Written by Penelope Farthing
Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe this week, and let me tell you that I am pleased as punch! She, to me, represents the ultimate archetype of black womanhood: the deep chocolatey skin, the banging body, the 4c textured hair, and with a fade to boot! I love fades on women with TWAs though, so that’s just my preference. She is so beautiful and I. Am. SO. HAPPY.
She looks incredible and this is a glorious win for black women. Zozibini and women like her, like the (non-exhaustive list of) beauties this year, from Angola, the Bahamas, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and so on, is what should be relentlessly pushed forth as our standard. We only stand to gain when the BEST of us are put in the spotlight. Uplifting the ratchet and the wretched, even though they look like us too, only does us a disservice.
Now on to the topic at hand.
I don’t watch pageants, but if I remember to, I like to have a look at the contestants from majority black nations to see who was selected as their representative. This year, some majority black countries selected biracial (meaning black mixed with something else) pageant queens to represent them on a global stage. This is not a new thing, either. Additionally, two majority white countries also had biracial women representing them too. This is what I wanted to talk about.
I think I diverge from the pack in this regard, but I don’t count the wins of biracial women as a win for black women when it comes to representation. What do I mean? I think biracial women are beautiful and talented and deserve their wins, but a win for them simply does not trickle to fully black women. Life is a competition, and no one is out here taking turns to be on top.
Biracial women tend to be uplifted more because of their features resulting from their proximity to whiteness. These features may be the looser textured, curly hair, or the lighter eyes, or the fairer skin tone. Simply put, there are privileges that result from being biracial. Those privileges may be rooted in colorism and racism and all the other -isms, but they are privileges all the same. This phenomenon is especially evident in the media, where biracial and mixed women are cast in roles over black women. Moreover, though these privileges may not extend to every biracial woman, they still exist, even if you as a biracial woman may not personally experience them.
I don’t particularly believe trickle down blackonomics works for unambiguously, unmixed black women. While beautiful, and the product of an interracial relationship with a black mother, biracial women like the winners of Miss USA and Miss Teen USA’s phenotype does not represent the average black woman. Claiming these women in the blackness fold contributes to our erasure, and emboldens biracial women to hop in and out of black spaces and roles as they see fit (the quintessential examples: Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone and Halle Berry/Alex Shipp as Storm). Defining what blackness is and looks like is not divisive – it’s necessary. Like I said in my (contentious) post…biracial is not an insult.
The specific countries I wanted to touch on are Haiti, Jamaica, and Namibia, all pictured below.
I was unable to find anything on Miss Haiti’s parents. She could have two black parents, albeit on the lighter end of the spectrum. But I do know her hair texture and skin tone are not characteristic of the majority of Haitians. Miss Jamaica’s father is Swiss, and mother is Cuban, therefore making her mixed. Miss Namibia, as the kids say, is a whole white woman.
I’m not taking away from their respective Haitianness, Jamaicanness, or Namibianness, but the fact remains that the overwhelming majority ethnicity of the nations they hail from are monoracial black people. These women are beautiful winners in their own right, but it’s too common an occurrence that majority-black nations are putting forward mixed-with-black, or nonblack in some cases winners on a global stage. One would think that when given the chance to put forward the best and brightest of black beauty to represent your nation, globally, there would be no hesitation for the dark skin and natural hair archetype to take center-stage. But alas, that’s not the case.
Look at the reaction when Davina Bennett (also from Jamaica) took the stage, there were cheers the whole world round because of her well-moisturized, gravity defying, beautiful, stunning afro. (Can you tell I love afros? I really love afros, guys.)
That should be our standard, and it shouldn’t be considered an anomaly when a black woman competes in a beauty competition wearing her hair the way it grows out of her head. And yet, here we are. Miss Sierra Leone is arguably one of the most beautiful contestants this year, looking like a doll. But the wig she wore does her no justice.
I wish the below is how she competed, because she looks AMAZING!
I wanted to shine a light on Namibia also. I had to go back to 2013 to find an unambiguously black winner. Mind you, Namibia’s demographics is 87% black, 6% mixed, 6% white, so something isn’t adding up. For reference, Jamaica is 92% black and 6% mixed race, and Haiti is 95% black and 5% mixed race. However, I’m not Namibian and have no dog in that fight, I just wanted to point that out.
Two majority white nations (both >90% white) also put forth biracial beauties this year, Miss Iceland and Miss Ireland, pictured below.
This is great for them, and once again, I’m not taking away from their beauty or their win, but let’s look at this with a critical eye. It would be far more monumental if someone like Miss Tanzania, that is, unambiguously black, were crowned in majority-white nations.
Also, majority white nations who put forth a biracial woman to represent them is not the same as when majority black nations do it. The white standard of beauty has been elevated to everybody’s standard of beauty, whether we are white or not, and whether we like it or not. White women have all sorts of positive promotion, be it in pageants, or the media, or anywhere else. A white woman from any nation could see herself in most of the competitors, for example. The black standard of beauty is under attack from all sides, so when we get the chance to define it, pushing forward women, who, while beautiful, only represent 50% blackness, seems counterproductive. After all, only 8 African nations competed this year.
Has there been a time when a majority white nation (other than heavy hitters like the US and UK, who are more diverse) crowned a fully black woman as their nation’s pageant queen? If so, let me know in the comments. If all these other countries have no problem making sure that their Miss Wherever matches the overwhelming majority ethnicity, why can’t/won’t/don’t Namibia and Jamaica and Haiti do the same?
One comment I’ve seen online is that the one drop rule isn’t as widely promulgated in countries outside America. While that may be true, when pageants like Miss Universe roll around it’s hard to ignore the obvious remnants of it. For all the declaration of wanting to be recognized for our own unique beauty, and the melanin popping, and the black girl magics, these competitions show that there are still many in-house issues around black beauty that we need to fix as well. Whether we want to admit it or not, black people uphold the one drop rule more than anyone else.
All in all, I’m thrilled Miss South Africa won, with the black-ass audacity of being dark skinned and “bald”-headed. I hope this is a trend that continues and that inspires black women worldwide to embrace their unique features and face the world in their best self.
What are your thoughts on the Miss Universe win? Do you think Trickle Down Blackonomics is a help or a hindrance to fully black women? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Penelope, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.