On Thursday, 20-year-old Miss Michigan Kathy Zhu shared a screenshot of Miss World America organizers notifying her that she had been stripped of her title and her ability to compete in the beauty pageant.
“Miss World America’s State/National/Chief Director accused me of being racist, Islamophobic, and insensitive. They stripped me of my Miss Michigan title due to my refusal to try on a hijab in 2018, my tweet about black on black gun violence, and ‘insensitive’ statistical tweets,” Zhu tweeted with screenshots of emails from the organizers.
Miss World America's State/National/Chief Director accused me of being racist, Islamaphobic, and insensitive.
They stripped me of my Miss Michigan title due to my refusal to try on a hijab in 2018, my tweet about black on black gun violence, and "insensitive" statistical tweets. pic.twitter.com/K1Btho0Pgq
— Kathy Zhu (@PoliticalKathy) July 19, 2019
MWA Michigan State Director Laurie DeJack wrote, “It has been brought to the attention of Miss World America that your social media accounts contain offensive, insensitive and inappropriate content, and in violation of MWA’s Rules and Conditions, specifically the contestant requirement of ‘being of good character and whose background is not likely to bring into disrepute Miss World America or any person associated with the organisation.'”
“Therefore, and effective immediately, MWA does not recognize you as a participant of any sort or in any capacity as it relates to any and all events of MWA,” she added. “Furthermore, let this communication serve as official notice to remove any mention of yourself as a participant in MWA from all social media platforms (including photographs of you wearing the MWA Michigan sash and/or crown, and any text claiming to be a participant of MWA events).”
Newsweek‘s David Brennan reported on the tweets that got her excluded from the beauty pageant. Last year, Zhu tweeted about a “Try a hijab” booth on campus. “So you’re telling me that it’s now just a fashion accessory and not a religious thing? Or are you just trying to get women used to being oppressed under Islam?”
While many Muslim women voluntarily wear hijabs as a religious statement — notably Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — many Muslim countries enforce the hijab by law. In January 2018, at least six Iranian women removed their hijabs in protest — and were immediately arrested. Islam is a diverse religion, but the hijab does indeed symbolize oppression for many women, notably Somali-born women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female genital mutilation.
Muslim students at Zhu’s college began a campaign to have her expelled. A female student who was manning the hijab booth said, “I invited you to try one on and you said ‘no thank you’…You didn’t take the time to even ask questions or try to understand what Hijab is. That’s ignorant of you. You literally sprinted after taking the photos. That’s pathetic.”
The other tweet that got Zhu booted from the beauty pageant involved black-on-black crime. “Did you know the majority of black deaths are caused by other blacks?” Zhu tweeted. “Fix problems within your own community first before blaming others.”
While this message is rather blunt, it is based in fact. Despite excessive media coverage of police violence against black men, the majority of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks. That does not justify excessive use of force but it does put the debate in an important context.
Neither of these messages justifies the striking of Zhu’s title and her exclusion from the beauty pageant. She responded with understandable outrage.
“Do you know what is ‘insensitive’? What’s ‘insensitive’ is that women in the Middle East are getting STONED TO DEATH for refusing to obey their husband’s orders to wear hijabs,” she wrote in the email back to MWA organizers. She altered her story on the hijab episode, saying, “A muslim woman tried to FORCIBLY put a hijab on my head without my permission.”
“If this was a catholic rosary that someone forced me to try on and I refused, people would not have even bat an eye,” Zhu continued.
As for the black-on-black crime tweet, she wrote, “statistics and facts are not always pleasant.”
“To hurt, embarrass, and strip the title of a 20 year old woman studying political science all because ONE PERSON’s COMPLAINT not only shows how gullible you are to photoshopped tweets that a girl named Scotland Perez Calhoun presented to you, but also show that you have no dignity to do what is right,” Zhu wrote. “Why don’t you try and find me any further ‘insensitive’ tweets that are actually on my profile? Or did you actually just get fooled by a random girl that decided to email your corporate office because she had grievances against me?”
According to Zhu, Scotland Perez Calhoun has shared false tweets, attributing them to her, in an effort to get her blacklisted. She did not mention specifically what false tweets Calhoun allegedly created to smear her, and she did not deny tweeting about hijabs or black-on-black crime.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.