The new Miss America, and the way she was received by Twitter, has exposed yet another facet of racist ignorance this week, just when we maybe thought we had seen all there was to see about it. Stephen Colbert’s observation is the most astute and succinct description of the illogic of the response to her crowning, so I’ll just quote him and move on. “People saw a woman in a bikini and thought ‘Muslim extremist.’” That’s nuts.
One great thing about the age of social media is that the people who would call an Indian American an Arab, or say that because of the color of our president’s skin, he must be working for Al Qaeda, they expose themselves. It’s not that people weren’t saying things like this in the past, it’s that the rest of the world didn’t know about it, so they all just got to keep on believing they were right. In this new day, where everyone can share whatever they want with whomever will pay attention, people are outing all their craziness, and then they have to deal with the world calling them out on it. All those people who tweeted hateful, and even just geographically false, things about the new Miss America this week, they’ve been publicly shamed. They’ve been taught that India is not the Middle East, and maybe next time will know, when they come across that particular shade of brown skin, that they don’t necessarily have any information about where that person’s ancestors came from. It feels awful to have to look at every new version of racism that the internet digs up, and it can seem like it must be worse now than it’s ever been before because we’ve never seen so much all at once, but maybe this is actually the beginning of the end. First we have to let all the racists show themselves, and, little by little, we can hold them accountable.