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Miss America And Diversity Now

We talk with the new Miss America — Nina Davuluri — on diversity now in this country, and how it’s working.

Miss New York Nina Davuluri performs during the Miss America 2014 pageant, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP)

Miss New York Nina Davuluri performs during the Miss America 2014 pageant, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP)

We could talk plenty just about the Miss America pageant itself, and what it does, or did, to and around women. Objectification, all that.

And then there’s the race angle. It was all white for so long, but not lately. Eight African-American Miss Americas from Vanessa Williams on.  A beautiful Hawaii-born Filipino.

And then came Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri.  An Indian-American beauty dancing Bollywood fusion in Atlantic City.  Twitter lit up.  Some of it ugly.  So where are we, really, with American diversity?

This hour, On Point:  Miss America is with us.  The issue is diversity.

- Tom Ashbrook


Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, the first Indian-American Miss America. (@NinaDavuluri)

Anand Giridharadas, columnist for the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. (@anandwrites)

Tyson Brown, professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University. (@tysonbrown)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Daily Beast: Changing Western Beauty Ideals: Nina Davuluri and Julie Chen – ‘I’ve always viewed Miss America as the girl next door, and the girl next door is evolving as diversity in America evolves,’ Nina Davuluri said last weekend before becoming the first beauty queen of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America. Also on stage was runner-up Crystal Lee, a Chinese-American and Miss California 2013. ‘We’re making history right here, standing here as Asian-Americans,’ Davuluri said of the duo.”

The Nation: Miss America Nina Davuluri Is Not a Symbol of Progress – “We can’t let this nasty display of racism back us into a corner. As tempting as it might be, to suggest that Davuluri’s win signifies progress for South Asians in America is to defend the Miss America pageant itself. And there isn’t really much about Miss America that could be considered progress for anyone (except maybe the steady decline in ratings over the last forty years, that might be a sign of progress). Miss America’s role in the public imagination has always been the product of objectification. It’s a beauty pageant after all, and the winner embodies the ideal American woman—prized as an object of beauty.”

Associated Press: Miss America Nina Davuluri brushes off racist criticism after victory – “The Miss America pageant has crowned its first winner from an Indian background – an aspiring doctor who plans to use the $50,000 (£31,000) prize money to fund her studies – sparking a flood of racist criticism on social media. ‘I’m so happy this organisation has embraced diversity,’ 24-year-old Nina Davuluri said in her first press conference, moments after winning the crown in Atlantic City. ‘I’m thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America.’”

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  • Shag_Wevera

    What an outdated relic.

    • Grigalem

      She is not.

    • Rick Evans

      You kidding?

      She’s smok’n hot.

      Oh, wait you mean the owner of the contest Donald Trump?

      On him we agree. ; )

      • nj_v2

        I’m guessing Shaggy was referring to the whole “pageant” concept.

      • Don_B1

        The beauty contest run by “The Donald” is the Miss USA contest, the winner of which goes on to the Miss World contest.

  • geraldfnord

    She must have anticipated some of that obnoxious-to-evil response, but I’d be interested in knowing if there was more of it than she had anticipated or less, and how it compared to her experience on the state level.

    I’d also be interested in her views of the immigrant dilemma, that is, ‘What parts of American culture are worth assimilating?’ I won’t be coy: I don’t consider beauty pageants to be in that category…but on the other hand, it’s not like they were likely ladders up for anyone in my family, if they had been potential scholarships I might not be so jaundiced. But still, it seems like a great way of telling women that no matter what, it will always come down to her body—accurate, but reinforcing that bad truth which I’d guess any woman probably knows anyway.

  • joseph makela

    i am surprised Hugh Hefner and Playboy Enterprises never “got in this game” judging by male comments it is all about the sex.
    life is but a series of contradictions.
    besides all media is but a framework to support sponsors/advertising.

  • creaker

    Funny people get so up in arms because they think Miss America should look Irish – or English – or French or German or Dutch or Austrian, etc.

  • J__o__h__n

    I really hope that girls don’t look up to any Miss America or pageant winner as a role model.

  • GP

    Seriously? I can’t even fathom how people are upset about this woman winning. She is American. She is beautiful. Isn’t that the criteria?

  • twenty_niner

    My first thought was $50,000 in prize money? That’s not a lot of money these days. That’s freshman year at a lot of colleges. I’d like to know how much she and her parents dropped on pageant money over her career.

  • M S

    South Asians can be the most racist people…discuss.

    • M S

      Just saying that no one is above it…that’s all. My wife is from India…trust me, I know.

      • GP

        I don’t like blanket statements. I know a lot of racist white people, black people, and hispanics. I think any group of people has the capacity to be extremely racist. It can be a large part of a culture, and perhaps some more so than others. I don’t have enough experience with South Asians to make any kind of argument. I spent some time in South Asia and the people seemed to live together with different religions and ethnic backgrounds, but I was there for a month as a tourist.

