Skin Colour Confusion

Earlier this month, the infamous Miss America beauty pageant crowned as Miss America 2014 a New York born and raised 24 year old beauty Nina Davuluri – born of Indian descent. This is the first time the pageant has crowned a beauty queen of Indian origin. Huzzah, a step forward…for some.

miss new york nina davuluri miss america 2014

To be honest, most of the time I couldn’t care less who is voted or chosen as Miss America. Why should I? So why am I paying attention this time? Because of all the negativity – the racism surrounding this crowning of a talented young woman whose parents come from the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh – which borders the South Indian state of Karnataka where I was born and raised.

Nina Davuluri was born in Syracuse, New York. She then moved with her family to Oklahoma and Michigan become coming back home to New York where she was crowned Miss New York which took her to the Miss America platform. Sounds pretty all-American to me.

Why the controversy then? Basically the lethal combination of her Indian origin combined with the general public’s severe lack of general knowledge, cultural backwardness, racism and stupidity. In a nutshell.

As soon as she was crowned Miss America 2014, the uneducated general public took to Twitter to express their well-founded and completely unbiased opinions such as dutifully captured by buzzfeed:

BUT what is (to me at least) equally if not even more fascinating is the discussion this crowning has sparked in the Indian and South Asian community both in the US as well as worldwide (again from buzzfeed):

Would Nina Davuluri have had any chance of such a win in India?

Many say no, a very definite no even – because she is too dark skinned. Here are the top 3 contestants from the past 5 years of the Miss India pagaent for a quick comparison:

femina miss india 2008 winners femina miss india 2009 winners

miss india 2012 top 3 miss india 2013 top 3

miss india east 2009 miss india winner 2010

And that brings me to a point that is of personal fascination – the role of skin colour in India and the Indian community worldwide and specifically the role of skin colour in peoples’ expectations of your/ their nationality.

Being half-Caucasian myself I was constantly questioned about my “whiteness” in India as a  child – people just refused to believe me when I said I was Indian and born and raised there and considered myself local – how was I to know any better? I was 7-8 years old and entirely lacking any capacity to fully comprehend what was being asked. Then moving to Germany and The Netherlands I was constantly questioned about why I was so dark and told I couldn’t be European “really” because – “but what language do you speak at home?” or “what passport do you have?”. If I was visibly annoyed about this questioning (as by now I was a bit older) it was explained to me that these questions were not out of any form of racism but out of “sincere and genuine curiosity” about my “beautiful exotic looks”. Hmmm, I really wish you weren’t so curious. Now I live in London, the first place I have lived where I feel like no one gives a fuck about my skin colour – I do not stand out in any way with my skin colour and am truly anonymous, YEESSS!!

However more often than not my skin colour has time and again helped keep me confined within the fluid boundaries of a confused no-man’s land my entire life. That place where you are “not one of us”.

So in 2013 in the UK and in the US – how much of our identity is our skin colour? How much of that is defined by other people and the ways in which they may or may not perceive us solely based on the colour of our skin?

How long is it going to take for people to stop questioning your nationality based on your skin colour?!

What do you think?

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