By: Rachelle Legrand
Those were my thoughts after competing in my first Miss America Local Preliminary and receiving 1st runner up and the talent award.
I had grown up watching pageants on television and had seen my sister grace the Miss Teen New Jersey USA stage as a child. As the theatrical child I was, I would mock the girls in my living room, practicing their walk, re-answering their on-stage questions, and of course practicing the “OH MY GOSH” face I would give when announced I won.
Yet as I watched more and more pageants on television, I became more consciously aware of the less and lesser amount of women of color featured in these competitions. When I did, you could best believe all my money was on her, whether or not she truly seemed like the best candidate.
As black women in this world, most of us have been taught when we were younger that we have to be twice as good to receive half the benefits in this society making us work harder to reach that dream we always had growing up. So when we see that one black woman, the Vanessa Williams as the first black Miss America, the Viola Davis, first black Emmy award winner for a leading role, or the Gabby Douglas, the first black all-around champion gymnast. When we see our women become the first to do anything in our eyes, they epitomize greatness. We feel like we are living through them regardless if we can deliver an emotional on-camera performance, do a roundoff back handspring, or confidently grace the Miss America stage in a bikini.
Yet, isn’t it still a little too late to be the first black anything in the new millennium? Over half a century after the end of Jim Crow, we are still finding ourselves becoming the first blacks to access certain spaces and have accomplishments in these areas. It’s not their fault, but it’s because when black women receive these achievements they become the exceptions, not the rules. They become that one in a million remarkable girl accepted by the white community. Unfortunately, even though it takes one black person to make the whole community look bad, it takes more than one black woman to make our entire community look good.
As a black woman competing in pageants, I feel the pressure to be exceptional. I feel obligated to represent our community positively, because if I don’t, the media can’t either. But when there are not many around supporting you, those pressures can take a negative toll. Luckily, I did not find myself in this predicament. I was introduced to the world of pageants by women of color who reminded me that anything is possible, regardless of my complexion, hair texture, or body type.
Luckily, pageantry is shaping me into a remarkable woman. It made me stand firm in my beliefs by sharpening my public speaking skills and encouraging me to make a difference in my community. Doing pageants has given me a voice and a platform to positively represent our community and help make way for the next girl who wants to follow. Now of course the spot as the first black Miss America and the first black Miss New Jersey has already been taken, but I’m just trying to become the rule, not the exception.