CNN Host Accused of Racism for Assuming Indian-American Spelling Bee Champ Could Speak Sanskrit

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By Nahema Marchal | 7:28 am, June 5, 2017
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A CNN host is in hot water for wrongly assuming the newly crowned Spelling Bee champion, Ananya Vinay, could speak Sanskrit in a blunder many have labelled “racist.”

Vinay, 12,  a sixth-grader from Fresno, California is of Indian descent but grew up between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

She was invited on CNN’s ‘New Day’ show over the weekend to talk about her recent victory at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Alysin Camerota and Chris Cuomo interviewing Vinay.


But things took an awkward turn towards the end of the interview when Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo challenged her to spell “covfefe” — President Trump’s late night Twitter typo that sent the internet into a frenzy last week.

Initially confused by the request, Vinay nonetheless kept her cool and quizzed the hosts about the origin of the word, as she was trained to do in preparation for the spelling competition.

“Definition please,” she asked.

“Definition is a nonsense word made up by the 45th president of the United States in a late-night tweet,” Camerota said.

Cue the rest of the exchange:

Vinay: Language of origin?

Camerota and Cuomo: Gibberish.

Vinay: Part of speech?

Camerota: It’s a noun.

Cuomo: It could be a noun but may be used as a verb and as an insult.

Vinay: Are there alternate pronunciations?

Camerota: Yes, oh, many! (Then she went on to pronounce “covfefe” a few different ways.)

Vinay tried her luck and was mid-way through spelling the word when Camerota cut her off.

“It’s a nonsense word,” the CNN host said.

“So, we’re not sure that its root is actually in Sanskrit, which is what you’re probably, uh, used to using, so, I don’t know. Anyway,” she added.

Sanskrit, an ancient Hindu language, is rarely spoken today but there have been attempts to revive the language in India since the country’s independence in 1947.

Vinay did not appear to take offense on air, but Camerota’s comment immediately sparked outrage on social media. Furious viewers called her remark racist while others were simply dumbfounded that an anchor could peddle such stereotypes in 2017.


CNN has since come out in defense of Camerota in a statement, Yahoo 7 reported.

“Alisyn made the same joking reference to the root of ‘covfefe’ in an earlier panel discussion that aired Wednesday,” the network said.

“If she’s guilty of anything it’s recycling a joke. To assign a bias to what was a fun and innocent segment celebrating Ananya Vinay’s incredible accomplishment is frankly extremely cynical.”

Last week, Vinay became 13th consecutive Indian-American to win the prestigious spelling competition and the 18th of the past 22 winners from Indian heritage.