The Black Miss Americas

I thought it would be a fitting end to Black History Month to highlight the black women who have won the Miss America pageant. These ladies are the epitome of beauty, grace, accomplishment and confidence. They represent not only black women, but all women during their reign and efforts to promote community service. They also exude positive images of black femininity.


VANESSA L. Williams' success in entertainment is so extensive, it's easy to forget that she initially became a household name by becoming the first Black person to win the Miss America pageant. Williams won the 1984 crown when she was a 20-year-old student at Syracuse University, but abruptly resigned after 10 months when controversial photographs of her were printed in a magazine.

Williams overcame the scandal and went on to become probably the best known of all former Miss Americas, Black or White. Her singing credits include three original albums (The Right Stuff, The Comfort Zone and The Sweetest Days) and nine Grammy nominations. She won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for the single, "Colors of the Wind," off the Pocahontas soundtrack. The 38-year-old star has also received two NAACP Image Awards. As an actress, Williams enjoys critical acclaim for her starring roles in such movies as Soul Food, Eraser and the new version of Shaft. In addition, she has performed numerous theatre and tv roles, currently starring in Ugly Betty.


SUZETTE Charles, representing New Jersey, assumed the crown shortly after Vanessa L. Williams resigned in 1984. (Charles' father is Italian, so she is also the first woman of Italian descent to wear the crown.) She finished out the term and moved on to a successful singing career. Charles, who already had many credits in advertising and educational television, has gone on to a career as a singer, entertainer, and television personality. Charles performed with such artists as Stevie Wonder and Lou Rawls, and appeared in soap operas. Now out of the public eye, Charles is married to Dr. Leonard Bley and has a daughter, Hannah, and son, Ilan, according to the Miss America Organization. The family resides in the New York City area.


DEBBYE Turner had one goal in mind when she entered the 1990 Miss America sweepstakes--to win the contest to get scholarship money for her veterinary studies. Representing the state of Missouri, Turner completed her goal and became the third Black Miss America in the pageant's history. It was an experience, Turner says, that she will never forget, as she traveled 20,000 miles per month throughout the country and met celebrities ranging from Oprah Winfrey to the president of the United States. Turner completed her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. She first pursued veterinary medicine before deciding to go into television. Turner's first hosting job came at St. Louis' affiliate, KSDK, and a show called Show Me St. Louis in 1995. Six years later, Turner joined CBS News as a reporter and contributor for The Early Show, a job that she has held since. Debbye is also a fill-in anchor on the CBS Morning News when Michelle Gielan is absent.


MARJORIE Vincent, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, hit the ground running after she was named the 1991 Miss America. It was the first time in history a black winner had been crowned by a black former Miss America. Vincent, who represented Illinois, used the spotlight as Miss America to spread her message about domestic violence.

"For me, it was a thrill to take [the victims'] message to lawmakers in Washington and to state legislatures," Vincent says. "At one appearance, an older man came up to me and said he was really glad I made the point that men could be victims too, because he was one."

Vincent went back to law school at Duke University after her one-year reign. Just before finishing law school in 1994, she became a television news anchor in Meridian, Miss., and later worked at stations in Peoria, Ill., and Columbus, Ohio, for the next six-plus years. She later worked at WHOI-TV in Peoria, Illinois, and the Ohio News Network in Columbus, Ohio, for the next six-plus years. As of September 2007, Vincent is completing her law degree at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida.


WHEN Kimberly Aiken won the 1994 Miss America pageant while representing South Carolina, it set the stage for an eventful year of travel and excitement. However, it was not about to deter Aiken from her true goal.

Aiken says her experience as Miss America opened more avenues than she ever imagined, especially in her crusade for the homeless. "[When I won the pageant], I was an 18-year-old Black woman from South Carolina; I had never traveled around our own country," she says. "Because there is so much prestige with the title, doors open. People listen, and you're really able to get into the hearts and minds of pretty much any group you want to. I had an opportunity to speak on Capitol Hill about homeless issues, and people listened. I had the opportunity to speak to several corporations, to see what they could do to help."

After serving her year as Miss America and graduating from NYU, Aiken worked as an accountant at the prestigious accounting firm of Ernst & Young for a few years before embarking on her next big project--business ownership. She has owned a franchise of Molly Maid, a residential cleaning service, for a year. She is also an image consultant and motivational speaker.


