As the Scripps National Spelling Bee gets under way this week, the organization behind the nearly century-old celebration of all things orthographic is dealing with a problem it never anticipated: racist posts on social media directed at the Indian children who seem to dominate the competition.
That children from Indian families have dominated the National Spelling Bee for the past 15 years, give or take, is beyond dispute, MPR News reports. An Indian-American child has won every year for the past 7 years, and 11 of the past 15 years.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to sit very well with certain social media users, who have made racist posts — directed at children — about the Indian dominance of the Bee.
The American national spelling bee, where all the finalists are Indians 🇺🇸
— Richard Handal (@RichardHandal) May 30, 2014
All the finalist in the spelling bee are Indian or Asian. 1 american coño — Loose Cannon (@SupaKida_) May 30, 2014
I’d be more impressed if these foreign kids in the spelling bee just spelled each other’s names
— dylan tice (@DCTice11) May 30, 2014
Twitter user Jeff Chu, who was himself a National Spelling Bee contestant back in the day (and not Indian), took the racist tweets rather personally.
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?” — Jeff Chu (@jeffchu) May 30, 2014
Bee director Paige Kimble — herself a Bee winner (1981) — says that the organizers are aware of the problem.
“We certainly followed the coverage last year and we are aware of Twitter posts that are not nice, that indicate that we have a long way to go as a country in embracing all of our immigrant population.”
One issue that National Spelling Bee organizers are uncomfortable about discussing is why kids from Indian families seem to dominate the competition. Anthropologist Shalini Shankar, who studies spelling bees, says via the Washington Post that the Indian children who are drawn to spelling bees, National or otherwise, come from successful families driven to succeed.
“You don’t see lots of spelling bee winners who are the children of assembly line workers or cabdrivers, even if they’re South Asian. You see children of doctors, you see children of engineers.”
Of the 285 children participating in this year’s National Spelling Bee, one-fifth are from Indian families, meaning that, mathematically at least, there’s an 80 percent chance that this year’s winner won’t have an Indian name.
[Image courtesy of: Getty Images / Alex Wong]