It has not even been a full 48 hours since 24 year-old Rima Fakih was crowned the first Arab -American Miss USA and gasp! Scandal has already hit.
Turns out Fakih has a small stripper past, but as the Salon article rightfully points out the pictures of her “working the stripper pole” are nothing compared to the official Miss USA glamor shots which were causing controversy, (ratings anyone?), just weeks before a winner was even announced.
All this is nothing but distractions from the real “scandal” here which is Fakih’s background. A Lebanese-American from Dearborn, Michigan, Fakih grew up “celebrating both Muslim and Christian faiths”. As a child she moved with her family to the US, growing up in New York and attending Catholic school before moving to Michigan.
Fakih’s story embodies what America at its core is: a melting point of cultures. Her story reminds us of the diversity of backgrounds Americans come from. And it breaks a huge stereotype, for better or for worse, of what people generally think of Arab-Americans.
But it is not just regular Americans who may have an issue with Fakih winning. It seems as though Fakih has equally upset Right-Wing Christian and Muslim groups who are uncomfortable with what her win, and bikini number as well I am assuming, represent for their side.
Controversy aside, it really is quite remarkable to have a woman with this background be crowned Miss USA. Sure took long enough! Despite the fact that millions of Americans share the Fakih family’s story of immigration, it is another kind of American story that is normally promoted by the Miss USA brand. You know, the blue-eyed, blond haired kind.
Of course no minority, woman, Muslim, Arab what have you, is going to get away with such an American symbol like the Miss USA crown without somebody calling “affirmative action!”, right?
The Daily Beast reports that blogger, Daniel Pipes, a former Bush appointee to the U.S. Institute of Peace, is accusing the Miss USA organization for rigging the contest. Pipes points out in his blog that he suspected “an odd form of affirmative action at hand,” because this year apparently Black and Hispanic contestants were also being promoted by the competition. Sacrilege for anyone to even consider a non-White Miss USA!
A spokesman for the Miss USA Competition said she was saddened by the “ignorance surrounding her [Fakih’s] multicultural heritage.” The spokesman stated that:
The United States is the land of opportunity and she is the epitome of what it means to be American. We are a melting pot of cultures and her family has the entrepreneurial spirit that defines coming as an immigrant to this country to make a better life.
The controversy has just begun. Surely it will only do wonders for Fakih’s career. If her stripper-pole pictures and ethnicity alone don’t manage that, her brain will. It appears that Fakih has one more thing Miss USA winners normally don’t have: a political position.
I have to say my favorite moment of the competition came during Fakih’s interview when she was asked if she thought birth control should be covered by health insurance. She said she believed it should be because it is expensive: “I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance.”
An Arab-American Muslim woman with political opinions? Now that’s controversial.
*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post and Feministing.