Michael Abrahams | Big up yuhself, Davina!
I am not a fan of international beauty contests. Pageants such as Miss World and Miss Universe no longer hold my interest as much as they did when I was in my youth.
Yes, I absolutely love to look at beautiful women, but as I got older I also became aware that these competitions are heavily skewed in favour of women with Eurocentric features. These events do little to enhance the self-confidence of black women, who rarely are crowned the most beautiful. Just visit an Internet search engine and enter ‘Miss World’ or ‘Miss Universe’ and you will be bombarded with images of white and other light-skinned women with straight noses and long, flowing tresses cascading down their necks, backs and shoulders.
Black women have long been marginalised in the international beauty queen arena, and on the rare occasions when they are victorious, it is usually the ‘brownings’ who prevail. So, many black girls are raised in an environment that leads them to believe that they are inferior, and that their complexions, facial features and hair are not up to scratch.
Two years ago, I wrote a column titled ‘Black dolls matter’. I was prompted to write it when, during the week before Christmas, I visited a popular toy store and could not find a single black doll among the more than 100 on display on the shelves. The beauty contests and the preponderance of white dolls send messages to black girls that they are not pretty enough.
So, I pay little attention to Miss Universe, Miss World and other pageants, and was unaware of when this year’s Miss Universe contest was scheduled to be held. I only realised when I came home the Saturday evening and was greeted by shrieks of excitement in my living room when it was announced that Miss Jamaica was in the top five. And that was when I saw Davina Bennett, a dark-skinned woman sporting an Afro being elevated to a position that would make her a realistic contender for the coveted crown.
At this point, I became riveted to my television screen. I watched as Davina was announced to be in the top three, then second runner-up (third place).
Women of colour have occasionally done well at Miss Universe. Last year’s first runner-up, Raquel Pelissier (Miss Haiti), is a fitting example. But, like many black beauty queens, she sported straight Eurocentric hair at the contest. By wearing her hair the way she did, Davina displayed guts. Lots of guts. Many black women believe that in order to look their best, their hair has to be straightened, or they need to wear weaves or wigs made of false hair or human hair from women of other ethnicities.
What is sobering are the comments being made about Davina making a “bold political statement”. These competitions are supposed to be international. It is the norm for white, Latino and Asian women to allow their naturally straight hair to grow and fall alongside their faces. When a black woman allows her hair to flourish naturally, it “makes a statement”. It is sad that this is true.
This ought to be a wake-up call to black Jamaicans. Europeans have done a great job of manipulating us. They told us how to dress, and we follow like sheep, sometimes insisting on wearing hot and long-sleeved clothes, even though we live in a tropical climate and may feel uncomfortable wearing them at times. They told us how to worship, bombarding us with images of a white Jesus, looking more like them than us. They treated the lighter-skinned slaves better than the darker ones. They made us reject our blackness.
Davina’s high placement should not be taken lightly. Her visibility and success have the potential to positively affect the self-confidence of black girls looking on. I respect Davina for being herself and I am grateful to her for representing our country so well. She is an inspiration to black women, not just here, but overseas as well.
Shonda Rhimes, the fabulously talented, award-winning African-American television producer (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder), screenwriter and author, tweeted, “I am clearly going to need some Miss Jamaica dolls for my daughters. So they can play with a doll that shows them they are fully EVERYTHING the universe ever needed.” Magazines such as Allure, Elle, Essence and People also heaped praises on our beauty queen and her look.
Black women, wake up. And stay awake. You are beautiful. Do not allow anyone to lead you to think otherwise.