Miss America: Why Racism Thrives Online (Participation)

Miss America: Why Racism Thrives Online

Originally Published at Truth Dig

Posted on Sep 16, 2013

AP/Mel Evans
Miss New York Nina Davuluri, center, reacts after being named Miss America 2014 as Miss California Crystal Lee, left, and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan celebrate with her in Atlantic City, N.J.

By Marcia Alesan Dawkins

Some things evolve and some things don’t. Such is the case with this weekend’s wins of Nina Davuluri and Floyd Mayweather and the tsunami of racism that overtook Twitter in response.

Ladies first. Nina Davuluri is the second consecutive New Yorker to be crowned Miss America and the first Indian-American to win the title. Though Davuluri’s platform was “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency,” like all of us she is more than the sum of her racial and ethnic identities.

According to CNN, “the 24-year-old Fayetteville, New York, native was on the dean’s list and earned the Michigan Merit Award and National Honor Society nods while studying at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science.” Her goal is to become a physician. Davuluri plans to invest her time as Miss America working with the U.S. Department of Education as an advocate for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These are fields where women, regardless of racial or ethnic background, are sorely underrepresented.

Davuluri’s feel-good story took a racist turn in the Twitterverse, where some were outraged by the fact that 2014’s Miss America isn’t white. As in 2010, when the Lebanese-American beauty queen Rima Fakih was crowned Miss USA, racism was expressed not just explicitly in the form of tweets, but also in the level of ignorance those tweets exposed. For example, Jezebel reports that some tweeps seemed confused over whether the new Miss America was Indian-American, Arab, Muslim or Latina. They could all agree, however, that she didn’t deserve the title based on whom they thought she was.

Something similar happened to African-American boxer Floyd Mayweather after he won Saturday night’s fight against Mexican fighter Canelo Alvarez. Mayweather first caused a stir on Twitter when he entered the ring alongside Lil’ Wayne and Justin Bieber. Many wondered whether Mayweather and his team accessorized with the stars because of their social media reach into different racial communities. But that meme was nothing compared with the outpouring of racist epithets tweeps typed in response to Mayweather’s amazing win. According to a report from Latino Rebels, online bigots concluded that Mayweather didn’t win because of his talent, skill and training. Rather, he won because he is black and that’s definitely not a characteristic to be praised, from a racist point of view.

Although reports are right to highlight and challenge these expressions of online racism, particularly in this weekend’s cases, the tone of surprise is a bit misleading.  Ebony’s Jamilah Lemieux had said it seems as if “the Internet just met the Internet” in recent weeks and that by now we shouldn’t be shocked by online racism. Lemieux is right. Online racism is entirely consistent with offline racism and demographic shifts.

For instance, the number of U.S. hate groups has more than doubled in the last 10 years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, up to 1,007 active hate groups in the United States in 2012. Deborah Lauter, civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League, has said that thousands of hate websites are live, “more than we can possibly keep track of.” Survey research indicates that the rise in active hate groups is correlated with census projections stating that white people will no longer be the U.S. racial majority by 2042. The hate surges online when achievements by people of color are noted and interpreted as taking away something to which a white person “should be” entitled. So people like Davuluri and Mayweather become targets because they represent demographic change and new opportunities for people of color, while challenging stereotypes about who Americans are and what they can achieve.

Racist ignorance in virtual spaces may often be misspelled and factually incorrect, but it should be taken seriously because its effects on the recipient can be powerful. According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health by Dr. Brendesha Tynes, a professor of Education at USC, of 264 Midwestern high school students, approximately 20 percent of whites, 29 percent of blacks and 42 percent of “other” or multiple races reported being personally subjected to racial epithets or other discrimination online. These young people were more likely to become depressed, anxious and, possibly, less successful academically. What’s more is the effect on race talk in general. The danger of online racism is that people seem to get away with it and public disapproval in the form of reports like this one do not appear to have the same effect in lessening racist speech as disapproval does in face-to-face encounters. For evidence of this, check out the many YouTube testimonials from online gamers via the Gambit Hate Speech Project by MIT-Singapore Game Lab.

