Why Miss Universe 2017 was a disappointment for black people in South Africa

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By Kay-Lee Dramat

On November 27th, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (Miss South Africa) won the international Miss Universe pageant. This may have been a major win for South Africa, but not for the black and brown bodies within the country.  Historically, beauty pageants only celebrated Eurocentric beauty standards and this has been prevalent in South Africa as well. Spaces such as these have previously been known to be non-inclusive.

Many people held their breath in the hopes that the new Miss Universe would be coloured, but much to their dismay, she is not. It is no secret that Miss South Africa is white and that white people are a minority within the country. This shows that she is not a true representation of the women within the country, but it does not mean that South Africans are not proud of her.

It is evident that Miss SA comes from privilege, and has had years to practice for this critical moment in her life. It is also noteworthy to mention that when Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters won the Miss SA pageant, many of the other contestants claimed that she had an advantage being the only contestant with an entourage consisting of a private pageant coach and personal make-up artist. She had also formed close relationships with Cindy Nel, Miss SA 2003, and allegedly with two of the judges. Miss SA responded to the allegations denying foul play, saying: “The only interactions I had with the judges were during the official judging sessions and all the girls were present.”

Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. Image by Steve Marcus, Reuters, featured on ABS-CBN News Nov 27 2017 11:00 AM

In the history of the Miss Universe pageant there has only been five black winners. However these previous winners have assimilated into white beauty standards by relaxing their hair and wearing weaves. This makes Miss Jamaica 2017, who wore her natural hair, even more notable. It is important for young black and brown girls to know that they could also be standing on one of the biggest stages in the world and be proud of their dark skin and natural hair. Black people worldwide put their hopes on Davina Bennet, Miss Jamaica. Issa Rae, producer, director and actress in the hit series, Insecure, also proudly stated that she was indeed “rooting for everybody black”. This statement resonated with many black people, who felt the need to throw their weight behind one of their own, because so often, many others don’t. When one comes from an underrepresented demographic, rooting for your own is warranted.  With her brown skin and afro, Bennet clearly falls outside of the idea of traditional beauty as defined by white culture. Bearing that in mind, it is safe to say that Bennet had to conquere more to become second princess, which is often the case for black people within white spaces.

There has only been five previous black Miss SA’s, which may seem ironic for a country like South Africa. This may teach young black girls to aspire to whiteness. However this year it was clearly evident that more of the contestants sported their natural hair. Miss Jamaica, Miss Brazil and Miss USA being among these ladies. Black people regard this as step towards embracing their own beauty.

It is important for people to realise that these pageants are unfair towards black people on many grounds.  But for now, black people will continue to root for their own. Wanting black and brown bodies in these spaces are necessary to empower young children to embrace their own beauty without conforming to white beauty standards.

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14 thoughts on “Why Miss Universe 2017 was a disappointment for black people in South Africa

  1. ColourfulMan Reply

    In SA colour is always an issue, n you the writer play the race card here. regardless of her colour race or creet I support miss sa/universe she south African not white as long as you see colour this country will never be free from its racist pass.

  2. HowDareIFreedomOfSpeach Reply

    I”m all for black and brown people achieving great things on the world stage, should it be, art, culture, sceince. I am all for it. But black and brown people have no more, and no less than the same amount of support I give towards any race, culture or gender to achieve their goals on the world stage. You wanna be the first black man on the moon? Go for it! You wanne be the first asian afrikaans rapper? By all means!! You sould’nt use culture, race, religion, privilage or lack there of as an excuse for your owm short comings. In SA, colour has always been an issue. And i feel its merely used as an excuse.

    Black Coffee, can create much better music than me and most white DJs (in my opinion) who have function in both their arms. He does not use his disability as an exccuse for failure. Natalie Du Toit wil swim faster than i ever could, but i have both legs. Theres a black student this year, who got his Phd (i can’t remember where, i think KzN) at 28 or something, he is the youngest ever to achieve this in his field of study. His mother is a domestic worker, he does not come from privilage at all. And the whole world is full of similar examples.

    In your view, (im geussing/ might be wrong), i am a white afrikaans male. I have benefited from white monopoly and white privilage all my life. And yet somehow this means its my fault if you don’t achieve your goals? Look at these people, look at what they have achieved without the privileges you so eagerly give credit to for success. I struggle to survive like every other person on this planet. Yet I keep going and try to overcome one obstacle to the next.

