A proposal to use the Miss America episode as a peg to slam Indian prejudices about dark skin was debated at length by the editorial board. Here's how it unfolded.
The Hindu’s leader writers meet every day at noon in our Chennai office. The purpose of our meeting is two-fold: to identify crucial topics that merit an editorial and allot them to specific writers. The second is a rather straightforward process. Our team comprises writers who specialise in various topics, be it politics, science, the environment, sports, business, law or foreign policy – we are almost always sure who the best person to editorialise an issue is.
In this post, I want to focus on the first and most important part of our agenda. Which issues should the newspaper write editorials on? During a meeting last month, a colleague suggested we write a leader on the Miss America saga. Indian American Nina Davuluri’s achievement had been met by a barrage of patently racist commentary on social media. Indian media outlets had played the controversy up, with some turning the news of a beauty pageant into a peg for righteous outrage. Surely, The Hindu had something to say about it?
A colleague suggested that our editorial should use this opportunity to slam Indian prejudices about dark skin. Would she have won a beauty contest in India, the colleague asked.
The proposal initially met a lukewarm response. There was no need to connect the two, some argued. Racism, which was what propelled many of the hate tweets in America on Ms Davuluri, was different from preference, said a colleague. Others argued that by asking if she would have ever won a beauty crown in India, we might be seen as endorsing these sexist contests.
Racially motivated and disgusting though the jibes at Davuluri were, the Indian commentariat had simply returned the favour through a (largely) xenophobic response. The Hindu need not wade into this brash and temperamental exchange, felt some in our group.
Despite these reservations, we decided, after much debate, that this was indeed a suitable topic The Hindu could substantively engage with. Many among us argued (correctly, in hindsight) that the issue of colour/colour preference goes so deep that the edit would widely resonate among people on all sides of the fence.
The edit was commissioned. It's punchline would read:
“Depressing though this may sound, the truth is that the Indian idea of beauty is not very different from the imagined ideal of ‘Ms America’ that those racist hate-tweeters in the U.S hold dear: white or nothing.”
Our final product, which went viral on social media, is here.