Ananya Vinay of Fresno, Calif. may have become the first solo champion in four years of the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee last week.
The sixth-grader correctly spelled the word ‘marocain’ and became the 13th consecutive winner from the Indian American community.
But Vinay was not immune to racial remarks by television anchors supposedly congratulating her.
After her victory, the 12-year-old was invited by CNN and asked to spell ‘covfefe’ — the word recently used by President Donald Trump in one of his tweets that took social media by storm.
Like a true spelling bee participant, Vinay asked the definition of ‘covfefe’ and its language of origin, to which the anchors responded “gibberish.”
“We’re not sure whether its roots are in Sanskrit, which is probably what you’re used to using,” said anchor Alisyn Camerota, displaying gross ignorance of South Asian culture and the language that Indians speak.
Vinay did not appear to take offense to the comment, but Camerota was widely criticized on social media.
A CNN spokeswoman, in a report in the Washington Post, said Camerota’s comment had nothing to do with the girl’s heritage, and that the interview was not the first time the anchor has joked about Sanskrit being the origin of ‘covfefe.’
“Alisyn made the same joking reference to the root of ‘covfefe’ in an earlier panel discussion,” the CNN spokeswoman said.
“If she’s guilty of anything, it is recycling a joke.”
Commentators on social media were less forgiving.
Jeremy McLellan, a standup comedian, wrote on Twitter, “12-year-old Ananya Vinay won the National Spelling Bee so naturally CNN had her on to spell ‘covfefe’ and say some racist stuff to her.”
Asha Dahya, creator and editor-in-chief of female empowerment blog ‘GirlTalkHQ’ tweeted, “CNN anchor assumes spelling bee champ, who happens to be of Indian descent, uses Sanskrit to find the origin of a word.”
Sanskrit, a language closely associated with Hinduism, greatly influenced not just Indian languages, but also languages in China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The origin of some English words also can be traced back to the ancient language. Sanskrit is rarely spoken today and is generally used by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies.
Erroneously noting that Sanskrit is what Vinay is “used to using” was obviously referring to her ethnicity — to point out that she is different, i.e. not white.
“To assign a bias to what was a fun and innocent segment celebrating Ananya Vinay’s incredible accomplishment is frankly extremely cynical,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement.
Joke or not, let’s be real. Camerota never would have said what she did to a white girl.