Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I still hate beauty pageants, but....

Normally, I truly don't care who wins Miss America.  I'm not a fan of beauty pageants. You can tell me that the pageants are about the "whole woman" and that intelligence and humanitarian service weigh heavily in the decision-making process. I'll believe you when the contestants no longer have to parade in front of the judges in bikinis and heels. I still think the whole thing isn't helping our culture's assault on women's self-esteem. But that's not why I'm writing.

And if the winner had been white, I probably wouldn't even know who won. I definitely didn't even know the pageant was happening. But our new Miss America isn't white. She's of Indian descent. From New York.

And she's American.

Frankly, I am embarrassed that enough people wrote racist and offensive tweets and Facebook posts that there have been several news articles about it. And my heart hurts extra for my Indian friends. 

If you believe racism no longer exists in our culture or think "we've moved beyond that." I'm sorry, but you are quite mistaken.  The reaction from her fellow Americans to this beautiful young woman's win breaks my heart. And I'm proud to hear that she isn't even going to acknowledge the comments. She's taking the high road, stating "I have to rise above that."

And while I'm glad she's not going to stoop to the level of those who attack her, I do hope the rest of us will do more than just sit idly by.  Racism exists. We have a long way to go.  And it doesn't only exist because racist people are still alive. It continues when those of us who aren't racist don't speak up. It exists when it is allowed to exist.

This should be a wake-up call for all of us. When we hear racist comments, we need to address them. Staying quiet does nothing.  I'm not calling for fights or arguments. There are plenty of ways to very appropriately let someone know that what they've just said is offensive to me.  A simple "hey, that's not cool"  or "I don't really find that funny" can go a long way instead of sitting quietly when someone says something ridiculous. Some folks honestly don't realize what they've just said and mirroring back their statement can really help. I've asked people, "Do you really believe that?" and had them say, "You know what? No, I don't." And my hope is they've left the conversation with a deeper understanding of how they are coming across.

My favorite response to people who start a sentence with "I'm not racist but..." is to respond with, "I hear you saying you aren't racist, but I'm also hearing you make a racist comment." And then allow the silence that comes after that. (Allowing the silence. That's a little therapy trick... free of charge. You're welcome.)

I want my children to grow up in a world that is better than the one in which I grew up. I want my kids to see their parents actively loving others, fighting oppression, choosing justice.  Even in the small things.

So while I never planned to talk to my kids about the Miss America pageant (especially not my daughter), I now have a wonderful opportunity to talk to them about what it means to be American and what Americans look like. And about what they can say or do if someone ever tells them otherwise.

So thank you, ignorant people who tweeted about the Miss America pageant, for the opportunity to teach my kids how to deal with people like you. And maybe, just maybe, someone will listen and reconsider. And the world my grandchildren will grow up in will be just a little bit more like heaven.

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