Growing up in Brooklyn, watching pageants on television was this odd bonding experience for my mother and I. Although none of the contestants represented our aesthetics, (except Haitian-American, 1991 Miss America winner, Marjorie Vincent) thrice a year we'd dwell into the glamor that was the Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA competitions. My mother, being the Haitian spartan that she is, let me know early on that this seemingly parallel universe of perfect teeth and long, tousled hair was mostly smoke and mirrors -- and for a black woman almost as unattainable as touching the sun. And so, as much as I loved and enjoyed pageants, I never aspired to be a beauty queen, and later learned to revel in the fact that I am practically the anti-thesis to a pageant contestant.
A sense of nostalgia took over as I read via the Huffington Post, that France just experienced its very first "Miss Black France" pageant, and crowned a beautiful daughter of Senegal -- Mbathio Beye -- as its victor. We here in the states are no strangers to these competitions catering solely to women of color, as the Miss Black America franchise has been in existence since 1968. As a former student of political science and one with family with in France, the country's growing black population and issues with its citizens of color is nothing new to me. And so in Ms. Beye's win and the burgeoning black French beauty competitions, I found solace in the fact that the black women who are just as French as their white counterparts would find a medium in which to marvel at the different structures that make us beautiful.
So imagine my shock (yeah, not really) when I learned that, Patrick Lozès, the President of the French Representative Council of Black Associations denounced the event with the following statement:
"This logic is detrimental to the values of French society...If I think that there are not enough Black people in the most prestigious schools and companies, am I going to go create establishments exclusively reserved for Blacks?...It’s a contest that stipulates that white women are not welcome, which is very disturbing. This initiative could be perceived as a hostile event that will further erode national unity..."And once again we have a black person worrying about the feelings of the very people who have forced his own kind to create the very show he is so against. When I read Mr. Lozès' words, I could only imagine the standing ovation with which supporters of racism and patriarchy are applauding him. How can a show that celebrates the beauty of blackness be "detrimental" to French society? Is it because it is threatening this fallacy of the equation: whiteness = French/European that France has been drastically clinging to? Why is Mr. Lozès denying black women the agency to have a full representation in a society that would have many of us in the States believe barely exist?!
Sometimes we here in the US become so befuddled with our issues and fight to be seen as human that we forget that we have our sisters throughout the globe are waging the same battles on their homefronts. Pageants are usually battled by feminists who see it as patriarchy at work, yet in this case I see it as the contrary. France's first black pageant and Mr. Lozes' despicable statement prove why we need more mediums for us to present ourselves in our diversity and greatness. I don't think there is an image that is more spit on and humiliated than that of the black woman's. We try to enter the mainstream and are told we cannot because our hair is too kinky and curly, noses too broad and lips too full. We create our own space to celebrate ourselves only to be told by our male counterparts that doing so is "hostile" to "national unity."
I applaud Ms. Beye's win and all the participants of the 2012 Miss Black France competition. And I will continue to applaud and support all efforts to make sure that we are seen for who and what we are. Mr. Lozès and all his supporters are the dreams of the white slave masters, nothing more. Sadly so, I expect his kind to always spew their negativity where positive spaces are carved out for Black women...just as I expect the sun to not be within reach.
Valerie Jean-Charles is a 23 year old community servant and writer in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Political Science from Fordham University. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.