Monday, April 30, 2012

Black Beauty Queens Causing Controversy in France

Bonjour Meltingpot Readers,

I was intrigued by the latest racial brouhaha coming out of the city of lights. And, no, I'm not talking about presidential hopeful Francois Hollande using Jay-Z and Kanye West's song in one of his campaign videos. I'm talking about the recent controversy over the first ever Miss Black France competition.

This past Saturday, the lovely Miss Mbathio Beye was crowned the first Miss Black France, despite protesters and critics who cried foul. Depending on who you ask among the dissenters, the idea of a Miss Black France was either a racist competition that excluded Whites or a misguided feel good opportunity that sent the wrong message to a country dealing with a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. But according to the Miss Black France organizer, the purpose of the competition was to "celebrate black beauty," and to "shine a light on the many Black women in [France] who are rarely given any media attention."

As an American who is used to seeing everything -- from beauty pageants to greeting cards -- segregated and celebrated along racial lines, I initially didn't see anything wrong with a Miss Black France competition. In fact, I saw it as progress, or at the very least an opportunity for Black women to have their beauty acknowledged in a country that's been a little lax in that department. And for the most part, I still feel that way. But knowing that most European countries pride themselves on not being racist simply because they don't acknowledge racial differences, I can see how this Black beauty competition might feel like a step in the wrong direction.

But, you can't have your chocolate cake and eat it too. The French want to say everyone is equal and that they don't distinguish White from Black, and that French is French, but we all know that simply isn't true. (And obviously, this is not just a French problem.) Without going into all of the racial politics in France, we know that people of color still struggle for equal rights and opportunities. The fashion and beauty industries are no exception. So, why can't Black women make their own opportunities? I can't help think of Italian Vogue and their launch of Vogue Black in 2010. The Italians too were criticized for creating a publication that is singularly focused on Black beauty, but that didn't stop them. I hope the French take note. I hope they realize that celebrating one ethnic group doesn't have to mean excluding the other.

What do you think, dear readers? Can France have a Black Beauty competition without causing a commotion? Do you think a Miss Black France is a bad idea? A racist one? Why or why not?

I'm listening.



Anonymous said...

As a black American and French citizen, I get why the Black Miss France is controversial but Black Miss America is not. Different countries, culture, and history.

Also, Vogue Black was not written for an Italian audience, but a global one. That doesn't bother me at all.

But something about the Miss Black France happening now, seems weird to me.

I think beauty pageants are dumb, but if we must have them, I'd rather see Miss St. Martin win Miss France as she is French and not Miss Black France.

LT said...


Great points all around. I do get it. "Different countries, culture and history." But I'm not sure about your last point. What do you mean Miss St. Martin is French and not Miss Black France?

Anonymous said...


I think what Arlene Gibbs means is that since St. Martin is under the sovereignty of France, having Miss St Martin represent France as Miss France would expand the meaning of being French. Miss St Martin is representing a territory with a distinct history and culture whereas Miss Black France is mainly representing skin color... I think that was the point.

In my opinion, having Miss Black France pageantry is neither a step forward nor backward. It is an attempt at the American way. I doubt it will work with the French culture.


Arlene Gibbs D├ęcor said...

Thanks Mi. It was hard for me to express exactly what was bothering me about this Miss Black France idea.

Anonymous said...

I understand this is taking place in France and not America, different continent, different politics. It feels odd to me that the non Black French feel they should be included in the pageant. Why can’t Black women have something for themselves? Why does any other race have to be included? We have been excluded for so long why rob us of an opportunity to celebrate ourselves?