Few days into the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King's famous 'I have a dream...' speech (delivered on August 28, 1963) where he elaborates his vision of the nation where all are considered equal, a brown-skinned girl with a perennially hitched left eyebrow, sashayed into the world of American beauty pageants. Miss New York was born in America, in 1989. Being an 'Indian-American' wasn't adequately 'American'.
To begin with, she wasn't even a favorite 'dark horse'. In fact, her 'classical Bollywood fusion dance' was being scowled upon. There were reports on some websites discussing how terribly wrong was her decision to dance to a Bollywood song at the talent show.
Ironically so, and much to her own surprise, Nina Davuluri won the coveted tiara. According to popular opinion on Indian sites, she wouldn't have won any pageant in her own 'country of origin' (India) owing to the color of her skin. In the land of opportunities and equality, the USA, this 24-year old who aspires to study medicine, won the crown and set social networking sites on fire.
Again, it was the color of her skin (and everything that went inside, making for her identity) exposed that everything is not fair-and-lovely in the land of Obama.
Even before wiped the tears of joy rolling down her cheek and posed for her first official picture as Miss America, quite a long way from being Miss New York and Miss Syracuse, Nina's skin color had threatened the Americans enough to run for cover. Twitter handles went off key. Racial abuse spewed from all corners of the country. While the press in India went to her almost nonagenarian grandmother Koteshwaramma in Vijayawada for quotes on how her little granddaughter born and brought up in America loves Indian food and is 'Indian' at heart, media in the US of A was rather divided on the stance that was to be taken.
Her vital statistics seemed safe to debate on, as against her background. Some sites spoke about the 'top five/ten things' that one needed to know about Nina Dalavuri. And, the fact that she was BORN in America, was one of top details. It was important to declare that Nina was not Arab, or Muslim, or even remotely linked to Al-Qaeda. It's rather interesting to note some of the interpretations, which probably surfaced from far-fetched imaginations.
When did a beauty pageant turn into an issue of security threat to a country regarded most fair and safe in the world? In the global world, where women are breaking the glass ceiling hard and fast, they are also out to prove beauty can exist with brains, that blondes are not dumb and vice versa.
The slew of racist abuse was too strong to be ignored, that Nina HAD to respond to it. Acceptance speech of new Miss America had to wait till the racism that clamored its way through, had to be pacified. Clarifications had to be issued about her not being a 'terrorist'. She was a dusky beauty who could hold the mass spellbound. She didn't possess any weapons of mass destructions, and that she is only armed with soft cascading curls and a charming smile.
Focus shifts to Indian-Americans
For once, racism in America that was centered around African-Americans (or niggers, or blacks or 'Queens' as referred to, in popular and political-correctness-be-damned lingo) spilled out in the open. The lingering hatred against Muslims found a different direction. Subtle nudges to temple-building-Indian-Americans turned into loud slurs.
In the past, America has battled with racism raising its head against some communities. Racism knows no religion in a country predominantly populated with immigrants from various places. Somehow, the color of skin seems to stand out more strongly in terms of abuse. Of course, add to that 'chinky eyes' too. Rest is taken.
Indeed, in 2008 when Obama was first elected, the world seemed to have turned into a better place. Americans seemed to believe that the nation was entering a "post racial" period in which whites and blacks would join hands and put the past behind them.
The African-American middle class has grown both in population and has received the fruits of American growth in terms of economy and other benefits that materialized as a result of implementation of 1964 Civil Rights Act and other protections. However, the fact remains that too many African-Americans are still in a 1960s time wrap with the nature of accusations, and age-old resentments stemming from racism, still being levelled. While racism is more rampant against Afro-Americans and is getting louder than before, more communities are joining the 'hate list'.
Racism is social yet deeply individualistic too.
Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns.
American Anthropological Association says race is a powerful idea and an enduring concept, invented by the society. It has also fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries, as well as influencing how we relate to other human beings. Psychology views it in terms of a social structure that manifests and feeds on itself for the growth and prosperity of self-clan.
Racism is also a very touchy subject for some people, as issues concerning free speech and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights come into play. Some people argue that talking about supporting racial discrimination and prejudice is just words and that free speech should allow such views to be aired without restriction. Others point out that these words can lead to some very dire and serious consequences (the Nazi government policies being one example).
But Why now?
'Islamophobia' (ref: Wikipedia) is a term that has found its place in the dictionary. It is the name of the fever America is experiencing post 9/11. The threat for safety turned into fear of being killed mindlessly by terrorists. But, racism against Indians has roots in economy. This stems from the fact that Indians and Asians at large, have snatched away a big slice of the American pie. They have stolen jobs, and are clannish (read ghettoisation) when it comes to mingling with local American communities. And, some part of it rings true too.
"Biases are inevitable; racism is optional. If we want to have a serious conversation about race, we have to acknowledge that a large majority of us, at one point or another, hold implicit racial biases that we have a moral responsibility to consciously override through our actions.
Our discomfort and superstition need not be justified by pretending that such feelings could only be logically deduced. What we need today is to distinguish between implicit racial biases, and conscious decisions to discriminate based on those biases, and use the difference between the two to define where nature ends and 'society' sets in."
If modern technology cannot create more liberal minds, and is used to propagate hatred and narrow minded thoughts; the global village we all have been celebrating, can soon turn into a ghost-haunted graveyard with robo-keepers.
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