #MissAmerica left impressions on 10, 913, 257 Twitter accounts, according to a website that counts “tweet reach.”
This is not the first time that a winner of the world-famous beauty contest has faced negative comments.
A similar controversy emerged when Rima Fakih was crowned Miss USA in 2010. Fakih is Muslim and of Lebanese descent and many commentators were quick to try to link her to Islamist militant group Hezbollah. She was the first Arab-American to win the crown.
Sara el-Khouly, winner of Miss Egypt 2010 and a Miss Universe 2011 contestant explained in an interview with Al Arabiya English that racist slurs against beauty pageant winners do not just affect those in the United States, but also in the Arab world.
“There is a backlash in the Western and the Arab world to women who win beauty pageants, whether it is because of the photo-shoots, swimsuit competition or the tight dresses worn during the contest. However, there is also a lot of support,” she said.
“We have already had an Arab-American winner and as long as the women represent themselves and their countries appropriately there is no basis for racism that causes huge misunderstandings. Not all Arabs are linked to al-Qaeda, for the majority of us, our hearts go out to the victims’ families of 9/11. There should be support for beauty queens, not criticism.”
Davuluri’s duties will cover a range of activities over the next year but one of her primary aims is to celebrate diversity, not reject it.
According to a press release from the Miss America organization, Davuluri “will travel approximately 20,000 miles each month speaking to audiences about her platform entitled Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency.”