There are occasions where I don’t even understand what universe the academic cultural Left is inhabiting. Their utilization of plain and simple terms in bizarre fashions makes implicit the reality that their factual universe is radically different from mine. AFP has a piece up, Indian-origin Miss America shows evolving US ideal. It covers the controversy over an Indian American winning the Miss America beauty contest. Much of the article is banal or unsurprising, and naturally it focuses a great deal on the winner’s ethnicity, and the uproar over numerous racist Twitter comments. But the assertions of the academics interviewed struck me as both illuminating and depressing:
“The first Indian American winner is significant in that it further widens our conception of female beauty and what it means to be an American,” said Blain Roberts, a historian at California State University at Fresno.
One controversial issue is whether minorities in the United States, consciously or unconsciously, conform to white conceptions of beauty.
Le said that Davuluri represented a “melding” of white conceptions of beauty and those of her own heritage.
“She does sort of conform to white standards of beauty. She has a very symmetrical face, a very chiseled cheek line,” Le said.
“But having said that, she clearly represents her Indian heritage in a very positive way. She emphasizes her dark eyes, her skin tone is obviously darker, and she hasn’t, I presume, tried to lighten her skin,” he said.
First, does Nina Davuluri really widen our conception of female beauty? She’s slim, yet curvy. Check. she has good bone structure. Check. A symmetrical face. Check. Do people need to have their eyes opened to this possibility as conditions for beauty? The reality is that having a symmetrical face and chiseled cheek lines are not white or Western beauty stands, but human universals which fall out from our innate cognitive hardware. Academics on the cultural Left operate under a blank slate assumption, and foist all human cultural patterns upon historical contingency and power relations. No, there is basic cognitive furniture all humans have, and it would be helpful if academics did not obscure this reality and make everything into the outcome of a contingent historical process.
Obviously there is a multicultural element to this event, the winner herself even promotes that angle. So it needs to be addressed. But not everything can be reduced down to a simple black and white narrative. The attempt to push everything into a “West vs. the Rest” model is reflective of the same mentality which led so many Twitter users to see a brown skinned woman in a swimsuit and think, “Muslim terrorist!” Their idea was that she wasn’t white, therefore she wasn’t Western, and therefore a a potential terrorist. The logic is coherent, even if it is silly and wrong. Similarly, just because Nina Davuluri has dark skin does not mean that she is setting a new beauty standard. This beauty standard has been around for tens of thousands of years in some form or another. If you whitened her skin in Photoshop she would look very “All American” indeed.
Finally, as I have noted elsewhere, Miss America could never be Miss India, because she is far too dark skinned. That is something which perhaps does warrant some interrogation. The AFP does give some voice to this concrete dimension, but because it is not an American one it is explored far less than the vapid comments of the academics above.