Beauty Queen Is 'Not American Enough'

Nina Davuluri, 2014 Miss America Winner (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Nina Davuluri, 2014 Miss America Winner (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Last month, Southern rapper and Academy Award winner Juicy J announced via Twitter that he was offering a $50,000 scholarship to "the best chick who can twerk." It was a marketing strategy to gain interest in "Scholarship" — a song off his latest album, Stay Trippy — and no doubt an opportunity to see women ages 18 to 25 shake their behinds.  


As you can imagine, I was appalled, for many reasons. Not that college women don't twerk. But it's one thing to do it on a dance floor or in a dorm room for fun, and another to ask young women to shake their backsides in exchange for money. It seems too much like stripping.

And I'm not sure how beneficial it is to ask young women pursuing an education to upload a video of themselves dancing salaciously, which would live online forever and could be viewed by future employers. Oh, and Juicy J is 38, and the women on the youngest end of his scale could be his daughters. Eyew!

I was relaying my outrage to a friend, who looked at me blankly while I ranted on. "Do you get this upset about the Miss America pageant?" she asked. "Isn't it the same thing, really? Young women parading around in swimsuits to be judged on their looks in exchange for college money?"

Touché. And the scholarship amount is the same.

"And [Miss America founder Donald] Trump's way older than 38," she added.

He's actually 67.  

I hadn't thought of the Miss America pageant since Kenya from Real Housewives of Atlanta was telling anyone who would listen that she was Miss USA, not Miss America. I also hadn't watched the pageant in years but tuned in briefly Sunday night when I saw people on my Twitter timeline talking about it. I watched long enough to see a contestant asked about Miley Cyrus twerking at the MTV Video Music Awards. I turned the channel.

I didn't even know who won until the following morning. Turns out the winner was Nina Davuluri, the first woman of Indian descent to win the crown. In the most ignorant (and vocal) segments of social media, people were not happy.

"How the f—k does a foreigner win Miss America?" one man tweeted just after Davuluri was crowned Sunday night.


"If you're #Miss America you should have to be American," another woman wrote.

One commenter even called her a "terrorist."

Uh … Davuluri is American. She's from New York. Calling Davuluri un-American when she was born on American soil 24 years ago is to ignore the 14th Amendment. But accuracy is just a minor technicality, right? What people really were upset over had nothing to do with where Davuluri was actually born or the laws outlined in the Constitution, and everything to do with the incredibly narrow way that being "American" is defined: baseball, apple pie, capitalism and, above anything else, white.


So it's no surprise that Davuluri's brown skin, her message of "celebrating diversity through cultural competency" and her pageant performance of a Bollywood fusion dance — a nod to her Indian ethnicity — didn't go over so well with some. Maybe she should have twerked? That's the current American dance craze, right?

Judging by the barrage of anti-Davuluri tweets and the logic of them, diversity is only a buzzword worth trotting out to keep corporations from being sued for discrimination. And diversity is worth celebrating when folks want to try authentic spicy food on Friday nights or Disney needs some "umph" to get people to the theaters for its latest princess story. Diversity isn't intended to actually be practiced or anything, and certainly not by awarding a brown woman of American nationality a pageant title that's supposed to be reserved for white women.


Who was American enough? Miss Kansas. Not surprisingly, she's blond (and white). And, quite surprisingly, an Army sergeant with the entire Serenity Prayer tattooed on her side in black ink. She won the "America's Vote" segment of the pageant. Fox News commentator Todd Starnes tweeted of her, "The liberal Miss America judges won't say this — but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values."

Is white a value, or just more valued? There's a difference. And I ask because I haven't read anything at all about Davuluri that indicates she doesn't represent "American values." Oh, except by not being white.


When asked about the controversy she unwittingly caused by winning while brown, Davuluri took the high road in true beauty queen form: "I have to rise above that," she told the Associated Press. "I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

I'm counting down the days until Trump or someone from Fox News asks to see her birth certificate.


Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.