By Tom Ehrich
They’re an easy target, of course, these bigots who went wild on Twitter about a woman of Indian descent being crowned Miss America.
They called her an Arab, terrorist, member of Al Qaeda, foreigner — as if those terms were synonymous and uniformly negative. No regard for geography, of course, or for citizenship status.
Why couldn’t Miss America have been a white woman with blonde hair, they asked, rather than a dark-skinned woman with black hair?
Sigh. Every time I think we have made progress, fear and hatred resurface, and it’s the America First movement of the 1920s all over again.
I, for one, am proud of the pageant for looking beyond skin color and national origin. I think most Americans are learning to do that.
Across the country, diversity is a fact of life to be accepted and, except in backwaters like University of Alabama sororities, celebrated.
Here in New York, whites are the minority now. The “typical” New Yorker, if there is such a thing, is a dark-skinned person around age 25.
We still have miles to go. A young black male is still likely to be feared — and in New York City, stopped and frisked by the police for the still-unsolved crime of being “black and on foot.” Some regions still erupt in racist sentiment.
I am not so naive as to think that it’s easy being a person of color in America. Not yet. But that day when skin color is unremarkable is coming.
It’s what I see in Manhattan, and I assure you it is a glorious day. It truly is wonderful — inspiring — to be in a city where color, ethnicity and immigrant status don’t matter to most people. Who were our three top candidates for mayor? An Italian-American married to an African-American, an African-American, and an Irish-American lesbian. You gotta love it.
Same with immigrant status. In more and more places, the only two questions being asked of immigrants are, one, do you have a green card or work visa? and, two, can you speak English? In other words, we have jobs, and we want to form communities.
My wife teaches English-as-a-second-language. Her classes almost doubled in size this year. They come from Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Ukraine, China, Ecuador, Spain, Russia — in other words, from all over. They are the future of America. Eager to be here, eager to take their place, eager to fit in, eager to become citizens, eager to work.
And yes, quite incidentally, most have dark skin.
Not that many decades ago, if English-speaking early-arrivers had allowed ESL classes, those would have been my ancestors from Norway and Germany smiling eagerly at the door into America. I suspect even my English ancestors of the Puritan persuasion arriving in 1632 had to fight their way through those who arrived in 1625.
I hope the new Miss America has a wonderful year. I’m not sure what that title means these days. But I am thrilled that a dark-skinned woman whose ancestors came from India carries it.