American Beauty

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

NARRATOR: Myerson expected to spend her reign making appearances and promoting the Pageant’s new sponsors. But after an obligatory four-week performance tour, where drunks in the audience demanded she play the piano in her bathing suit, there were few requests for her time. None of the sponsors wanted a Jewish girl — even a Jewish Miss America — posing with their products.

BESS MYERSON: Half way through that year, I said to the pageant, I’m not available to you anymore because I want to do something else. I’ve met people from an organization called the Anti-Defamation League. And they’ve asked me to go out on a tour speaking at the high schools and colleges, speaking to students where there are problems having to do with anti-Semitism, with hatred, with racism. And I did a speech called “You Can’t Hate and be Beautiful.”

— PBS, American Experience, Miss America

Iconic American institutions like Miss America can elicit the best and worst of our culture. Such was the case when Bess Myerson won the title in 1945, and her intelligence, moral compass and commitment to combatting racism and discrimination rendered her detractors impotent and pathetic.

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This week, the phenomenon played out once again on the national stage. As Nina Davuluri became the first Indian American and second consecutive Miss New York to claim the tiara, the hateful underbelly of our nation chimed in all over the internet. Xenophobic voices immediately found all sorts of things about the victor that were “un-American.”

Some actually had the nerve to suggest that Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, should have won because she likes to hunt and sports tattoos, which are supposedly “American values.” Maybe her being a blonde Caucasian in the military played a part in their comments? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Yet can you imagine even 20 years ago a Miss America contestant winning, never mind being allowed to compete, with a wall of tattoos on one side of her body?

But that was maybe the nicest of the derogatory comments. Among others on Twitter and other sites: Davuluri is an “Arab terrorist” (she’s neither); or that to be Miss America “you should have to be American” (she is).

Perhaps Davuluri understands the disgusting responses to her victory better than we do; after all, the Fayetteville, N.Y. native’s honor’s degree is in brain behavior and cognitive science from the University of Michigan. And according to the Pageant’s release, “(d)uring her year as Miss America she will serve as spokesperson for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) this year as she travels to Washington, D.C., to work with the Department of Education.”

American diversity and exceptionalism can sometimes be matched by vulgarity and idiocy that know no bounds. The venomous responses to Davuluri’s victory demonstrate there will always be those who have no understanding of our nation’s cultural history, growth or in fact, the critical importance of embracing and folding myriad ethnic and national cultures into our unique American tapestry.

Even if one goes back to the early days of the Pageant, there’s a sampling of surnames that suggest any number of foreign influences, from English and French to German and Dutch. The joke, which is patently obvious to any student of American history who met the basic qualifiers of being able to read and not sleeping through class, is that we have been adding nations, ethnicities, colors and faiths to our melting pot for several centuries now.

It is particularly interesting that Davuluri’s reign as Miss America comes as the ADL is celebrating its 100th anniversary. In 1945, Myerson’s commitment to the ADL’s mission of combatting not only anti-Semitism, but bigotry and hatred in all its forms, struck a crucial tone just as the horrors of World War II were coming to an end. How sad it is that the message she delivered utilizing her newfound recognition as Miss America is just as necessary and relevant today as it was then.

We truly do believe that a substantial portion of the populace respects the brilliance of our diversity and holds dear such breakthroughs as occurred with Davuluri at the Miss America Pageant. Those of us who embrace the challenges and rewards of building a rich and vibrant American culture have a responsibility to make our voices heard, especially when the small-mindedness of bigotry rears its ugly head.

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Raising the minimum wage

Jewish Labor Committee president Stuart Appelbaum is too modest (Sept. 11 commentary, “Join campaign to raise federal minimum wage”).  The federal minimum wage should be raised to $20 per hour.  I pay my cleaning person that rate, which is competitive in today’s market.

He is fully occupied and can accept no new clients.  His wage is paid voluntarily without legislative sanction. It is a real base wage as a cleaning job requires no special training or experience beyond what anyone learns just growing up.

If it were legislated it would raise the wages of Appelbaum’s 30 million workers by several times his $32.6 billion and create a net gain of several times his 140,000 new jobs.

It would immediately make this country prosperous and wealthy again.

A. E. Lippman, Creve-Coeur

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Full Medicaid expansion in Missouri

Medicaid should be expanded in Missouri for low-income workers making up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level for several reasons, as discussed at www.momedicaidcoalition.org/invest.

One of the broadest coalitions ever of business, faith, insurance industry, and economic organizations has formally expressed their support for full Medicaid Expansion. Yet, islands of resistance still remain. Most opposition to full Medicaid expansion offers no positive alternative.  

Missouri should and can be the example to other states how one can transform and reform Medicaid at the same time as expanding it. Proud Missourians, who always pull themselves up by the bootstraps, are suffering.  They are our farmers, our neighbors, our friends.   

The government can and does help in this situation.  Expanding Medicaid fully will allow more assistance.  It’s not a crime.  It’s not going to make the country or Missouri bankrupt.  It’s the correct thing to do.

I can’t think of any family — whatever their political background — that’s going to let a loved one remain ill in order to “balance the federal budget”.   

Many citizens utilize rural hospitals.  Expanding Medicaid will help keep these hospitals open, as explained in the Channel 9 January 28, 2013 show found at http://goo.gl/4XMRlc.

Let’s work to resolve the problem rather than delay implementation.  Let the better angels of our heart act in concert with our Midwestern values and common sense and demonstrate why Missouri is truly the Show Me state by expanding Medicaid now.

Douglas A. Freeman, Chesterfield