In a recent Facebook Live, Miss USA spoke about two other contestants in a way that suggested everyone should be able to speak English. Despite the fact that they were in Thailand at the time.
“Miss Cambodia is here and doesn’t speak any English, and not a single other person speaks her language. Can you imagine?” Miss USA said, reflecting on how Miss Australia said that would be so “isolating”.
The problem with Miss USA’s video are both her additional commentary, such as “poor Cambodia” and her belittling tone throughout the video.
Miss USA’s statement has been labelled “normalised xenophobia”. That is, exacerbating a fear of others in casual conversation. Linguistic diversity is important in numerous ways to our world. It shapes the way we think: Comments that another individual is “adorable” or “cute” can infantilise a person and demean a culture.
Miss USA has apologised for her words: “@MissUniverse is an opportunity for women from around the world to learn about each other’s cultures, life experiences, and views. We all come from different backgrounds and can grow alongside one another. In a moment where I intended to admire the courage of a few of my sisters, I said something that I now realize can be perceived as not respectful, and I apologize.”
It’s a good opportunity for many to recognise that racism is not always blatant, and that assumptions that everybody should “just speak English” are bigoted and false. But mostly, it’s a chance to show people can make hurtful mistakes and learn from them, and go on to educate others about how we should and shouldn’t treat others.
Francesca Hung represents Australia at this year’s Miss Universe pageant.