Erika Harold spent her year as Miss America 2003 promoting her platform “Preventing Youth Violence and Bullying: ‘Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself.’” Using her experiences as a victim of harassment during the ninth grade as a catalyst, Harold issued a national call to action, urging every segment of society to take a proactive approach in the eradication of these detrimental behaviors. In addition, Harold won acclaim by courageously encouraging young people to embrace the freedom and power to be obtained through abstinence from drugs, sex and alcohol. In 2007, she graduated Harvard University's Law School and as of June 2008 was employed as an associate attorney at Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago, Illinois. Harold is politically conservative, and was the Youth Director for the Republican primary campaign of Illinois gubernatorial candidate Patrick O'Malley. She later served as a delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention.


After securing another piece of history earlier that year by becoming the first African American woman to be crowned Miss Florida, Ericka Dunlap followed in the steps of the previous winners she had admired since her childhood and was thrust into the national spotlight herself. Dunlap's platform was "United We Stand. Divided We Fall Behind: Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion". Dunlap is currently pursuing a country music career.

Question of the Week

Question of the Week:

Do you feel that Black History Month is on the wane? Why do you think there is less interest in black history than there used to be?

Empowering One Girl At A Time

On the road to womanhood, baggage collected during the teenage years can make the transition challenging. Once forgiveness of self is obtained and there is growth from the experiences, it is imperative to help the next generation of young females. During the teenage years, young females from all walks of life need the support of the village. With the demands of fitting in, and the lack of support from home and the community, the majority of young females start to go down the path that will diminish their self-worth.

Positive affirmations can make a world of difference in a young female’s life. Positive affirmations can uplift her spirit. Positive affirmations assures her of that familiar strength that is deep in her soul. Positive affirmations help to remind her of what she will, and what she will NOT accept into her life. Positive acceptance of self is fundamental in a young female’s life, from preteen to a young beautiful woman. In a stage of vulnerability, confusion, and unstableness;In a stage that poses the question, "Where do I fit in?". Positive affirmations can empower young females to make a smoother transition into adulthood. ~ Itiel

Greetings, my name is Itiel McVay, owner and creator of Smell Goods '98™. It is my pleasure to come together with Anilia Arneus, owner of Black Girl Tees to empower our young girls and teen girls. It is also my pleasure to introduce Stay Sweet Sugar Whip to your daughter, grand daughter, sister, and niece. Each Stay Sweet Sugar Whip is labeled with a positive affirmation to encourage her to see the beauty in her self-worth. Stay Sweet Sugar Whip is a creamy body wash with organic pure cane sugar for mild exfoliation, and jojoba beads bursting with moisturizing goodness!

Click here to learn more.

Itiel and I are both concerned with the welfare of black girls. Together, we hope to uplift our girls with this promotion, and to provide products that show them how truly beautiful they are. She's hosting a similar promotion at her site and you can learn more about it here.

Tyler Perry's bad intentions

I'm sure none of my blog readers will be surprised to know that I abhor Tyler Perry. He's number 2 on my protest list, following closely behind Michael Baisden. I'll save the explanation of my protest list for another post.

Back in the day, I refused to watch The Nutty Professor movies. I did not find it funny that Eddie Murphy chose to dress up as women characters. Sure, comedians do it all the time, even white ones. I don't base my judgement of right or wrong on who else is doing it. If I think its dumb, its dumb to me, no matter what other race is doing it. Besides, 'white is right' is a saying from a bygone era and isn't a guiding principle of my life. Anyway, I didn't find it amusing that Eddie Murphy portrayed black women as overweight, sex-crazed and uncouth. I particularly found his portrayal of the grandmother's character offensive. I was raised in part by my grandmother and did not appreciate the scenes in the trailer where the grandmother took out her false teeth (leading one to draw a conclusion of what she'd do with her exposed gums) or took off her 'granny panties' in order to seduce the 'skinny' Eddie Murphy. My grandmother would never act like that. It just seemed very unrealistic and stereotypical, and as a young woman (I believe this was high school or college) I just refused to support it. My friends didn't understand, and felt I was taking things too seriously. After a while I learned to stop arguing with people who held entertainment in a higher regard than the dignity of black women.

Fast forward a couple of years. I don't consider myself a Martin Lawrence fan but found some of his sitcom episodes funny. For the life of me I couldn't understand why he chose to be the lead character in the Big Mama's House franchise. That movie was on my protest list. Then, a few years later, Dave Chapelle appeared on Oprah and explained how he refused a movie role where he was forced to wear a dress. After he walked off the set, that's when the stories of his insanity were circulated in the press. His explanation made alot of sense to me. To me, if you want to make fun of a woman, at least cast a woman in the role. Why is a black man wearing a dress funny?

