Last night, Black women dominated in the Miss USA pageant. Throughout the two-hour telecast, the 51 contestants were cut down to semifinalists and then finalists, each competing in swimsuit and evening gown segments. As the competition whittled down to the final five, three Black women were left standing on the stage: Miss North Carolina Cheslie Kryst, Miss Nevada Tianna Tuamoheloa, and Miss Oklahoma Triana Browne. Ultimately, Miss North Carolina - a full-time attorney - walked away with the Miss USA title.
In the 67-year history of the Miss USA pageant, many Black women have worn the crown. Carole Anne-Marie Gist was the first to take it in 1990, and more recently women like Deshauna Barber and Kára McCullough have taken the Miss USA title. But what made last night extra special was the fact that Kryst was handed a bouquet of flowers by Miss Teen USA 2019 Kaliegh Garris, a young Black woman who won her pageant earlier in the week. One Twitter user summed up our feelings exactly: "All these Black women snatching these crowns, literally. I love it! Miss Teen USA, now Miss USA are both Black women!"
It didn't take long for Twitter to realize that, on the other side of the pageant spectrum, the current Miss America Nia Franklin is also Black. That's three Black queens - Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss Teen USA - serving simultaneously for the first time ever.
Making an even stronger statement, both the new Miss Teen USA and Miss USA were crowned wearing their natural curls, obliterating the myth that straight hair is more likely to win. "There were a few naysayers saying, 'You look better with straight hair,' or 'You should put in extensions and straighten your natural hair," Garris told Refinery29, but she is looking forward to how her win will change that perception. "Being able to spread the message of diversity, being yourself, and being confident in your curly, natural hair is something that I'm really looking forward to with my new national title."
Although the moment is triumphant, the pageant circuit still has work to do when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. Kryst will represent the United States at Miss Universe later this year, and Black queens haven't always felt welcome on the international stage. "I had no idea how much racism I would experience from an international standpoint," Miss USA 2016 Deshauna Barber told Refinery29 about the racist remarks she had to endure while competing for Miss Universe. "[People] would send me monkey emojis, and say that my skin looked like a poop emoji and tag me in photos with apes."
But based on the internet's response to last night's historic win, there's hope that the past won't define the future. We need more Black women - like Kryst, Garris, and Franklin - winning titles, changing the beauty standards within pageantry for the better, and reinforcing the fact that women of all shades and hair types are worthy of a crown.
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