By Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan, Curator of Exhibits

Last night, Nina Davuluri (Miss New York 2013) was crowned Miss America 2014. Ms. Davuluri is of Indian descent, ran on a “diversity” platform, and apparently performed a Bollywood-like dance for her talent. I have to admit that I didn’t watch the pageant. However, the pervasive backlash that arose after her crowning caused me to take note. 

Among the insults (many of which have been aggregated here on Tumblr) that have been thrown Ms. Davuluri’s way, one that continues to baffle me is simply being called “Arab” and/or “Muslim.” Neither of these are acurate labels for Ms. Davuluri. But why should it be considered an insult if it were true?

It absolutely breaks my heart that these are used like slurs, and it is so sad that I should not be surprised by this backlash. I have been working for the Arab American National Museum for about 6 years. We have all seen this happen again, and again across the globe. I have heard a lot of heart-wrenching personal stories of racism from staff, visitors, and friends. Because my Arab heritage isn’t broadcast in my physical features, or in my last name, I slip under the radar. I have never experienced a racial slur being spit out directly to my face, but I’ve heard my community insulted more than I care to recall. It cuts me down as well as their imagined enemy.

I’m sorry Ms. Davuluri has to endure this misdirected racism, and I’m outraged that my fellow Arab Americans have to deal with it on a daily basis. A large part of why the AANM was built was to lend voice and institutional presence to the diverse Arab American identity. We build exhibitions and travel them around the country. We host multi-cultural programs to build bridges to other communities. We share our stories in hopes that someone will listen and be moved. Incidences like this remind us all that we still have a lot of work to do.