I’m not a fan of pageants. I really don’t keep up well with these things because no matter how much they scream the tagline beauty with a purpose (or is that Miss World’s), I find the world of pageantry rather trivial. Nonetheless, I tend to be aware of the Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe winners and I wish for them nothing but the best as they strut their stuff and represent my tiny homeland nation on the global stage. Over the years we have won three Miss World titles– first in 1963 by Carole Crawford, in 1976 by Cindy Breakspeare then most recently by Lisa Hanna in 1993. We still haven’t won any Miss Universe titles but we came very close to it last night with Davina Bennett, the closest we have come since Yendi Phillips’ 1st runner-up in 2010.
Over the years most of our pageant winners have looked almost identical– the minority group of our society’s lighter skinned women with long flowing weaves chosen to be the global face of Jamaica. However, for the first ever in Jamaica’s pageant history, the mold was completely shattered. A dark-skinned beauty with an afro towering high above the competition was chosen to represent Jamaica and she did us proud by bringing home the 2nd runner-up crown.
Here’s why that moment made her a winner in our eyes and a heroine to Black girls and women everywhere:
- Our hair is still politicized and a lot of internalized hatred for its kinky coils and spirals still abound. Some hairstyles like the one pictured above are still banned, frowned upon or ridiculed in schools and workplaces, even in a country with a 91% Black population like Jamaica and in many other Caribbean islands. Nonetheless, there went rebel Davina owning her African cultural retention hairstyle on the global stage, reminding us that it’s OK to be yourself.
- Davina allowed us to expand the spectrum of beauty which we have had drummed into our heads consciously or subconsciously, just by wearing her dark skin loud and proud. We don’t have to lighten our skin to be accepted as beautiful. We are blessed with melanocytes pumping melanin rich and thick and we should never have been told over 300+ years that anything was wrong with that.
- My country has come a far way in recognizing beauty. Less than half a century ago, women like Davina would never even make it past the elimination round in Miss Jamaica Universe solely based on her hair and complexion. Women her shade weren’t allowed to work in banks, at reception desks nor as flight attendants. Yes, seriously, in this 91% Black nation called Jamaica. Not even a century later came rebel Davina showing us that beauty comes in more shades than one and giving dark-skinned little girls everywhere a face on the TV at which to look that bears a skin tone close to their own.
- Much applause goes out to our world at large which has also come a far way since the days where chattel slavery of Blacks was legal, Black women were property to be raped and bred at will and were seen as inferior, fit for exploit just based on our skin pigment. The world is still plagued by skin lightening creams and pills with the hair industry still profiting billions from our race annually. Nonetheless, this rebel chose to accept herself for who she is and the world has matured enough to give her a crown for it.
My people are progressing. We are uplifting ourselves. The journey is uphill, we still have a far way to go but last night, if nothing else, would have made the likes of Marcus Garvey proud.
“The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”