Just Because You Black Don’t Mean You Family: Problematizing “Diversity”

“This Miss America Corporation constructs its brand as a diversity-loving organization. This is corporate branding by crystallizing national characteristics of pluralism and multicultural as a US trademark in an easily understood way, and by selecting specific individuals who are seen to embody these values.” – Meeta Rani Jha [1]

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The backlash that followed Stacey Dash, Raven Symone, Steve Harvey, and Ben Carson is a clear indication that black people, especially black youth, are not easily impressed by all black representation. Because we lack representation in the media, it doesn’t take much for black people to support and praise our own.

Yet, Miss District of Columbia’s alienating comments on healthcare and feminism had black people on social media announcing, “Not All Yo’ Skinfolk is Yo’ Kinfolk.” We’re desperate for positive representations of blackness in the media, but not that desperate.

Following Deshauna Barber, Kara McCullough, Miss D.C., recently won the title of Miss USA. We were all shocked that the Miss America Corporation crowned yet another black woman for the second year in a row. McCullough even discussed her conscious decision to wear her natural hair during the pageant hoping “to be a role model for anyone with curls.”[2] Regardless of how she chooses to draw attention to her blackness, her statements on healthcare and feminism proved that there is significant need to move beyond simple “diversity” within the media, especially when that “diversity” is problematic and reinforces conservative ethics.

When asked about her views on health care during the question and answer section of the competition, Miss D.C. answered, “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege…”[3]

She put the salt in the wound when asked if she was a feminist.

“I don’t want to call myself a feminist. Women, we are just as equal as men, especially in the workplace,” she states.[4] She even proclaimed that she was an “equalist” instead of a feminist.[5] I’m sure, her emphasis on “equal” instead of feminism probably allowed her to become more favorable to a wider, conservative demographic.

Consequently, she received more criticism than praise of Miss USA among black youth, especially on social media, even getting comments from well-known black activist, Deray Mckesson.

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She also gathered a lot of praise as well.

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Still, when white conservatives love you, that’s a clear sign that you’re just another token.

Social media and black people’s response to Miss D.C.’s beliefs remind me of Meeta Rani Jha’s analysis on Miss America beauty pageants.

“On a national level, women’s bodies are read as a metaphor for the national and social body and understood in terms of modernity and traditions,” Jha states.[6] If Miss D.C.’s title represents the diversity of the U.S. and therefore, modernity, her comments reflect these “American” traditions.

Jha argues that women of color in pageants are used to demonstrate “multicultural plurality” that both entails conservative liberalism that “deploys a racial assimilation model” and liberal multicultural liberalism that “is the management of difference by prioritizing the celebration of cultural and ethnic differences, as opposed to addressing structural discrimination based on gender, sexuality, race…”[7] Ultimately, this multicultural liberalism “…comes with bureaucratic blocks, tokenism, and institutional statements that…do not deliver true inclusion.”[8]

In the case of Miss D.C., because of her non-threatening comments, this “diversity” can be easily digested by mainstream America. Her presence is not revolutionary, nor does it provide any substantial change. Young black people are aware and therefore, not impressed by her win and recognize when people are being used as tokens.

[1] Meeta Rani Jha, The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism, and the National Body, (New York, NY : Routledge, 2016) 28.

[2] Lexy Lebsack, “Miss USA Shares the Inspiring Reason She’s Wearing Her Hair Natural Tonight,” May 15, 2017, http://www.refinery29.com/2017/05/154347/kara-mccullough-miss-dc-natural-hair-interview/.

[3] Blavity Team, “New Miss USA Receives Backlash For Problematic Answers On Feminism, Healthcare,” May 15, 2017, https://blavity.com/miss-usa-2017-backlash-problematic-answers/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jha, 2.

[7] Jha, 27-28.

[8] Jha, 28.



One thought on “Just Because You Black Don’t Mean You Family: Problematizing “Diversity”

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  1. Jessie, your critique of Kara McCullough is spot on. I want to highlight two additional points about McCullough that make her win not as radical as the mainstream media likes to braid it.

    1) McCullough’s beauty is exactly what Maxine Craig describes as “the Egyptian type”: a light-skinned woman with hints of European features and long, manageable natural hair. This “ideal” black woman, as defined by middle class black men in the early 20th century, is what people used as representations of African American excellence. McCullough’s existence in a modern day beauty pageant is evidence that nothing has changed since then, besides the fact that these supposed beacons of progressiveness are now integrated into mainstream white beauty pageants. Even if McCullough didn’t make those unfortunate comments, I daresay that her being someone who fits society’s ideals of a black woman would still do little to disrupt white supremacy.

    2) I looked up McCullough’s background on Wikipedia and found that she was a third culture kid — her mother was in the US Navy and moved them around the world for much of her childhood. As such, I imagine McCullough would have experienced her blackness in very different ways than if she had grown up solely in America. This makes me think about how people often conflate international Asians’ emotions about race relations to those of Asian Americans, which can be very frustrating because they have very different struggles. I feel like a similar thing happened here, where people positioned McCullough, who spent only the latter half of her life in the States, as the representative of black Americans across the country. Therefore, when people say “Not All Yo’ Skinfolk is Yo’ Kinfolk,” they probably don’t realise that in this case it makes sense.


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