The Internet we have is not the safe space it was promised to be. But the good news is that we can do something about it. As digital citizens we can make the Internet safer. We can engage in self-reflection and deal with criticism from others in a way that makes real race talk possible. That’s means fighting racism with truth about who we are and how the world is really changing. After all, racism 2.0 is not a foregone conclusion. We, the people, have made it seem that way. And we have the power to make it different.


7 thoughts on “Miss America: Why Racism Thrives Online (Participation)

  1. I was just thinking about the 254 Midwestern high school students that reported being discriminated against online. Besides causing depression and anxiety, it could cause their academic performance to lessen in other ways along with that. If people are told they can’t succeed because of their race, they’ll probably be a lot less likely to try as hard as those who have high expectations from others. And maybe there could also be a note of stereotype threats along with the personal discrimination, and the prejudice against people like Floyd Mayweather. If African-American people hear about people telling other African-Americans who have succeeded in something that they only succeeded because they’re black, not because they earned it, I bet it could make some even afraid to try. If they succeed, people will say it’s just because they’re black. If they don’t, it’s just because they’re black. It seems like they’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t.

  2. I think that it is amazing that a new element of racism and bullying in recent years because of computers and the internet. Hiding behind the screen is a new concept and an easy way out for people to let others know about their feelings and their beliefs.
    It is really unfortunate that today people who are famous are automatically subjected to being in race conversations. That is a big deal to many people and it saddens me that people give so much attention (good/bad) to race. I just think it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. This creates many questions from reporters and fans and they are now the face of their race. Without asking to be a leader athletes like Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are automatically leaders in their races communities. And there’s nothing wrong with that and if it works for them that is good. But if someone is more sensitive or does not want those burdens on their shoulder.

  3. I think it is so sad that people hide behind their computer and spread their thoughts and beliefs at the cost of others. People give so much attention to race when there is really no need. Race always appears is the news especially in sports when someone succeeds in something, particularly sports. News channels always talk about the race and background of the players; where they grew up, where they went to school; their upbringing in general. They dissect the person on TV and try to give reasons why they are so successful; because they are black, because they moved to a better city etc. People use race as either a weapon or a defense.

  4. We have to to a point where people hide racism in comments offered by technology. It’ not just about Miss America, athletes, musicians or other famous people…it’s everyone that is seen as not equal to one’s view. Our media is guilty of racism, discrimination and stereotyping and our society is guilty of feeding into it. People are allowed to express their racism views in blogs, facebook, twitter and comments. It proves that racism still exists. Trying to control social media is difficult because we have to wonder who is responsible and where is the accountability of racial remarks. I do know that as long as there is indifference there will be unhappy people. We wont ever change unless we begin to educate others. I believe it begins with respecting others no matter of their gender, social class or race.

  5. Hiding racism in comments are a new trend for people who use technology like the internet. Our social media is full of stereotyping, discrimination, and racism and society seems to be happy about it. It doesn’t matter where people will express their comments about racism because racism can be anywhere like in schools, at work, internet, etc. I couldn’t believe they would discriminate on Floyd Mayweather when he won his fight because of his race. He won his fight because he was dedicated, well-trained, and skilled, and his fighting record says it all. For some people race would matter to them and they would be judgmental about it. Racism still exists and the way to stop racism is to respect others beliefs and contributions. But it wouldn’t matter because there would still be racism and racism would be beside people’s shoulders.

  6. I have read many of the tweets related to this topic. It is a shame to see such ignorance and inaccurate racial profiling. We say that with hard work you can accomplish anything in American, and here this woman did and still gets ridiculed solely on her race. With the Internet and the protection of the monitor, cyber bullying has made it easier for people to say more hurtful words and racist comments. Social networking sites have made it easier for people to express their racial views without repercussions or much challenge. But it is these individuals that will remain close-minded and ignorant unless others reach out to educate them on the matter.

  7. Online racism is a new racism. In the past, it never happened because we didn’t have high technology such as computers and smart phones. I was sad that high school students, especially people of color, were victims by online discrimination. Students should concentrate on studying but some of them can’t do it because of their races. They should not be interrupted by others. It is unfair and wrong. I think that developing technology is great because it usually makes our lives better. On the other hand, it causes negative effects for us. Now, we can hide from computers and smart phones, so it is easy to discriminate others because we don’t meet face to face. We should use technology usefully.

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