As has been the custom for many years, Asian-Americans (and especially those whose ethnicity traces to the southern states of India) have dominated this contest. All others get steadily weeded out as the final rounds approach and this year was no exception with two Indian-Americans being declared joint winners.
Sriram Hathwar, 14, of Painted Post, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe, 13, of Fort Worth, Tex., shared the win after almost exhausting the 25 designated words in the final round.
Both boys are Indian American. In fact, the past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999, the Associated Press reported.
Last year’s winner, Arvind Mahankali, was the sixth Indian American in a row to win the bee. And of this year’s 281 spellers, almost a quarter had names pointing to South Asian origins, Reuters reported. But past bee champs are of a variety of origins.
In this year’s contest leading up to the final four, the elimination of the final non-Asian prompted an outburst on Twitter along the lines of “Where are the American kids? Why aren’t they winning?” Seemingly lost on the people making these comments were that these students were born and raised in the US and thus were ‘American’ is every sense of the word. It recalls the hostility expressed when an Indian American won the Miss America contest in 2013.
There has been some concern expressed that such comments reveal a latent racism that sees people of Asian origin as not ‘real’ Americans. I don’t see all of these comments as consciously racist. I think for many they are more a reflection of the unease with all the talk of white people losing their majority status and being consistently outcompeted by Asian Americans in intellectual endeavors, even low-level intellectual pursuits such as spelling. These resentments against Asian Americans play out against a backdrop in which Asian-Americans are perceived to be the only ones living the mythical ‘American Dream’. But instead of phrasing their concerns that way, they unfortunately posed it as being between ‘Americans’ and ‘foreigners’.
It is interesting to speculate as to what might have been the reaction if the bee had been won by black students. I suspect that many of these same people (except for the hard-core racists) would not have been so disturbed. There wasn’t, as I recall, similar hostility expressed when Tiger Woods became a golf champion. But when Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America in 1983, she did receive a barrage of vitriol so the verdict is mixed.