Sunday night, a new Miss America was crowned. As soon as Nina Davuluri, Miss New York, an American of Indian descent, was declared the winner, Twitter was awash with racist hate-filled tweets. According to Buzzfeed, they objected to a “foreigner” winning the title, and many called her an Arab, expressing horror that she won so close to 9-11.
Second, we probably ought to have a discussion about the media referring to Ms. Davuluri as an Indian-American and not an American of Indian descent. There are many complicated philosophical issues involved in the choice to hyphenateethnic and national origin. Hopefully, we’ll get to address them in the future.
What is clear is that the people who posted these Tweets are idiots. They are stupid. They don’t know the difference between India and Saudi Arabia, they don’t know that Americans have a multiplicity of backgrounds, and while they, like many, believe ignorant things privately, they are even moronic enough to Tweet them to the world. They are the cream of the stupid milk, the morons that rise to the top, the dumb of the dumb of the dumb. And so I am forced to ask, who cares what they think? Why should their opinion matter to us?
I can imagine two reasons. First, this does not look good for the American education system. It suggests that our schools are failing us. However, these comments tell us no such thing. Even if there were one thousand such tweets, they wouldn’t even scratch the demographic surface. There are currently 50.1 million children enrolled in US schools. The vast majority of American adults were in school at one point or another, as well. If only 1,000 of those raised in America are this dumb, I would call our education system the greatest success in human history.
Second, hate needs to be addressed, even stupid hate. In August of 2012, a man killed six people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, confusing Sikhs, most of whom are of Indian or Pakistani descent, with Muslims. This suggests that letting these Tweets go unanswered may have serious consequences. Ignorance spreads and it is our responsibility to contain it. (Calling someone a Muslim is also not an insult. I want to be clear about that, as well.)
But responding to these Tweets in order to educate is different than being outraged. I would suggest that the proper response, instead, is to have pity for the poor halfwits that posted them. We should feel bad for people of such limited intelligence and of such poor education. We should not, and Ms. Davuluri definitely ought not, take this personally. It is nothing other than a sign that some people are lucky when they don’t wake up and set themselves on fire while taking a bath.
My comments will, of course, rub some people the wrong way. They run counter to the American ethos that everyone has a right to an opinion and that we should regard people as fundamentally equal. There will be people who cringe at the idea that I am calling others stupid. In response I will simply say this: being a citizen in a democracy means being held accountable for your actions and opinions. Calling these people stupid is the most respectful thing I can do because it takes their agency seriously. It holds each of them individually responsible as if they were capable adults. It also recognizes that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, all beliefs are not equal. Some opinions are indeed just dumb, so as philosophers, we are forced to ask, how many stupid opinions do you have to hold before you yourself are declared to be stupid? In this case, I suspect the answer is one. Each of those tweets is, I believe, enough.
Philosophers have long debated the relationship between action and identity. Are we what we do, or are we something separate from our activities? This too is a discussion for another time. In this instance perhaps, I think the answer can be reduced to the famous proverb: “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”