        • M S

          I do not really care what you like…I’m speaking from experience. And my wife will tell you the same. End of story.

          • GP

            You ask for a discussion and when I give you one, you are insulting? Why bother?

          • M S

            Indeed, you were insulting by saying my statement was a “blanket statement” when it wasn’t.

          • GP

            I suppose you are going to take it how you are going to take it. It was not meant to be insulting, just disagreement with your position as compared with my own experience. Hopefully sparking a friendly debate.

            Enjoy your day.

          • M S

            Will do; you as well.

          • Arun

            It obviously is a “blanket statement” when you say that a whole community can be racist. Your wife from India doesn’t represent the whole of South Asia nor does she know everyone in South Asia.

          • M S

            You need to learn what a “blanket statement” means. And perhaps to learn to read as well. Anyway, CAN you deny what I said? Probably not.

        • M S

          Oh, and course we know how well Hindus get along with Muslims.

      • jefe68

        And yet Gandhi was Indian.

        • M S

          He was also a very special person.

  • ToyYoda

    Wow. Hot, smart, gonna be doctor, gonna be rich.

    Ask Nina if she would like to marry me. :)

  • Rick Evans

    Demographics as destiny? Hardly. Look at majority non-white Brazil and who sits at the top of the pyramid.

  • MaxEntropy_Man

    really tom? this is want you want to discuss in our hour of government dysfunction? i am an indian american and i have no interest in either miss america or miss davaluri. we have much bigger problems on our hands.

    • ToyYoda

      Yes, I would rather have 2 hours on government grid lock. but the normal pattern of things, is to discuss something “serious” the first hour, and something less serious the 2nd hour.

      (Racism isn’t less serious, but beauty pageants sort of is…. but I hope you get what I mean.)

      • Coastghost

        Id est: “diversion” actually trumps “diversity”.

    • 228929292AABBB

      Exactly how many programs do you require on the sad state of Washington? There’s not room for one or two other topics, if for no other reason than to distract us a little now and then? NPR has run thousands of hours of coverage of every aspect of this government shut down, and you feel we’re threatened by missing out on one more? If you haven’t learned what you need to know about it by now you might be sort of hard to inform.

  • John_Hamilton

    Lost in this discussion is that genetically there is no such thing as race. For example, there is more genetic diversity within the continent of Africa than between Africa and the rest of the planet.
    Race is a concept of convention, a superficial distinction based largely on skin pigmentation, but not necessarily. It serves as a handy device for people to find difference, and to define themselves in relation to others.
    In recent years the illusion of race hasn’t been sufficient for purposes of paranoid self-distinction. We now have the scapegoating of “liberals,” “leftists,” “Kenyans,” homosexuals, Muslims, “illegal” immigrants and public sector workers to add to the mix. As long as we have such an unenlightened citizenry we will have endless attempts to create scapegoat classes.
    Decades ago Bob Dylan referred to the low-level bigot as “only a pawn in their game.” What we might want to find out is whose game?

    • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

      Until the last sentence, that was a good comment, but I gave you a thumbs up anyway. Conspiracy theories should always be cut at with Occam’s razor I think.

      • John_Hamilton

        Hal? Hal? Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

        • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

          :-), such a great movie. Saw it first run when I was like 6 yrs old.

          • truegangsteroflove

            I couldn’t resist, too good a line. No doubt you’ve endured it a few times. Still a movie that never gets old.

    • John_Hamilton

      I forgot to mention that there is no such thing as “white” skin or “black” skin. There are shades of brown, and a shade of yellow can be construed for some Asains. “Red” skin is a bit problematic, partly because it can be used to describe sunburn, but more because we don’t have an accurate color name for what many see as “red.”
      Having been to India, I can verify that the supposed “upper-caste” Indians are at least tied for being the most arrogant people on Earth. They were amazingly similar to the American tourists I would see when I was in the Army in Germany.

  • truegangsteroflove

    When I was young the Miss America pageant was a big deal, watched on TV by a much larger percentage of the public than today. Part of this, of course, is that all we had were the three major networks, whereas now there is a myriad of viewing choices, as well as the Internet, Netflicks, video games, and other whatnot.

    The irony of this is that it seems the pageant is done more intelligently and free of bigotry. At least it does some good. One person will get to go to medical school. This is what it has come to. Maybe we should have a couple gazillion beauty pageants. We would be able to educate our youth. At least our female youth. For males, we still have football. Now if every college had ten football teams…

  • Potter

    Indians are a very beautiful people…it’s great she is Miss America!

  • tom scatchard

    Several of the callers referred to education as key to a more open-minded America, and that is exactly why I am trying to initiate a project which would give 4th, 5th, and 6th graders an opportunity to experience the culture and lifestyle of another country. As a teacher for 38 years, I have seen the powerful impact of exposing young, open minds to different experiences, thus my Kids Travel project would take a half dozen elementary students to Belize for 7-10 days. Upon their return, they would share their insights about the unfamiliar culture with our school and Vermont community. I am curious about reactions to this concept, and about suggestions of groups to turn to for possible support.

