Miss Black America will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Kansas City with the pomp expected from the nation’s oldest pageant for women of color. Kansas Citians should welcome organizers and contestants to the area next month.
But as Miss Black America marks this notable milestone, pageant officials should reconsider their stance on the past-its-prime swimsuit competition.
Contestants in the pageant, which will be held Aug. 11-18, are judged in three categories: talent, swimsuit and projection from a question-and-answer session.
Last month, Miss America officials announced their pageant would discontinue the swimsuit and evening gown competitions. Organizers wanted to shift away from judging contestants' physical appearance.
Miss Black America officials have no such plans, though. The two pageants are not affiliated.
“This is not the Black Miss America pageant,” said Aleta Anderson, executive producer of Miss Black America and daughter of pageant founder J. Morris Anderson. “We are not looking at the model of the Miss America pageant to determine our programming.”
Miss Black America began in 1968 as form of protest to counter the all-white Miss America pageant. The organization has always followed its own blueprint.
But would jettisoning the swimsuit competition be such a bad thing? Culturally, yes, Anderson said. Women have the ability to show off their physiques and still articulate intelligent thoughts about social ills, she said.
“Our programming is related to black identity and culture,” Anderson said. “We are going to have the most confident, loving-myself-some-me, cultural swimsuit competitions and presentations Kansas City has ever seen.”
African-American women were essentially banned from pageants until 1968. They were portrayed in the media and entertainment industries as ugly, Anderson said.
Many black people themselves believed dark skin and broad features were unattractive, she said. The self-image for people of color in this country was stunted. The pageant’s hardline stance resulted from that history.
“It wasn’t just a protest against the media,” Anderson said. “It was a protest of the black community buying into the propaganda. And that is still prevalent in some cases.”
Over time, Miss Black America has been buoyed by the winds of social change. Now, in this moment of Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement to combat sexual assault and the ongoing fight for gender equality, the pageant has the opportunity to spearhead progress.
But is the organization willing to look inward and consider the image it wants to project in the future?
“Yes we are concerned with political and social issues, but we are also concerned with celebrating ourselves and loving ourselves and having the confidence to be self-aware,” Anderson said.
Fifty years after its inception, Miss Black America still sets the standard for women of color who have style, grace and strength. The pageant also offers an important megaphone for those women to discuss social issues.
Simply forsaking the swimsuit competition could bring the event in line with the times and propel the organization to its next half-century celebrating smart, strong women of color.