I don’t know if the $5M crown was bobby pinned all the way down on Queen Zozibini before the great-as-expected social media frenzy kicked off like a starter gun in a 100 meter dash featuring Usain Bolt. People all over were trying to hide their inner racism by questioning why so many Black people, mainly women, were so excited to see a contestant like South Africa “finally” get crowned.
Without shedding light on too much of their commentary, some of the comments spoke about how we should look past skin color and admire her for her answers instead during the competition. Others said Zozibini’s look is more in line with IMG’s “brand” i.e. the increase in women of color being crowned since they took over the organization’s management in 2015. Other trolls question the “rally cry” Black Girl Magic and stated it was taking steps backwards from Martin Luther King Jr’s work to integrate among each other.
While no one is wrong in genuinely looking to gain more insight into a Black woman’s mind, especially those of a darker complexion, to understand the even more complex background of what is consider beautiful in both the Black culture and in the white world. However, some of these VERY same people are the ones imprinting into young children’s mind what their typical ideal standard of beauty looks like and for a long period of time it was not how our current Miss Universe looks.
From the dawn of time, Black women have been competing against a European idea of beauty. Straight hair, slim nose, fair or lighter skin; in pretty much every culture with darker skin people,women are subconsciously taught lighter skin is better and prettier. This leads to the infamous skin bleaching we’ve seen with some celebs.
Times that with a particular hair curl also being discriminated against from your very own mother for years until you took ownership of your scalp around the same time you signed up for your first credit card. Times this again by entering a beauty pageant dominated by blondes with blue eyes winning for decades before they even ALLOWED a women of African descent to compete in their system. Enter infamous Rule #7.
Watching our new Miss Universe grace the stage so elegantly and speaking up for young girls’ leadership, education and self-perception is a significant and historic barrier that’s long been waiting to be broken. It took Deshauna Barber’s final walk in her full 4c afro glory for Zozibini to run Sunday night. (And probably the all-female selection committee) Kara giving us her bountiful hair full of curls made us change the way we see scientists and Cheslie is doing the same in the courtroom.
Black women have been slowly integrating the pageant systems with our true authentic self and some of the features are becoming more accepted, like the all-curly hair and fros we’ve been seeing lately. Several Black women would simply get overlooked in any pageant system wearing their tighter kinks or afros and being labeled “too black” for what is often a non-diverse judging panel. It’s a common coaching tip to minimize your Blackness in several ways to appeal more to the white judges:
wear white. Red is too dramatic and shows you are too commanding, intimidating, too much dare I say, aggressive. Pull your hair up in a bun or half-updo and away from your face. This shows the judges your face more and hides your hair. Or opt to wear a straight long weave, frankly, the easiest option for a week long competition away from home for quick maintenance. All of the past Black Miss Universes won with straight hair. Chelsea’s was big and high in a more Afrocentric way. However, everyone’s hair was high and close to God back then.
On Sunday, a woman wearing her naturally tightly coiled 4c hair had a $5M dollar crown placed on her head in front of 3.8 million people live on television and the world was calling her the universe’s most beautiful person.
Can you imagine how powerful that moment is for a 13-year-old girl who was just bullied for having that very same skin complexion? Or for the thousands of Black pageants contestants who try year after year to compete in the same system that has no former titleholders who look like them. Texas just crowned their first Black women in the Miss America system. A system founded in 1921, 98 years ago.
With her natural hair, shea butter whipped brown skin and public speaking skills in line with other women leaders of our generation, Zozibini displayed love for her culture all during the competition. She wore tradition African prints and spoke boldly about women’s right to education especially since the apartheid ended in South Africa. Typically, this would have been told to lessen down because it’s “too black” but on Sunday like she said, “that ends tonight.”
Sidenote: I spoke more about how, during this time of silent discrimination against women of color, Black pageants rose in popularity.
Unfortunately, they are several horror stories from contestants, including myself, about our experiences competing in these systems. Despite the negative press, sometimes these systems made for us, by us is a woman’s only true shot at becoming a national titleholder.
It automatically evens the playing field and eliminates the bias of racial beauty while becoming an inclusive environment for like-minded Black women on the same mission to do good philanthropy, invest in their education and compete for a crown. Very few other clubs/hobbies/church groups have driven women in them who understand your desire to drop $800 on a new couture gown instead of paying your rent. Many of my adult friendships are from competing in pageants open to women of African descent.
I spoke more about this cognitive dissonance dilemma among Black contestants on the Pageants & Prosecco Podcast.