By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Recently, I congratulated TeKema Balentine for winning the coveted title of Ms. Black USA. TaKema is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and represented our state in the national pageant, after being crowned Ms. Black Wisconsin. It was with great pride that I wanted to acknowledge the hard work and accomplishments of this Madison College nursing student. So, like the neighbor who brags on the accomplishments of other folks’ children, I took to social media and my weekly legislative update, to highlight TaKema’s victory. It didn’t take long for the excitement of the moment to be interrupted. Upon reading my update, a constituent sent me the following email.
“I wonder how much of an uproar there would be if we had a “miss white usa” pageant. Racist much? Why do non-white Americans promote racism? Segregated beauty pageants. Segregated tv rewards. Segregated colleges. Segregated concerts. All being pushed by…. non-whites. All the while, you scream that whites, particularly white men, are racist… simply because…, we were born white…. This is backwards and not at all what MLK had in mind.”
There were others that said Black people needed to “move on” or “get over” the past and do away with our segregated activities. As I sat and read the comments, I was not angry, hurt, or sad. Afterall, I’d been here before. I’ve long fielded questions about why the need for historically black colleges in the 21st century? I’ve been asked why do you all (insert the word black people) hold your own music award programs and continue ways to separate yourselves from the rest of America. Needless to say, when I sat down to pen a response to the constituent, I started and stopped, or erased and deleted, my words more than a few times. This is the response I settled on.
If you understand the history of both the Ms. America and the Ms. USA pageants, you would understand the need for a Ms. Black America.
The first Ms. America pageant was started in 1920. As you can guess, Black women were not allowed to enter the competition.
The first Black woman to participate was in in 1971. She required a security detail while she participated.
The first Black woman to win the pageant was in 1984, some 64 years after the pageant started.
The Ms. Black America Pageant was started in 1968, to protest the exclusion of black women in the Ms. America Pageant.
So, the only racism was leveled at Black women from the beginning.
The first Ms. USA pageant was started in 1952
The first Black woman to win the Ms. USA pageant was in 1990.
So, there has always been an “implied” or “defacto” Ms. White America or Ms. White USA, based on the unfortunate history of our country.
Black people learned to validate their own beauty.
Pulling away from my keyboard, I wanted my response to be devoid of emotion. Just the facts. I didn’t say that the Ms. Black USA pageant was started in 1986, for pretty much the same reasons the Ms. Black America pageant was started. I didn’t say how frustrating it is to be questioned about black institutions, traditions, and events. Whether created to uplift, acknowledge, or honor the work and contributions of a race of people, these organizations and activities were born in direct response to the exclusion and denial of black humanity. Today, there are those who would have us deny our realities again. This is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the 1st enslaved Africans being brought to these shores. We owe it to them to celebrate how their struggles paved the way for TaKema, Lena and the rest of us. Ashay