For the first time in American history, the reigning queens of the Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA are black women, leading some to protest, claiming it’s a sign that “political correctness” has corrupted the process and led to Black women having an unfair advantage in the contests.
I call BS.
It took 63 years for the first Black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, to be crowned in 1984 and 38 years for the first Black Miss USA, Carole Anne-Marie Gist, to be crowned. Yet, it took only eight years for the first Black to win the Miss Teen USA title.
Decades of exclusionism, bias and racism prevented Black women from even competing in the Miss America Pageant (established in 1921) and the Miss USA Pageant (founded in 1952).
These were important periods in America history when segregation and the civil rights movement were critical to removing barriers that that prevented Blacks from vying in most competitions, including beauty pageants. When those barriers were broken for the first two pageants, it set the stage so that by the time the Miss Teen USA Pageant was established in 1983 -- some 62 years after the Miss America Pageant was founded and the Civil Rights movement began -- it took just eight years to crown a Black Miss Teen USA.
Times changed. Attitudes changed. Pageants became more diverse and judges were less inclined to let the taint of racial bias influence the outcome of the competitions. Thus, Black women broke history on the strength of their ability to compete effectively with White women for these titles.
Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Three Queens, One Common Refrain
Following the announcement on May 3 that for the first time all three winners of these elite contests are black women, hundreds of media outlets reported on this historic achievement.
Black women hailed this as a hard-fought achievement decided in favor of worthy competitors who just happened to be Black. But many White commentators on social media claimed it was political correctness run amok, as they claim it has with recent, historic wins for Black actors and actresses at the Oscars, American film’s most prestigious awards. Suddenly, these competitions were handing out awards to undeserving Blacks rather than white people who deserved to win.
It’s hard to take this patently false and unfair criticism seriously, mostly because these same people had zero criticism when most of the competitors and 97% of the winners of these contests were white women. The assumption then is that these women deserved to win, but Black women somehow don’t.
Forget the fact that most of the judges in these competitions are white and that the competitors have to meet the same minimum criteria of academic excellence, outstanding character and a history of winning in previous competitions. In the minds of these critics, none of this matters – Blacks were just handed these titles in the name of political correctness.
These same critics never questioned the merit of the hundreds of white competitors; yet deign to demand proof that the Black competitors “deserve” to win. How hypocritical and racist is that?
What these pageants demonstrate is that you can’t win a contest when you’re shut out. However, once the barrier is broken, Black women, like women of other ethnicities, will see that as an aspiration and work hard to achieve such a title.
Given the opportunity, Black women can and will contribute their mathematical genius to help America win important achievements in space (like Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures), become the first Black and most educated first lady in American History (like Michelle Obama) and all in the same year, hold the titles of all three signature beauty pageants in America, like Cheslie Kryst, a lawyer from North Carolina, who won Miss USA; Kaleigh Garris, a high school senior from Connecticut who won Miss teen USA and Nia Franklin, a composer and reigning Miss America.
When will America accept that Blacks who work hard to excel have earned the right to that same recognition that it never questions when the winner is white?
Stacy Fitzgerald is a Washington, DC area Gen Xer whose obsessions include politics, traveling and food and wine ventures.