On The Outcome of this Year’s Skin Parade

September 2, 2009

I sent a version of this to the Gleaner; I doubt they will publish it.

While I may be one of the few Jamaicans who do not care for the annual Miss Jamaica skin parades ie. “beauty pageants”, I find some of the criticisms about this year’s selection rather disingenuous and void of basic historical perspective.  To suggest that a light-skinned woman is not authentically Jamaican – ie. is a foreigner – and therefore should not even be in competition with or selected over a dark-skinned (more authentic?) Jamaican woman makes absolutely no sense.   While I agree with the basic critique concerning the everlasting lightness (with a few dark ones sprinkled in between) of the beauty queens, and agree that the judges’ choice reflects a pervasive racist notion that is rubbed in our face in an expensive and public way each year ie. that the closer one is to European-ness, the more beautiful one is considered.  However, I want to deal with the “authentic vs. foreigner” issue which keeps coming up – “she look like a foreigner” – because I think this way of framing a legitimate issue is historically and socially inaccurate, really disrespectful and utterly divisive.

The ancestors of those of us of darker African phenotype came to these shores often on the same boats as many of those European traders, sailors, etc. who are the ancestors of many Jamaicans, including Kerrie Baylis. Their histories are intertwined with ours in a complicated, sometimes exploitative and violent way, but too often, the cultural nationalist impulse to brand Jamaica as “Black” allows us to choose to ignore or forget these details, and to call them “foreigners”.

True, far too many of the brown elite will happily retrace their history to the 16th and 17th centuries when their forebears came as traders, merchants, bankers, etc. to these shores, and carefully ignore the role those foreparents played in chattel slavery, indentureship and colonization.

And it is true that many of the brown elite do treat this country as if it is their playground and black Jamaicans their natural servants, all the while claiming Jamaican-ness while distancing themselves socially and culturally from those of us who are of African descent and phenotype.

However, it is a mark of the Jamaican-ness of this same light-skinned elite that they can be such a fixture in these beauty contests for decades, since the “Ten Types – One People” beauty contest was launched in 1955!

That *particular* women have been regarded as the icons of Jamaican beauty is hardly an accident, but one that is carefully structured into and replicated in our everyday lives.   Indeed, our willful acceptance (and sometimes defense) of social hierarchies based on colour and class certainly helps us perpetuate what many are now railing against with the latest MJW decision.  Just think about this the next time one accepts that the light-skinned woman\’s needs MUST be more important than yours when she talks over your head and gets service before you who has been waiting to be acknowledged in a respectful way.  Many black Jamaicans have been very invested in the notion of brown women as somehow more desirable; those of us who can have altered our bodies to ally with this racist notion; others of us have resisted this idea by championing “black is beautiful.”  But all of us are intimately aware that these ideas are built into the beauty contest.

What is of issue here – and which is not being addressed – is not whether or not light-skinned women should even be in the contest.   I don’t think there should be a mandate – which is what many people are suggesting – that the Miss Jamaica contests should be reserved for dark-skinned women, or that light skinned women should never win.  I certainly don’t see how a parade of dark-skinned women would be a more just version, or would make me feel like the winner was a more “authentic” representation of Jamaica.

But I do think that if they are going to keep this ridiculous contest going, the judges etc. ought to raise the bar quite a bit so that is not just light skin and rich relatives that will determine the outcome. They ought to know something (besides what they read in Wikipedia or the Gleaner) and stand for something (besides world peace and saving the children).

Frankly, it is quite frightening that the worth of young women is often assessed based on whether or not she “looks” like she could win a beauty contest or be a model.  In this day and age, shouldn’t we be encouraging young women (of all hues) to ascribe more value to themselves than to specialize in “pageantry and aesthetics” i.e. parading up and down in bathing suits and expensive gowns before gawking audiences in a completely biased and ethically compromised beauty contest? Where’s the beauty in that experience? Can there really be a winner in this situation?  I don’t watch or listen to these beauty contests because I believe that they consistently lower the standards by which girls/women are measured and measure themselves.   I don’t want my daughter or any other girl child I know to aspire to be some man’s shoulder candy and to be applauded for making a basic statement that everyone already knows to be true.  That’s humiliating and I won’t support it.

