McDaniels: Black beauty queens, black Santas and dolls with afros
By Andrea K. McDaniels
Dec 19, 2019 at 2:56 PM
We can mark 2019 as the year of the black woman in beauty pageants.
With the crowning of Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica as Miss World last Saturday, black women hold the titles of five of the world’s major beauty pageants.
On one hand it’s a sign of the slow-paced evolution of pageants and their absurd, culturally exclusive, narrow view of beauty — white and wispy thin Barbie-doll standards that are insulting and unattainable for most women.
But that only scratches the surface of what the achievement means when a woman with rich brown skin walks down the stage with a sparkling tiara and signature sash across her body as millions of people watch. It’s about the positive image of a black woman portrayed to all of those viewers tuned into their televisions for the results.
The imaging in culture, media and entertainment shapes the way we perceive others, and too often that image of black people is one-dimensional and steeped in stereotypes. Ms. Singh, with her victory, became a part of the mainstream world that black people have been isolated from. For so long, black women barely competed in, let alone won pageants.
The push for more complex images of black people is why we also need more black princesses in Disney movies, black characters in children’s books, black Santa Clauses and black dolls with Afro puffs and braids. Not to mention, roles in movies and television shows that go beyond the stereotypical drug dealers, musicians athletes and corrupt politicians. After all, black people work in commendable professions, such as law, medicine and education, too.
It’s obvious how this type of inclusion would raise the collective self-esteem and worth of African Americans. Black children have something more to strive for when they see people who look like them in all parts of life. They feel proud that Ms. Singh won a beauty pageant and they can too. Adults don’t feel left out of a world they have every right to be a part of.
Yet, it’s just not about black people seeing themselves. It’s about white people, and those of other cultures, also being exposed to people of color in a normal light and doing everyday mundane activities. When we aren’t seen in multi-faceted roles, we become homogenous in white people’s minds. It’s why someone might refer to the white person in the doctor’s office as the surgeon, when they’re actually the receptionist and it’s the black person who wears the white coat. It’s why a white person might feel a little nervous when a black man in an office building gets on the elevator, even though he’s dressed in a suit. And it’s why a man at a bar incessantly asked my co-worker if he played for the Ravens.
Then there’s Santa. This time of year always brings up concerns about the lack of black Santas. There are not enough. In Baltimore, Santa Luke has for decades been the jolly toy giver at Mondawmin Mall that doesn’t depict the white fat guy, but looks like the kids in the neighborhood. But there are far too few black Santas. So much so that it made big news when The Mall of America hired its first three years ago.
One mom started a Find Black Santa app because she wanted her kids to see a Santa that looked like them. Kudos to that mom for her ingenuity and concern. We also don’t want black Santas to be just for black kids. Kids of all hues needs to see black Santas too so they don’t grow up believing the world is all white. It shouldn’t be unusual to see a black Santa at every mall.
Not too long ago, we might have also thought beauty pageants were also not for black women. Yes, there are issues with the very existence of pageants that measure a woman’s physical appearance. But the fact is, millions of people watch them, and they start to reflect standards of beauty whether we want them to or not.
Now, those images include Ms. Singh; Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, who was recently named Miss Universe (sporting her natural hair, I should add); Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris; Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Miss America Nia Franklin.