Opinion » Column | Sept. 23
It was around midnight one Saturday over the summer, and I was piled in a friend’s living room with about five other people. It was the night that George Zimmerman had been acquitted in the Trayvon Martin case. My friends and I had been watching some sugary B-rate teen movie, but upon realizing what had just happened, we switched the channel over to the news and began wordlessly scrolling through various forms of social media, gauging the nation’s reaction to the evening’s events.
There were a variety of responses — some were relieved; some were disgusted. But worse than actual interpretations of the trial’s results were reactions that went along the lines of “Quit talking about it — there are more important things to be worrying about in the world.”
If we’re being relative about it, there’s always something worse out there in the world. You might be tired after a grueling week of finals, but some kid in Southeast Asia can’t even go to school. You might have just broken your ankle, but a soldier just had his entire leg blown off during bloody crossfire. While it’s true that someone else somewhere else is suffering more, it doesn’t make anything you might be going through any less legitimate. Everyone has their own set of issues and problems, and dismissing them because they aren’t important to you is just as cold as dismissing someone’s hobbies because you would never take them up yourself.
The same way, there’s been a growing trend of dismissing “petty” domestic affairs in favor of the “more important” international conflicts. Just this past week, the newly crowned Indian-American Miss America came under undue, rather racist criticism for not being the blonde, white paragon of American beauty. However, just as dialogue about America being a melting pot opened up across the Internet and other media outlets, even more criticism flooded in for discussing the matter of Miss America in the first place. Various tweets called out the debate for being silly, because beauty pageants are apparently shallow and vapid. While this may or may not be the case, the fact still remains that crowning an Indian-American Miss America made history that night, and it deserves to be recognized. Just as I saw earlier in the summer, people were chastising the American public for being so focused on a domestic beauty pageant when there were more pressing matters to be dealt with abroad in Syria.
It might sound logical, but in reality, it’s a little condescending. Even in the case of the Miss America controversy, though beauty pageants are often looked at as superficial and inconsequential, the racist comments were reflective of a bigger cultural problem across the country. While it may be true that the Trayvon Martin case might have more far-reaching implications than the Miss America pageant, they’re both important matters to discuss and don’t deserve to be constantly brushed off as “trivial” in light of international issues.
Most matters that are brushed off as “petty” or “insignificant” are often ones that deal with the intangible — attitudes, notions and beliefs. It’s easy to dismiss the entire Miss America controversy because “we have better things to be worrying about.” But when it exposes a major trend in attitudes, it’s worth discussion. It’s not hogging airtime. When late-night talk show hosts rip apart racist notions, it sheds light on harmful ways of thinking and helps change them. This is just as important as discussing international affairs, and arguably even more helpful, as it’s a manner of directly inducing change.
We don’t always have to be talking about the most distressing, depressing news at any given moment. Our attentions are not undivided, and our attentions are not identical. International matters don’t have to capture every single person’s interest. It’s important to be a well-educated populace, but a populace isn’t comprised of identical constituents. A well-educated populace can come from complementary pieces, each contributing something worthwhile and different.
Shruthi Deivasigamani is a sophomore from Cresskill, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.