Miss America Nina Davuluri: Too Indian For America, Too Dark For India?

Who could blame you if on Sunday night, after Miss America was crowned, you wanted to quit America for a little bit — or at least Twitter? Nina Davuluri, an aspiring med student, performed a Bollywood dance, charmed the judges’ hearts, and took home the coveted, glitzy Miss America crown. She also poked the bear that is racist morons on the Internet. The Syracuse, New York-born Davuluri was called everything from an “Arab” to a member of “Al-Quaeda” to “Miss 7-11″ … despite being from the good ol’ U.S. of A suburbs.

Well, this story gets even more depressing. Miss America Nina Davuluri might be too brown for some racist twats to consider her “American.” But, some people have noted, Davulauri might be too dark-skinned to be considered pageant-worthy in India, a country that has been known to privilege fair-skinned women who lighten their complexion with dangerous skin-bleaching creams.

As Lakshmi Chaudry sarcastically wrote in First Post, an Indian news blog:

“That gorgeous chocolate [skin] may play as exotic in the West, but in India, we prefer our beauty queens strictly vanilla — preferably accessorized with blue contact lenses.”

Chaudry referenced a tweet from woman on Twitter, whose opinion was parroted by others in tweets:

What’s interesting is Miss America Nina Davuluri would never win pageants in South Asia because she’d be too dark to be considered beautiful & the same is true for all of those “Miss Indian American USA” pseudo-pageants held here, as well. No darkies allowed in winner’s circle.

Although these particular tweets and comments about colorism in India are anecdotal, it’s a huge problem. Indian advertising has frequently been called out over the years for depicting lighter-skinned individuals as more desirable and, indeed, skin bleaching is a big business. As far back as 1978, Unilever began selling Fair & Lovely skin whitening cream. By 2010, the skin-whitening market was worth $432 million, according to the UK’s Guardian, and is an endorsement cash cow for Bollywood stars. As the BBC reported — in an article about skin-whitening shower gel for the genitals, mind you — “For centuries women in South Asia have been raised with the belief that a fairer complexion equates to beauty,” adding ” One market research firm even reported that more skin lightening creams are sold in India than Coca Cola.”

I am, of course, wildly condensing the both the American racism issue, the Indian colorism issue, and the big business of skin whitening creams. But mostly what I want to convey is that there’s a lot of discomfort to chew on here and while I don’t generally support beauty pageants and feel sick to my stomach at the jingoistic racism that’s been on display this week, I’m at the very least grateful that Davulari’s victory is giving us an opportunity to address it.

[Huffington Post]
[Guardian UK]