Pageants often get a bad rap for being regressive leftovers from a different time. While some of that criticism is fair, the organizations that run them have made changes in recent years to become more modern. (Case and point: the elimination of the swimsuit competition at Miss America.) And there’s no question that their reach is still enormous, with competitions running in all 50 states and in countries around the world.
Now, for the first time ever, all four major pageant titles—Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe—are held by black women. Last night, the newly-crowned Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, joined Miss America Nia Franklin, Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, and Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris to become the fourth black woman to currently wear a major pageant crown.
“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful,” Tunzi said, according to the BBC. “I think that it is time that that stops today.”
“It is important to little brown and black girls to see three strong figures, three strong women, African-American women that are doing so much great work,” Ms. Franklin told the New York Times in May. “People will argue that race doesn’t matter. But race does matter in America, because of the history, because of slavery.”
“Nia, Cheslie, and Kaliegh: you are trailblazers, creating your own path on your own terms. Congratulations,” Senator Kamala Harris tweeted in May. Now, Tunzi joins the group (defeating Kryst).
None of the women are the first black woman to wear their particular crown. Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America in 1984; Carole Gist won Miss USA in 1990; Janel Bishop won Miss Teen USA in 1991; and Janelle Commissiong was crowned Miss Universe in 1977. But on social media, enthusiasm for this particular clean sweep was undeniable.
Even Oprah weighed in, tweeting, “Congratulations Miss South Africa, the new Miss Universe @zozitunzi! Agree with you…leadership is the most powerful thing we should be teaching young women today. We welcome your visit to #OWLAG, our Leadership Academy for Girls 🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦.”
The significance of all four women wearing the crowns at the same time was also a much-discussed topic.
This is yet another example of how much representation matters—in the world of pageants and beyond.