I also wonder whether we have the courage to publicly acknowledge the social handicap that darker-hued women have had since the beginning, and to even call for an end the farce of the “beauty pageant” once and for all.  Indeed, it is only when this competition gains some integrity and moves beyond being the skin parade that it is, that it will be less of lightning rod when it comes to dealing with the entrenched antipathies about Blackness in  Jamaica, as reflected in this particular cultural event.

Until these shifts in our thinking take place, many dark-skinned Jamaicans will continue to feel that history has been vindicated when a Black woman wins the competition, and denigrated when a light-skinned woman – who can only be distinguished from a “foreign” European woman by the “place of birth” on her or her parents’ birth certificate – wins. And in a way, they will be right.


14 Responses to “On The Outcome of this Year’s Skin Parade”

  1. […] Long Bench is not a fan of beauty pageants, she finds “some of the criticisms about this year’s […]

  2. […] to hit wilful conversations most Byzantine matters of event e.g. Here is the example post:  On The Outcome of this Year's Skin Parade « LONG BENCH Posted in Uncategorized | Tags: about-complex, bench-nuh, bennett, have-deliberate, set-aside, […]

  3. ksurrina Says:

    Well persons has been routing for more dark-skinned persons to win the covet Miss Jamaica World and it has not happened. We should not look at the skin of these girls but at their intelligent. Lisa, Karelle, Yendi to need a few were all intelligent girls that make us proud at the Miss World staging. We should always remember our motto Out of Many One People. The Jamaican culture is one which is mixed and we need to accept this. As for the Blacks who are bleaching their skins they ack self esteem and until parents teach their children about self esteem then you will continue to see this.

    I would like to share a site with you and your readers http://wisejamaican.com

    • longbench Says:

      ksurrina – Thanks for stopping by!

      To respond to the points you raised:

      These beauty contests are not determined by popular acclaim at all, or alone, so whenever the judges and the live audience agree on who should win, that actually begs for an explanation.

      The criteria for being a contestant include the following “c)[all contestants] [s]hall be of good character and possess charm, poise, and personality and have beauty of face and figure” , “Who has never been legally married”, [and] “Who has never given birth to a child.”

      The judges are expected to evaluate looks, and the audience know and weigh in on this at every turn as well. If we want a contest to judge women based on intelligence, then the women’s sexual history is certainly not relevant. The judges would also be selected for their intellect rather than for being beauty queens or entertainers themselves.

      I am very curious why the national motto is interpreted as being in support of mixed race identity; “one people” refers to national identity, ie. a single nation rather than one fragmented by ethnicity or country of origin. It does not say anything about racial identity. These are not the same thing. This is an interesting issue that deserves further discussion. Visit again!

  4. Pierre Says:

    Great post. I dream of the day when we fully embrace the beauty of women of all shades.

  5. Dawnie Says:

    Most jamaican are still in the slavery mentality stage. And lots of them claim to be educated. I call them educated fools.

    They sing about browning, if they are discribing someone that does not have a dark complection they will say “she is brown but she make lot of troble” You will never hear someone say “she is black but she make lot of trouble”.

    On of my friend called me about a month ago and said “I just heard one of my Jamaican friend talking about people in Jamaica who are high colour” Then she said to me “who are the low colour people”. Really embarrassing.

    • Bru Says:

      After all is been said and done concerning Jamaica
      and skin color – Jamaica is STILL a predominantly
      pro dark skinned and pro Black country.

