The Vanessa Williams Rule

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There must be some mistake...--Kate Stone

Daniel Pipes has a much maligned post up which seeks to expose the dastardly influence of diversity on the nation's beauty pageants. After painstakingly combing through the hidden files of these compromised "contests" Pipes offers a shocking insight:


They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action.

I am sure that Muslim beauty queens the Western world over, are pleased to know that Daniel Pipes considers them "attractive." But I digress, Pipes approvingly quotes an e-mailer who notes the nefarious chicanery does not merely end with the M00slims, but is in fact a widespread, decades-old conspiracy:

No surprise here. Affirmative action was first applied in beauty contests for black women to win in the 1980s, then it was the turn of Latin, brown skinned women, and now it's Muslims. That's why most people ignore these rigged "events." They are money losers and require controversy.

Exactly. This is the reason beauty pageants are in decline--because they were rigged to favor brown people. Better to stick to their more meritocratic replacements, like American Idol, where white people are free to dominate...

All jokes aside, even though conservatives take Daniel Pipes seriously (service in the Bush administration, adviser to Rudy Giuliani's 2008 bid) I don't think any of us really should. It's best to remember that Pipes believes that Barack Obama was a Muslim, and in posts like these, reveals himself to be about a degree removed from the kind of paranoia you see in birtherism.

That aside, I think it's obviously fine to have a debate about the effectiveness and justice of affirmative action. But so often you see the anti-AA side's logic extending out from a premise of white supremacy. Thus whenever a non-white person succeeds at something that is regarded as the province of whites, there's some sense that the fix is in.
AA-critics usually argue that such logic is actually the fault of AA, because it generates suspicion. But this criticism reflects a rather shocking ignorance of racism. The sense that whites are being cheated in favor non-whites is as old as slavery itself. White Confederates framed the War as an attempt to cheat whites out of their God-given right to subjugate black people. When colored troops hit the field fighting for the Union, and managed to win a few battles, white Confederates reacted with disbelief, the great diarist Kate Stone said. 

Having lost the War, ex-Confederates formed the Klan and forcibly resisted Reconstruction to the point of an actual coup d'etat. Of course they didn't call it that. They claimed to be resisting unjust Northern efforts to force "Negro domination." When Jack Johnson defeated Jim Jeffries, footage of the fight was suppressed and Congress banned the filming of all prize-fights, less such imagery threaten the illusion of white supremacy. And so on....

The point is that the narrative of white supremacy holds victimhood sacred. It paints whites as the truly put-upon class and asserts that non-white success--black, brown, red, yellow and now "Muslim" -- is mostly achieved through vile and despicable means. When reality challenges that view, white supremacy simply moves the goal-post. So in the 19th and early 20th century, blacks were thought of as physically inferior to whites. When blacks succeeded in athletics the logic became that blacks "animistic" nature gave them an advantage. My favorite example of this kind of twisted logic was actually applied to an era when Jews dominated basketball:

New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote in the mid 1930s that basketball "appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartalecness.

Bigotry creates its own logic, and shifts with the times. Bigotry argues that Barack Obama, president of Harvard Law Review, is either "not really black" or if he is black, surely the product of system which has unjustly promoted his rise. Bigotry calls Sonia Sotomayor, a Phi Beta Kappa, Pyne Prize Winner and Summa cum laude, is "Miss Affirmative Action 2009."

And bigotry argues Vanessa Williams, who was stripped of the title, and yet became arguably the most successful and transcendent pageant winner in history, owes her fame to discrimination against more deserving white people. 

It's come to beauty pageants, folks. These fools are crying about beauty pageants
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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