I’m quite new to Twitter and I like to follow the ‘Trends’ button as it often has funny, quirky themes like #WomansNameFilms and #10FactsAboutMe that encourage people to be creative and meet each other.
This morning I saw that one of the trends was ‘Miss America.’ Being British and not having much experience of pageants I clicked on it out of interest and was genuinely horrified to see the racist response to the fact that the new Miss America is Indian – American. Even more shockingly, tweets were flying around that labelled her as a ‘terrorist’ and blaming the events of 9/11 on her family and ancestral country of origin.
Like the rest of the world, I remember exactly where I was on 9/11. I watched with horror as the Twin Towers collapsed, I remember my father ringing the house to tell us all to stay inside (which seems ridiculous now as we lived 5000 miles away, but we were scared the UK was going to be next) and I remember feeling the shock and disbelief over the coming days as it became evident that I’d witnessed the death of hundreds of people live on national television. I moved to Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK a week later and there were several occasions in my first few weeks where the city was on minor lockdowns when bomb threats were issued. I even remember the postal service being stopped for a while because of an anthrax threat.
On 7th July 2005 I was at a group job interview. My potential employers came into the room and asked us if we had relatives living in London because there were reports of bombs being detonated. I panicked – my little sister had been living there for a while and I rang her immediately to make sure that she was ok. Luckily, she was fine, but I felt a little nauseated when she revealed that she should have been on the tube train that had been bombed at Kings Cross but had missed it and was due to get on the next one instead. I felt the same sense of horror when I saw the images of the double decker bus on Tavistock Square and heard that 52 innocent people had lost their lives. While it was nowhere near on the same scale as what had happened in America, it had a connection in that the bombings were commited by the same organisation as those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and I felt angry that we had been targeted. Worse still, three of the four bombers were UK citizens and had been born here.
Yes, I was fortunate that my sister wasn’t on that train, and I have been very fortunate in life that I haven’t lost anyone in such horrific circumstances. The images that I saw from those events will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life and I will never forget.
However, I was a little confused by the accusations that the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, is a terrorist. First of all, she’s American. She was born in America and has lived there all her life. I have Irish ancestry, but I was born in England and therefore I am English. My friend AM’s family are from St. Kitts, MRH’s mother is Greek and her father was english, CB’s family are from Scotland, but they are all proud to be British whilst embracing their cultural heritage. The terrorists that carried out the 9/11 and 7/7 atrocities had links and family from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Jamaica. She’s American. Her family is from India, which had no connection with any of the attacks. Even if she was from those countries, how does that make her a terrorist? Why is it right to hate an entire country based on the actions of a few, however awful? She wants to be a doctor, she wants to use her beauty to help others and she wants to make a difference to the world. Ah, but she has dark skin. Clearly a terrorist, as are all people with darker skin, particularly those who carry backpacks. How ridiculous. And while I’m on the subject, has anyone forgotten Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the Oklahoma Bombings in 1995? He was white and from New York – shall we assume that all white people from the same area have similar intentions?
In 1996 my mother and sisters were in Manchester – my sisters were participating in the Youth Games. Fortunately, they weren’t in the city centre when the IRA set off an enormous bomb, destroying Corporation Street and causing £1.1 billion worth of damage. Thankfully, nobody was killed, but 212 people were injured. Does this mean that I should hate the Irish? Should I immediately assume that anyone with an Irish accent or Irish ancestry is participating in a secret plot to kill us all? And if we’re looking at it in the same light as Miss America, shall I just start hating the Scottish? Aren’t they the same as the Irish?
Come to think of it, why don’t we take it a step further? My oldest friend’s grandfather escaped Nazi Germany a few years before the start of WWII – so does this mean that she should make racist comments every time she meets a person of german descent? Shouldn’t all Jewish people hate Germans? The Bloke’s father was a soldier in Korea – should I hate all Koreans? Why don’t I just go the whole way and hate all Japanese and Chinese people too – they’re obviously the same. As a woman should I hate all men for how the female race was treated in the UK until a hundred years ago?
If I reverse the situation, should I spend the rest of my life apologising to any person of colour or person from the Commonwealth that I meet for the atrocities that were commited during times of slavery or from the British Empire? Should I spend every waking moment feeling guilty and apologising for a part that somebody with the same skin colour as me played in the torture and murder of millions of people in the Crusades a thousand years before I was born?
No, I shouldn’t. What a ridiculous notion. As a teacher myself I feel that I should educate my students about the dark events in history so that they have a knowledge and appreciation of their past and present, but what we should be doing is teaching ourselves and our future generations the importance of tolerance, equality and acceptance. Ultimately, we’re all different, but we’re all human, and this is what should be remembered above all else.
So, congratulations Miss Davuluri – I hope that you are able to rise above the awful comments from the ignorant and have a wonderful year.
‘Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.’ Abraham Joshua Heschel