When Pretty Hurts: Reconciling My Nationality and My Racial Politics

I am against beauty pageants in all their forms. In my opinion they remind me of quadroon balls where women of color were basically vying for the attention of wealthy white men to marry and improve their stock. The question section was evidence of this archaic practice as the questions asked were not complex in anyway and the contestants were forced to answer in under thirty seconds (More importantly this thing is funded by Trump). In 2015 are we still determining a woman’s beauty and intellect base on 30 seconds of them speaking and about 3 minutes of them walking (Evening gown, swimsuit, costume)? It appears so but that isn’t even why I’m writing this post. I am writing this post because as a Jamaican I am deeply upset but not surprised by the results of the competition. The crowd and apparently other contestants felt that Kaci Fennell should have won and I agree. At the same time I stand by my statements I made before in my previous post, Jamaica does have lingering systemic issues with race and skin color that need to be addressed. For example the play character Delcita is played by an actress wearing blackface. Though blackface does not have the same historical weight  as it does in the US it is still used to attempt to convey that Delcita is supposed to be ugly in addition to being somewhat dimwitted. It is in this context that it is understandable why true beauty representation does not exist. That aside here is why as a Jamaican I was upset (even if I wasn’t Jamaican I’d still be upset because she was the darkest one there in the top 5 and did not win).

Last night’s results at the Miss Universe competition are evidence as to why skin color issues are allowed to abound because only a certain type is allowed to win. I mentioned ithat the piece was a critique of how race and beauty operate in Jamaica yet that is a microcosm of racial dynamics when compared to the macrocosm that is major beauty pageant presents. The truth is skin color is a global problem and it can be argued that seeing who the winners tend to be as either white or racial ambiguous it is easy to why similar contestants would need to be chosen in order to compete in an international competition. So how do I reconcile my national pride without surrendering my commentary on racial politics at play? I just do I guess. I am one who is against “you must choose a side” logic. I criticize Jamaica because I love it. For example, I love and look up to Usain Bolt but if God forbid he ever used performance enhancing drugs knowingly I would condemn the use but still support his road to getting clean. The same is how I look at Jamaica. I do embrace “Out of many, one people” but I also understand how it can be used as a crutch to prevent conversations about the systemic racial problems the country faces. Part of me wants Jamaica to be more accepting of all the beauties that are within its borders (the ideal would be for these competitions to be done away with but I won’t hold my breath) but this desire is not restricted to Jamaica but everywhere. Kaci did present a different beauty than what I normally see represented at these pageants and in that case it was amazing and necessary. Her not winning is also a testament to how beauty standards are still constructed on a global scale (It was also problematic that the judges were all men though because if implicit bias means anything it is easy to see how certain people ranked higher). All in all beauty pageants don’t prove a thing about a woman’s self worth and beauty but only contribute to our global problem especially with our dark girls. Some might say “well at least a woman of color won” and they are right to extent but in my honest opinion the fetishization of latina women allows for this. Latin women who have light enough skin can still be considered beautiful in a white supremacist system. Kaci was the darkest one up there which I expected but also shows a part of the problem. When a dark skinned afro-Colombian woman wins Miss Universe call me.

That’s why for me Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis prove why they don’t need the approval of society to be considered beautiful because beauty comes from within and not without. Just look at them embracing their dark skin and natural hair going against societal norms!

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