On Sunday evening, Miss South Africa was crowned Miss Universe 2019, in what many are calling a win for Black beauty. During one of her answers in the competition, 26-year-old Zozibini Tunzi spoke up about what she hopes increased representation will do for children.
“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… I want children to look at me and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine,” she said.
Minutes later, Tunzi was crowned, with Miss Puerto Rico as the runner-up, followed by Miss Mexico.
“I grew up in a world where women who look like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. And I think it’s time that it stops today. I want children to look at me, and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in me.” 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/vQnR0RkIBc
— rÁfaga Christmas Season (@rvfaell) December 9, 2019
A DARK SKIN WOMAN WITH A FADE IS MISS UNIVERSE AND I AM PLEASED
— hot sauce connoisseur (@BlackSaraBellum) December 9, 2019
And while many across the globe celebrated her well-deserved win, sore losers in Puerto Rico are seizing the moment to be verbal about why they believe Miss Puerto Rico, Madison Anderson Berrios, deserved to win, and in the process they’re showing their racism.
Some of those are people in positions of power, namely José Pastrana, a supervisor for the special education zone in the Department of Education. He posted a racist message on his Facebook.
The Department of Education has reportedly launched an investigation, saying, “The expressions made through personal social media pages and outside of work hours by the employee José Pastrana do not represent at all the values and principles that we practice in the Department of Education.”
Someone else who’s under fire for comments she made is Telemundo host Maria Celeste Arrarás. During a segment for her show Al Rojo Vivo, she said that Miss Universe is a pageant meant to measure beauty, not intelligence or “IQ.”
“I have been a judge on two occasions, and the questions are not as important as people think. When you’re a judge, you don’t vote for Einstein. You vote for the woman that when she enters the room, everyone turns their head,” she said.
Arrarás posted a photo congratulating Miss Puerto Rico for her participation on social media, saying, “without a doubt, the new Miss Universe is also very attractive.” But some of the commenters under the Instagram image perceived her original remarks to be racially motivated.
“Your comment is a little racist,” one user wrote. Another user said, “A journalist like you should be more responsable when communicating herself because this is the second time I’ve seen your comments on Miss Universe and I find them very racist and out of place… so then women with dark skin are not beautiful according to you.”
Another man named Gaby Rivera posted a video on Facebook, making really racist comments and comparing the new Miss Universe to Kobe Bryant. A woman seen in the video with him is Yamilet González, a House of Representatives candidates for the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) in District 21. She can be heard agreeing with Rivera, saying, “Is that it’s a beauty contest… when I saw Miss South Africa I was shocked, why was she there?” She also identifies herself at the end.
The video was posted on Rivera’s private page, but was leaked and shared in the Instagram page @comiteboricua.
View this post on Instagram
Aquí el video compartido por lxs compañeres de EMBELDA. Se lo tumbaron en fb sin embargo logramos adquirir una copia. Esto es intolerable y hay que lucharlo hasta vencerlo. En estos tiempos que nos estamos concientizando en masa sobre la violencia y el odio generado por décadas, no hay cabida para racistas ni disfrazadxs.
Even before the Sunday contest, Anderson Berrios’ win as Miss Puerto Rico caused a lot of debate because of her background—she’s half white (her father is from Arizona) and half Puerto Rican, and she wasn’t born on the island. Anderson Berrios also doesn’t speak Spanish. To some, her win represented a legacy of colonialism that has plagued Puerto Rico, and they started expressing their discontent using the hashtag #NoMeRepresenta, while others defended her.
The Colectiva Feminista en Construccion posted a brief message in response to the racist remarks that have flooded social media following Tunzi’s Miss Universe win.
“Nothing like a beauty contest to uncover the disgusting racism that is lived in Puerto Rico every day,” the group wrote.
For many, this should not come as some big suprise. What is worrisome, however, is that these racist remarks aren’t coming from regular social media users. Instead, it’s coming from people with large platforms, some presiding over children and looking to represent entire communities.
And Tunzi would certainly turn heads when she enters any room with her beauty, charisma, and willingness to speak up. While beauty pageants are certainly questionable, particularly as they uphold hard-to-reach and conventional beauty standards, this year the Miss Universe pageant experienced some feminist moments that resonated with many, including Tunzi’s message exhorting young girls to take up space. Tunzi, who is a public relations specialist, is now part of a watershed moment where Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are all black women—for the first time in history.
The newly-elected Miss Universe had already faced racist remarks when she was selected to represent her country in August. She told the South African-based Eyewitness News in November,
“It was crazy at first. Colourism and racism is a real thing going into the competition—I knew I would shake the table. I knew I would be the unconventional Miss South Africa to have won because no one has ever won with their hair or whatever, looking like I do.”
Amanda Alcántara is the Digital Media Editor at Futuro Media. She tweets from @YoSoy_Amanda.