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    Not to overplay it, but a beauty contest itself is a kind of “diversity” just like classical music, kite festivals, etc.

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    I’m part “native”, but I happen to have read that our “native” ancestors themselves immigrated here….

  • http://www.findingourdream.blogspot.com Hal Horvath

    Our great American thinker King advocated color blindness, and I’m still seeing his insight as the best available. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the fabulous array of humans, the rainbow. It’s sublime.

  • 2Gary2

    The white runner up was way prettier. If its brown flush it down…

  • HonestDebate1

    Maybe we should change it to “Miss hyphenated America”.

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Tom, said that by 2043 the US will be a majority non-white country. It is possible, that about this time, the US could be a majority non-human country, also! Humans supplemented with high tech implants and genetically engineered to be something different than homo-erectus. The first thing I thought when I saw Ms. Davuluri’s red dot on her forehead, was; quantum dot.

  • Bluejay2fly

    That is true but it goes in the other direction as well. I am poor and white and paid my way through A State College via the US Navy. The multiculturalist all but took over every department at that college. If you were not reading Toni Morrison, Anne Sexton, or Sylvia Plath you were drummed out of the Literature Department even as a Shakespeare Major. The LGBT club got the lions share of funding while the Economics Club was told to pound salt. You could not go near the History department because European and American History was the study of white males either maliciously killing off every race in the spectrum or their ritualistic abuse of women. Fanaticism like that doesn’t hurt the privileged whites who have money and do not need college for social mobility because their future is already mapped out for them. In the interest of leveling the playing field many civil service jobs implemented quota’s raising the test scores for white males. Again it is people like me who score a 90 on the troopers test and never got called who suffers. Corporate America and Congress is ridiculously white male yet they do nothing about that and turn their attention to universities and civil service targeting the lower white middle class. I agree their is a tremendous amount of racism and sexism in America but those kinds of solutions not only do not address the problem it in some ways makes things worse.

  • Don Welty

    Many people dislike others for the fact that they are different in some way. People can dislike me for being myself, for being over 65, for envy, or for any number of reasons. People generally feel safer with people who are like them. I am not surprised that people find something that they don’t like about Nina, but I am pleased that there are so few of them. In a way, that’s progress.

    If we were to eliminate discussions of race, by making everyone the same, something else would pop up for those whose personalities require that they have to point out something they don’t like, rather than something they do like about others.

  • Don_B1

    With the news of that horrible rape-murder of about a year ago and the cultural attitudes that “condoned” it, it was good to read of the glimmers of the opening of opportunities for Indian women:


  • Don_B1


    Neither are any of the Caucasians from Europe who I assume these yoyos think are the only ones that deserve to win.

  • byliner

    Informative program, Tom, but I figure you already knew how much progress we’ve made as an American society, especially since the 1960s, but we have so much more to learn about each other to grow out of our prejudices.

    A few years ago, I was talking on a street corner with a former colleague and newsletter editor, and I became quite aware that not many years before then, a white man talking with a black woman would have provoked strong negative reactions, even violence.

    I was reminded of the progress again just a week or two ago, riding the Metro and watching a white woman chatting with a black man. They may have been unknown to each other, just sharing a ride and chatting comfortably.

    The ignorant reactions to the selection of Miss America illustrate that we have far to go before people are comfortable with each other, regardless of race, education, social status or whatever. Listening to call-in programs, I hear too often an ignorant intolerance of other races, other politics, other opinions. I also hear of truly ignorant people making death threats against people they disagree with. Just making the threats is ignorant but also not at all what America is about.

    However, we still have intolerance in this country and elsewhere around the world: People who wouldn’t ride the bus because “there are too many blacks” riding (I heard that from someone I knew well), blacks making crude remarks about other blacks (using the N-word as if it’s OK among African Americans), “honor” killings in India or among Indians in this country, intolerance of others’ opinions, political or otherwise.

    We learn prejudice and intolerance from our family, our friends and others around us. We still need to learn much more about listening to each other, respecting each other’s heritage and opinions and moving past the intolerance and bias that still burdens and infects our society.

  • JGC

    What I wanna know is: does Miss-America-pageant-owner Donald Trump believe that Nina Davaluri (born in Syracuse, NY to parents from Vijayawada, India, and who also spent her early, formative years being raised in Vijayawada by her grandmother) would be legally eligible to run for U.S. President someday? Donald?…Donald?…

  • nj_v2

    Everyone living in North or South America, now or at any time in the past, originated in West Africa. No one is genuinely “native” to the hemisphere.

  • Sy2502

    Who cares about Miss America anyway?

  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    You got me, fair and square, I forgot to zip my faux pas. : )))))

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