As has become commonplace on the Internet, when there is a person of color involved in something somewhere, it seems to race bait every idiot on social media out into the open. For this round, we have the recently crowned Miss America, a New Yorker who is of Indian descent. Yes, she was born in the good old USofA, but that hasn't stopped the crazies on Twitter from referring to her as a Muslim, a terrorist, Miss Al Queda and a host of other names that not only are racist, but are also incredibly ignorant -- most Indians are not Muslim, for example.
Not surprisingly, people across the web have condemned these racist remarks. Many of the offenders have deleted their tweets or their entire feeds -- the backlash was no doubt enormous when you consider some of these people had their tweets posted on CNN.com and other major news websites. Both are apt responses, but I'm here to tell you that, while this incident is gross, it is a reminder of the tremendous progress America has made when it comes to race. You might be tempted to use this as an example of the exact opposite, but you'd be wrong and here's why.
The very fact that a woman of Indian descent won this completely worthless award (let's be honest, we are getting up in arms over the Miss America beauty pageant here) is significant. No one that looks like her has won this award previously. And because it is tied directly to beauty (or some subjective assessment of it), it clearly demonstrates our opinions of what constitutes that very complicated of ideas is changing.
Nevermind the fact that she had to get through numerous other competitions just to land in the mother of all pageants. And let's not mince words here, the chick is hot. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either full of crap or blind. But, that's not the main reason why this so clearly demonstrates our progress as a country.
That was handled by the combined outcry of the media and the general public.
I grew up in the '70s. At that time, All in the Family was placing a spotlight on racism by having Archie Bunker say outrageously awful things in the hopes we would all stand and stare in shock. Quite the opposite happened in fact. Bunker was lauded in many corners as the everyman people had wanted on TV. The outpouring of support for Bunker's bigoted, blue collar bigmouth was a shock to the makers of the show.
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This is not because people of that time did not have a sense of irony but rather because so many of them simply agreed with his outlandishly racist beliefs. Certainly there are those who share his opinions today, but they are far less vocal and, in my opinion, far fewer in numbers. The concept of a black president was a punch line for Bunker, but a reality today. It takes millions of votes to accomplish that feat, something impossible in Bunker's time.
Most importantly, the public nature of Twitter and other social media networks allow us to shine our own spotlight on those individuals who decide to hold opinions that don't mesh with how we want our society to be. The KKK used to wear hoods to conceal their identities even if individuals behind the hoods were known to their community. Today, what you say online is open to criticism from all comers. Because we tend to live our lives out loud online, we are often scrutinized for our behavior when we may have never been called on it before. Saying it on Twitter is a bit like shouting it in a public square, but with more virtual rather than physical consequences.
Finally, the immediate and universal backlash is proof positive that the majority of Americans simply will not stand for racist idiots. It's not even a passive condemnation, but a swift and absolute rebuke. For every racist tweet, there are 1,000 others that call that tweeter an idiot. Honestly, I can't think of a greater demonstration of how different we are today.
Does it suck that there are still bigoted morons out there? Obviously. But we are exponentially better off as humans thanks to the diversity we share as Americans, and the majority of us know that. The response to the racist tweets aimed at the new Miss America is proof.