Ignorance in a Knowledge Economy

Why don’t you kick yourself out? You’re an immigrant too!
– The White Stripes, Icky Thump
Working in the technology and media industries has been equally rewarding and eye-opening for me. I was born into an analog world of land line telephones, cassette tapes and pencils, but I was fortunate enough to grow up in a flourishing society blooming with smart technology – brilliant connected devices and fast, comprehensive communications systems. The most valuable byproduct of these technological advances is undeniably the exorbitant access to information – whether it’s news, e-commerce, entertainment or trivia – living in a connected world has lent itself to a generation of smarter consumers and knowledgeable civilians.
In fact, Mark Zuckerberg (who recently doubled his net worth to a some-odd $19 billion figure) argues that connectivity is a basic human right and has partnered with several other outstanding companies to connect the rest of the world and create a thriving, international knowledge economy.
All things considered, I’m privileged to live in a country where I have unlimited access to information, and I’m glad I have venues that allow me to explore virtually any idea, curiosity or area of interest quickly and cheaply. I’m glad I can absorb this information on multiple screens and quickly share it over multiple channels, and I’m glad physical distance has become merely an abstraction that separates me from some of my closest friends and family members.
Unfortunately, the downside of living in this connected world is quickly realizing how far we haven’t come as a society. What prompted this reflection is the Internet’s unseemly response to our newly crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri. Rather than celebrating our nation’s diversity and the fact that beauty, talent and poise can come in many shapes, sizes and yes, colors – Davuluri’s race has drawn an overwhelming amount of negative attention from the nation’s ignorant and uneducated. Everything from simple-minded misconceptions of what America is (or looks like) to associations with terrorist activity have been openly stated by American citizens to the general public, and though the worst offenders are receiving an overwhelmingly healthy dose of cyberbullying and public shaming from the Twitterverse – I can’t help but feel sorry for them.
I’m not excusing what these users said or did, I’m just disappointed, saddened and alarmed that these grown people didn’t know better. It’s clear that these comments have generated outrage and disgust among the vast majority of the population who does support the new Miss America, but I think it’s far more disturbing that these folks didn’t seem to know the difference between an Indian-American, an Arab and an Egyptian. It’s unsettling that they question Davuluri’s validity as an American even though she was born in Syracuse, New York. This little peanut gallery had no qualms with her beauty, grace, intelligence or talent, which are commonly known pillars that this pageant has judged its contestants on for more than 90 years. They just simply didn’t think she was deserving of the title Miss America – even though she is a Miss, and very much an American.
I truly don’t think the issue at hand is malice or hate speech, I really don’t. I think the root of the problem is that the definition of what an American is is still very unclear to Americans. Perhaps, my own descent as an American of Asian descent propelled me to write this. I know a lot of the people who make these racial comments aren’t necessarily hateful or even bad-intentioned. Look at the reaction to Jeremy Lin – he was one of the most likable public figures of 2012, but a news source as reliable and widely read and watched as ESPN still made an error so severe that they fired the brilliant wordsmith who thought “Chink in the Armor” was a clever sports headline.
It’s just a shame that in my lifetime, many will look upon me and automatically associate me with my descent even though English is my first language, I’ve never stepped foot in East Asia and I was born, raised and educated in Texas (which is in America). My parents just happened to be born overseas and because of that I look a certain way and therefore, will remain the subject of many racial misconceptions for the rest of my life. I think it’s worth pointing out that I’ve never felt overtly discriminated against because of my race – I can’t think of any significant instances of despicable words or behaviors that have been directed at me because I’m Asian-American. But I can say that if I won Miss America, I’d receive similar misguided social media backlash about not being an American.
I don’t hate the poor misguided souls who said those awful things about Nina Davuluri even though they would probably say similar things about me or any other Asian-American woman who won Miss America. They not only made careless, racist remarks, but it’s becoming overwhelmingly evident that they’re also severely ignorant, stupid people. And I think as Americans, who are blessed to live in a country that celebrates diversity and culture, and as Americans, who are blessed with a proliferation of connectivity, information and knowledge, there’s no reason to be that stupid, misguided and out of touch with reality anymore.

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