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Indian American wins beauty pageant, suffers racist backlash

world Updated: Sep 17, 2013 02:12 IST
Yashwant Raj
Nina Davuluri

A 24-year-old from New York made history Sunday night as the first Indian American to be crowned Miss America, but was hit instantaneously by a racist backlash.

Tweets popped up calling Nina Davuluri, the winner, an “Arab”, “Miss al Qaeda”, “terrorist”, “foreigner”, “Miss 7-11 (after the grocery stores run largely by Indians)”.

Or just “Indian”, as if that alone should have disqualified her.

“Terrorist yup ... so disrespectful after 9/11” read one Tweet. “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets miss America?” read another. There were plenty others with expletives thrown in.

Davuluri tried to brush them off at a post-crowning news conference: “I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.”

“I'm so happy this organization has embraced diversity,” Davuluri said, adding, “I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America.”

There are 3.1 million Indian American in the US, which is roughly 1% of the population, and they are counted among the most prosperous and best educated.

Davuluri is studying to become a doctor, as her father and many others from the community, including the high-profile celebrity doctor-journalist Sanjay Gupta of CNN.

Her family came to the US 30 years ago, from Andhra Pradesh.

“I am very, very happy for the girl. It was her dream and it was fulfilled,” Davuluri’s grandmother Vege Koteshwaramma, 89, told AP on phone from Vijayawada.

Most Indian-Americans, however, missed the live telecast, and woke up Monday morning to the news of both Davuluri’s historic victory and the backlash that followed.

“Frankly, I am blown away (by Davuluri’s win),” said Vivek Wadhwa, a Silicon Valley academic, adding, “it shows how Indians have become part of the mainstream.”

Like Davuluri, however, Wadhwa played down the racist slurs: “Of course there will be some pushback and some racism. Fortunately the racists are the tiny minority--the outliers.”

They were indeed in the minority, at least in Twitterverse, where their remarks were first posted, and noticed. And they were soon outnumbered by those disgusted by the hateful posts.

And there was some tweetlash too. “Don't worry white people, according to most TV & film, you're still hot & we...DON'T EXIST,” tweeted Indian American comic Hari Kodabalu.

Rima Fakih, who is of Lebanese descent, had faced a similar reaction when she was crowned Miss USA in 2010. Many people had tried to link her to militant group Hezbollah.