      And, since the song “brownin” by Buju Banton often
      comes up regarding this subject:

      When the song “brownin” came out in the nineties
      and was incorrectly interpreted as glorification
      worshiping and preference for light skinned
      women the artist was called out by Jamaicans
      to explained himself in regards to such allegations,which he denied and responded
      with another song glorifying dark skinned
      women, which gotten more “forwards” and support
      from Jamaicans.

      Whether the artist Buju Banton was sincere in denying
      such allegations, only him and the Almighty really
      know, but the facts still remain that he was
      put on trial by the Jamaican people, where he
      defended himself by both denying that he was
      glorifying light skinned women over dark skinned
      women and released a pro Black pro dark skinned song
      which were more acceptable and got more support by and from Jamaicans

      That he was, or could be indeed sincere, there are many reasons:

      (1)He was singing about a single female whom he refer
      to as his “browin”, she might be light skinned
      and she might not.If she is indeed light skinned,
      and if the song was saying she is by the term “browin, then the song was stating the obvious, there is no part of the song that say
      she was elevated over darker skinned base upon
      she been light skinned.

      (2)Richie Spice did a song recently called “brown skin”
      and it isn’t about light skinned women, its about
      Black women of all shades.

      (3)India Arie did a song call “brown skin” and its actually talking about dark skin men

      (4)In many parts of the world the color brown is
      used to describe all Black people skin color.

      Skin bleaching is frowned upon in Jamaica by
      most Jamaican, you wont find bleaching cream
      commercials on TV in Jamaica, on billboards etc
      like in some counties like China, India and some others. Bleaching cream is banned and is illegal in Jamaica.
      Where pro Black and pro dark skinned is concern
      Jamaica is light years ahead of certain and certain
      countries in the Caribbean like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico to name some.

      The wikipedia article claiming that Buju
      song “browing” is a glorification of light skin
      women is incorrect, there is no prove in the song of that. I read in some other article on the
      subject of bleaching where claims of Jamaican
      men preference for lighter skin women is been made.
      That,s generalization, some of which is been written by foreigners who knows little or nothing about Jamaica.

      Dark skinned beauty pageant contestant
      like Terri Karelle and Doneika Plowright gotten
      more support from the vast majority of Jamaicans
      than any light skinned contestants

      Jamaica is a predominantly pro Black and pro dark skinned country

      • longbench Says:

        “Jamaica is STILL a predominantly pro dark skinned and pro Black country.” What tells you this? Saying it doesn’t make it true.

        “Where pro Black and pro dark skinned is concern Jamaica is light years ahead of certain and certain countries in the Caribbean like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico to name some.” Again, explain yourself please.

  6. devotchka Says:

    Hi longbench, great blog BTW.

    As far as I can see, the crux of this argument is that ‘beauty pageants’ are ugly things, relics of the dark ages when women really were just chattel with a price on their head (i.e. a dowry). One of the most disturbing things you draw attention to is in your comments – the woman cannot have been married or had a child to enter! This is clearly a demand that these women – modern, independent 21st Century women – pretend to be sexually ‘pure’ to be considered worthy of beauty, whatever that may be. And then they are offered up as examples to women everywhere! So yet again it comes down to sex, and how a woman should pretend she doesn’t like it, or want it, or do it. It’s all too sexist for words. All this coupled with the racist notion that lighter skin equals more beautiful, but less Jamaican…can we say headf**k?!

    These pageants undermine and yes, humiliate women everywhere, in so many ways. If we lived in an equal society, such hideous contests wouldn’t dare to exist.

    • longbench Says:

      Hi devotchka – Thanks for stopping by! You are quite right – the mixed messages don’t exactly do young women (or men) much good, does it? It astounds me that in 2010 there remain so few options for young women to feel validated, except as “beauty queens.” Sadly, there’s not much critical attention about the pageant here in Ja., and when the only other choice in this hypersexualized society is to go “turn Christian”, I can also see why the pageant seems respectable to many.

  7. beauty queens coming from the latin americas are the best ones “

  8. the best beauty queens are coming from south america, i really love latinas –‘

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