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Michelle's column: Miss America and some lessons on tolerance

I’ve spent more time thinking about Miss America this year than I think I ever have.

I’ll admit I watched the Miss America Pageant Sunday night. I hadn’t meant to, but I’d heard about Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, the tattoo-sporting National Guard soldier who was one of the candidates, and I wanted to see how she did in the contest.

And honestly, if it hadn’t been for a family member putting up a post on Facebook that she was watching the show, I probably wouldn’t have even thought twice about it.

But whatever. I turned on the Miss America Pageant just as they were naming the 12 finalists. Miss Kansas was among them, and so was Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh, so I got a little more interested.

I was playing around on the computer while the pageant was on. I watched the evening gown competition, and then the talent competition. I didn’t really care one way or the other who won, but I didn’t turn the channel, either.

So I watched as Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, as she performed her Bollywood dance routine. I liked it. It was fun, fluid and different than all of the others who performed.

A little while later, I watch-ed as she was crow-ned Miss America. I thought it was cool, too, because she is the first Indian-American woman to be crowned Miss America. And then I turned the channel and moved on with my life.

But then Monday came around, and I heard about the many racist comments that were posted all over Twitter and other social media after the contest. Before I knew it, I was spending my time looking up some of these comments — and I don’t know why.

I don’t know if I was looking to be shocked, or if I was looking to be offended by the shallow remarks I was seeing online. But I couldn’t stop. I found hateful messages saying that the new Miss America was a Muslim terrorist. I saw crass and uneducated statements that said her being crowned was a “slap in the face” so close to 9/11. And there were oh-so many more statements.

It made me a little sick to my stomach.

I would like to think the world is a better place than that. I want to believe the people with those unforgiving, hurtful, prejudiced words are in the minority in this day and age. Certainly, some of the tweets I’ve read in response to the hateful comments about Miss America give me peace of mind that not everyone is as cruel as those who first posted the hateful messages. I know there are more people in this world who are loving and accepting.

I sit back, and I think about this community. About the schools here in Farmington. About the classrooms I’ve been in. Ours is a very diverse population in Farmington, and I think it’s wonderful. I love going into the classrooms and seeing children from different ethnic backgrounds learning together, playing together and laughing together.

It’s a stark and happy contrast to the bitterness I saw online this week.

And that fills me with hope for our future. I guess that’s what thinking about Miss America gets me. Hope.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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