2 Indian-Americans winning Spelling Bee draws racial comments

The historic win by two Indian-American students at the prestigious national spelling bee contest on Friday drew some flak on social media with many making racial innuendos about children of Indian-origin having an unbeaten track record at the annual contest.

Washington: As two youngsters of Indian descent spelled history by jointly winning the coveted Scripps National Spelling Bee for a record seventh year in a row, they also stirred storm of racially charged comments in the US.

Sriram Hathwar, 14 and Ansun Sujoe, 13, created history by winning the competition, the first time in 52 years that two participants have won the contest. The two clinched the title after a thrilling final in which they almost exhausted the 25 designated words.

Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe Sriram Hathwar (R) and Ansun Sujoe (L) hold their trophy at the end of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition on Thursday. Pic/AFP 

Sujoe, a 7th grader from Fort Worth, Texas and Sriram, the lone repeat finalist of Painted Post, New York were declared co-winners after a gruelling duel in the final of a contest that attracted 281 spellers from eight countries.

This was the seventh consecutive year that Indian-American students have retained the spelling bee title, a trend that was started by Sameer Mishra who won the contest in 2008.

The win by the two youngsters has however lead to some US audience making racial comments about how only Indians have been winning the spelling bee for some years now. 

It was "for the first time in more than 50 years, two young wordsmiths were declared co-champions" as the Washington Post noted.

"However, some on social media seemed more preoccupied with their heritage than their way with words."

Among the tweets cited by the Post were: "Where are our American kids?"

And: "Nothing more American than a good spelling bee.. Oh wait all the Caucasians are eliminated - Cale Pieczynski (@CalePie)."

The Post also cited other comments on social media arguing "race has nothing do with where these spellers were born."

"wow that blows the spelling bee ends with a tie thats so friggin un-American no wonder the kids that won it are Indian," tweeted Chris Uhl Jr from Massachusetts.

"Wait a minute!!! Where is the diversity? Why are there not women or non-Asian minorities winning? Sounds racist to me," a person commented on the Washington Post website.

Another reader said, "How is it that foreigners who are new to America are able to win the spelling bee like this?" while another reader posted, "First they took our beauty queen title then they take our bee. Whats next they take away our jobs..."

A comment on Twitter by one Matt Marzullo said, "We need an american to win this spelling bee #tiredofindiansmatt".

Another said "The kids in the spelling bee should only be AMERICAN". Another tweet said "Shocking that neither of the Spelling bee champs have names that sound American #Sriram #Ansun." 

Journalist Jeff Chu collected the tweets and commented; "Why did the tweets hit me hard? I was a bee kid-'91, lost on "rimur." And I want those kids never to be asked, "Where are you really from?"

Another commentator Ezra Klein tweeted "Turns out spelling bees bring out a lot of racists:"

" according to these geniuses, only Caucasians are "American" when it comes to the spelling bee?" responded Nicole Forbes from Austin, Texas.

"Just because the face on the screen isn't white, it doesn't make the #spellingbee finalists any less American, commented Rebecca Hong.

"Oh come on!! What is so un-american about them? Not satisfied with their buttoned up T shirts and a bow tie?????" tweeted amkere.

"In the name of diversity and political correctness, don't whites deserve affirmative action such as a spell checker app on their cell phone? NPR and ESPN can't object to its political correctness," responded Delongl.

There were some readers who said parents and families of Indian-American students encourage hard work and learning which leads to such students performing well as these competition.

"I find the comments here very interesting regarding how "foreigners" can win these contests. It is so simple it amazes me that everyone doesn't recognise the answer. The families of the winners value and encourage learning and hard work. They don't spend their time blaming others for their problems," a reader said.

"This is exactly why US students are, in many cases, falling behind. The parents do not value and encourage education and all the money and best teachers in the world are not going to educate someone who does not want to learn," the reader said.

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