If you have been living under a rock, you have missed the Superbowl of Pageantry on Mother’s Day. On May 14th, Deshauna Barber took the stage to crown her successor Kara McCullough as the new 2017 Miss USA. It was something that we have not seen on the USA stage in a long time. For the first time since 1989, a state has won back to back Miss USA titles. Most noticeably, another African American beauty crowned another African American beauty. I do not want to make this a post about racial discrepancies in pageantry, as that topic has been beaten down time and time again. However, I want to shed light to what it means to me, and other African American women who compete in pageantry. I want this article to be considered an open letter and I am completely open to feedback once you read this entire piece. Now let’s have fun!
I personally have been competing in pageantry for 6 years. I was not the typical standard of beauty, nor did I dawn the same “look” that a lot of the winners of these pageants had. I was not extraordinarily skinny, blonde, or Caucasian. When I transitioned from multicultural pageants to predominately white pageantry, I noticed that not a lot of the girls in the competition looked like me…at all. In fact, if there was diversity, it was probably one other girl who maybe looked like me. Let’s not get me started on finding someone who knew how to do my hair, or match my makeup to my skin tone.
I struggled for years trying to understand the systems, what they were looking for in a titleholder, and what I had to do to be successful. As an African American competitor in a world that was not completely diversified, you can imagine the difficulty. I finally figured out that most titleholders were different from the rest which is why they were crowned.
Not because they were skinny, tall, black, or white, but because they exuded that royal aura. They were figureheads in their communities, unorthodox in their hobbies, and, for the most part, awesome people to be around. I realized that instead of me trying to fit into a mold that I could not fit into, it was best I embrace my vital and key difference. I was black and I was proud of the woman I was. I understood how important it was for me to compete in these pageants and represent for the young girls who feel like they will not have chance to be a Miss USA, or miss anything.
Which brings me to these two recent queens. For the first time, in a long time, we had a queen that resonated with the African American community, was in the military, and was poised throughout all the hate. I will never forget when Deshauna was crowned, the amount of hatred she received on Twitter destroyed me and several other black queens. She was called tar baby, monkey, and not a true representation of the USA. Through it all she held her head high and proved her adversaries wrong. The crowning of the New Miss USA Kara McCullough was so important to African American Women in pageantry because it renewed our faith in pageantry and reminded us that our hard work will not go unnoticed because of the color of our skin. These two queens also rocked their natural curls and looked stunning doing so. I do not think anyone will know how it feels to be in a pageant and feel like the only reason you made top 10 was because the top needed to be “diverse”. Not only was this the most diverse top 10 in history, it was the most educated, well rounded, and beautiful group we have seen in a while. I am proud to know that we are no longer a quota to be met and that it did not take five to ten years to see this happen again.
I commend the Miss USA organization and all pageant systems for realizing that inclusion and embracing differences in our race, body shapes, and backgrounds is imperative to continue to build a community of strong and powerful women. I am happy to see that Kara has also weathered the social media onslaught that occurred after her crowning. To all queens, stay true to yourself, embrace the process, and know that with each of our victories, no matter what we look like, we are a step closer to making the world a better place. Through our advocacy, our backgrounds, and the life experiences we have conquered, we can make a change that will impact our future. Congratulations Kara McCollough on becoming the new Miss USA and best of luck to all queens who will be competing in their respective competitions this summer. Check out Miss USA’s interview on Good Morning America where she will be explaining what she meant by her controversial on stage answers.