    I don”t care, who you are, I dont care where your from, i dont care about gender, or race or culture. But if you strive and achieve success against overwhelming odds, you will always have my support and that of many other people. Stop your excuses, they are weak.

  3. nico saaiman Reply

    Oh for goodness sake why must everything be about colour,why cant we all just accept each other as human beings.Well done Demi-Leigh I am super proud of you from a coloured South African

  4. Naomi Reply

    When will people stop judging the outer appearance. 20+ years and ye no change.So sad. I am proudly South African not proudly any colour. Let’s stand together as a country and not as races.

  5. Cecilia VC Reply

    This article seems poorly informed. Demi-Leigh looks and is most likely at least some part Cape Coloured.

    • Mstubaugh Reply

      Correct she is a college educated cape colored. Who fights for and represents women for equality in business and employment. Any excuse to put another woman down.?What a joke of journalism!

  6. Virgill Gericke Reply

    Well balanced article Kay Lee. Informed by our history under apartheid South Africa, one can hardly compare black beauty vs white beauty. The gap is simply too wide. They will never ever be on equal footing and the same priciple applies worldwide. As much as we try to deny this uneven “yoke”, we have to admit that many of these competitions are commercial of nature and do not reflect the real ‘rules of beauty’ in an African context.

  7. Kelsey Reply

    I do believe that this article is correct. Also this is a platform created for white people by white people historically. And even though times have changed the ideology is the same. Demi-leigh is beautiful, however in a true post racial South Africa the result should have been different.
    Also there is no doubt she had prevention treatment along the way.
    Black is still seen as ugly and won’t measure up to whiteness.

  8. Kelsey Reply

    There is no doubt that racism is an issue for SA, it’s always ironic to see how white people seems to know the most about black pain.

  9. AnIkey Reply

    How about we look at the analysis of the scores from the this year’s pageant? That’s if they’re there

  10. Monica Reply

    White or not she was the most beautiful gal on stage. Put race card aside. You deserve it gal 100%. .#proudofyou

  11. Teboho P Matlamela Reply

    This article is what I expected to her from the masses in South Africa.That fact that a Dutch invader is representing the country is RIDICULOUS.Great write up for this pageant set South Africa back 10 to 20 years.Are daughters are being propagated to accepted eurocenric Beauty as the standard in Africa!Great to see that there are people who see and understand the importance,of embracing are own.

  12. Saan Reply

    So true, Demi- Leigh did us proud yes well done and may u have many success in this life.We so tired of the race card,we are all humans.If a white person gets nominated then it’s like huh….excuse us how Is this possible,then race card comes in.Laim excuses for 20 years.I’m a Cape Town coloured proudly,we always in the middle as usual,but we don’t throw race cards.If a black person achieve something well done,he earned it,work for it,not getting it back door or by luck.We support the success and same goes for white achievements,so yes Demi won fair and square,just stop breaking people down if they not black.May God be with South Africa.

  13. Anonymous Reply

    Truly it would’ve been just as great to have Jamaica win. Though I must ask why such an event had to be pulled out of context? If it were America who had won or any other country would your reactions have been the same?

    Yes it’s a pageant about beauty, but also beauty within. Now I do not know any of those woman there, but instead of pointing out what was wrong encourage more beautiful woman to go and do such events. It shouldn’t be about race! Aren’t we celebrating the beauty of all woman all over the world? I’m proud of Miss Universe no matter what her race and even if she did not win Jamaica inspired woman to be proud of who they are. Why does it always have to be about race? Social media can so easily dim ones spirit with all it always has to say in light of successes. We can never forget our racial issues but we also cannot continue to throw them into a situation everytime it is not to our liking. We are supposed to change what happened in the past yet we are heading down the same path, how is that moving forward. It does not mean turning a blind eye or pointing fingers. It’s actually helping uplift each other and supporting one another.

    This was really not about any racial remarks made. I believe you are entitled to your own opinion, what does anger me is that those were woman up there representing woman all over the world and not just them little girls aspiring to one day walk those paths. Are we really going to let their heads be filled with words such as “privilege”, “race”, and “misfortune”. In reality hard work pays off and so many have proven it no matter what their circumstance is.

    We should give them more hope.

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