Yellow Is Not the New White: The New South Asian Miss America Gets Blasted on Twitter


On Sunday the 15th, history was made when Nina Davuluri was named the 87th Miss America, making her the first Indian American to hold the title. Nice.

I know some of you are rolling your eyes over the notion that a young woman of color winning a beauty pageant that involves walking around in high heels and a bathing suit in order to prove “physical fitness” is historically significant, but I happen to think it’s a big deal. Miss America is an important cultural symbol and beauty is one of the arenas in which race is often contested. Messed up as it is, being “pretty” is a huge advantage in our society. And because lots of privilege, access, and influence accrue to those we decide are pretty, race is all too often a factor in those determinations.

Don’t believe me? Just check out what happened on twitter the minute Ms. Davuluri was crowned. BTW, thanks to BuzzFeed for the screen shots.

Davuluri quickly became a target for Arab, Muslim, and Indian stereotypes within the United States.

I’m guessing @OneProudHonkie’s race pride is rooted in the great accomplishments of those white guys back in the day who earned the handle “honkie” by driving into low-income black communities and honking their horns to call prostitutes over. Go team honkie!

So much for the idea that Asian is the new white. Apparently, South Asians are really the new terrorists.

While these tweets are obviously the spew of mean spirited and narrow-minded people, the mean, intellectually stingy sentiment that drives them is held by an increasingly influential minority in American politics.

Now, to be sure, overt racists have always had a place in our political and cultural life. They used to define the middle road on race, with people who could actually hang with the idea that people of color are fully human on one side, and genocidal maniacs on the other. But then overt racism and racial politics went out of vogue, in part because it was a real liability in the Cold War. Back then, our extraordinary racism made us look like hypocrites when we tried to sell our allies on the idea that America was the world’s standard bearer on questions of democracy and freedom at the same time that we were lynching black people, upholding racist immigration bans, and going along with Jim Crow.

But now, the white-makes-right faction of American society is making a comeback. Pissed over the fact that the racial demographics of the U.S. are turning against them, the white right of America is in full backlash mode. You may remember this viral video of an uprising at a Town Hall meeting hosted by Delaware Representative Mike Castle.

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The birthers in this video are the kissing cousins of tweeters labeling our new Miss America a terrorist. In fact, angry birthers and racist tweeters complaining about the rockin’ brown blush on the cheeks of our new Miss America are just the foam on the crest of a wave of white resentment that is rising, and quickly, over the fear that white Americans are losing control of American culture, including cultural symbols like Miss America and the standard of beauty, femininity, and American accomplishment she represents.

Make no mistake, this Miss America scuffle is just one small battle in a much larger war over the meaning of “American” in a country whose future depends on the full inclusion of people of color, but whose history and contemporary political fights are all too often about limiting citizenship rights and genuine American cultural identity to white males.



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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

10 replies on “Yellow Is Not the New White: The New South Asian Miss America Gets Blasted on Twitter”

I was trying to be funny-ironic. Perhaps I failed? But, yes, yellow is a messed up construct and she’s brown, not yellow, which is cool in that her shade would probably not win her any beauty prizes in India. Maybe a trendsetter in the growing tide against skin bleaching? We can hope.

Are you sure about that etymology? JL Dillard proposed in the 1970s that it could have derived from a Bantu language group word for “pink”, based on what sources I’m uncertain. (Dillard relied on Bantu language research by others but also did a lot of his own research on colonial American vocabulary.)

An alternative etymology is giving here, deriving it from “bohunk”. Other Wolof terms have entered colloquial English, such as “cat” for man. Since Wolof was widely spoken in West Africa it’s not really surprising to Wolof nouns pop up in the Afro-American community. It is possible also that the terms converged. Many successful slang terms are convergences of two similar-sounding terms.

Thanks for the link. You might well be right and your rationale and the link make sense to me. I was very sure of the etymology but now, not as much. One of the things I love about this blog and is that my sources get challenged some times. Always something new to learn. Thanks!

I always found it odd that this woman says she has a birth certificate issued by the United States. In the US, birth certificates are issued by the state in which you were born.

Wow, talk about the “dumbing down of America”! It always makes me smile to see how ignorant, uneducated and STUPID racists are! She was born in New York and they don’t know that New York is in America?? Twitter is really loaded with nitwits and trash. lol

And, we can forget that theory that younger whites are less racist than older ones. Um, no – they have learned well from their elders. In any event, she is GORGEOUS and they only wish they could look that beautiful without burning themselves in the hot sun, risking skin cancer!!

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