So you can imagine my dismay at the wild popularity of Tyler Perry's stage plays. Speaking ill of the character of Madea is akin to 'talking bad about Ms. Jenkins' from In Living Color. Don't nobody talk bad about Madea! Some fans don't take too kindly to that! (I wonder how many black women are familiar with the mythological Madea?) Other women I know will support Perry simply because he's a black man. "We gotta support that brotha!" they say. That's not a good enough reason to me.

The saggy-breasted, gun toting, violent portrayal of black women is disgusting to me. Its irrationally hilarious to me that black women will come out in droves to support that garbage, but when you openly discuss on the internet problems that the black community face, then people don't want to 'put our business out there'. How is it that people can't see the difference? Money is a sign of emotional support (think about how you feel when a man asks you to go dutch on a date..). If we're throwing money at Perry's work then that's a sign to the entertainment powers that be that that's what black people want to see. Forget the biopics on historical black people, uplifting stories that warm the heart, hell even Denzel needs to fall by the wayside, bring on Madea! *sarcasm*

So not only has Perry gotten rich off making the country laugh at the expense of black women's image, he will openly tell you how black women chase him. I read an article where he related how black women were scaling the fence of his mansion, trying to get with him. Now if that were true (WTF?), that's one thing.. but why would he openly admit that? (And isn't he gay anyway?)

Take a look at Perry's body of work (just the movies). What are his characters saying about black women?
  • Daddy's Little Girls (2007) - a high-powered, mean, single black woman corporate attorney takes a chance on her chauffeur, a convicted rapist with 3 bad-ass daughters
  • Why Did I Get Married (2007) - an overweight black woman puts up with cheating and verbal abuse from her husband, until she decides to love herself (but still takes him back)
  • Meet The Browns (2008) - a broke single mom from Chicago goes to Georgia to meet her father's family for the first time. Hilarity ensues from the country bumpkins
  • The Family That Preys (2008) - a money-hungry black woman cheats on her blue collar 'good black man' with a rich white man, and even refused to let hubby ride her coat tails and helps the white man 'keep a brotha down'
  • Madea Goes to Jail (2009) - After a high-speed freeway chase puts Madea in front of the judge, her reprieve is short-lived as anger management issues get the best of her and land her in jail. But Madea's eccentric family members the Browns rally behind her, lending their special "country" brand of support.

Um, ok...

Black people on the internet have been up in arms over the cartoon of the monkey. Why aren't people upset about how black women are portrayed in Perry's movies? Oh that's right, its about black women. Its only offensive if it involves a black man. My bad, I had forgotten the rule.

If you wonder how stereotypes are perpetrated, how white and other races form ideas about black people they've never met, look no further. We are telling America what to think about us by the garbage that we overwhelmingly support. Ultimately, though, we can't blame Tyler Perry for this garbage, we should blame ourselves for propping him up with our pocketbooks. Hallelujer!

Here's an interesting take on Perry's work, from someone who's actually seen his plays.

And another, from Courtland Milloy, a columnist at the Washington Post.

Why Chris Brown Won't Matter

I usually stay away from discussing most pop culture news at this blog. For one, I purposely don't watch the news, and rarely know what's going on unless its water cooler talk at work or a friend brings it to my attention (like the email going around about the monkey that was shot...). The Chris Brown/Rihanna story after the Grammys is one of those stories that's even hard for me to ignore. I happened to be on Twitter when the story broke and thus couldn't avoid it.

The only reason I comment on it here is because it relates to a black woman's public image and supposed level of self-esteem. Some of the first reports I'd come across suggested that Rihanna was clingy, needy, and gossip even held that she'd given Chris an STD. Well, my response was, what 20 yr. old young woman isn't clingy? How much do we know about relationships at that age? Even more realistically, I thought about what kind of daily pressure a woman has to face when her boyfriend is a teenage sex symbol, regardless of the fact that she is one too. None of those reasons are justification for violence against her person. Even if reason for his anger was an STD - he still has it, no matter what kind of abuse she suffered. His attack would still be wrong. I was surprised and disappointed to find that many on the internet did not have the same opinion

When I got to work this morning, my coworker was looking at a pic on TMZ of what appeared to be Rihanna in either the hospital or police station shortly after the incident. I wasn't shocked at what I saw; reports had detailed the contusions on her forehead, her split lip, other bruises on her face. What did shock me, though, was my coworker's reaction. "I just didn't believe it," she said. "We don't know the whole story. There has to be something there." (after my coworker read this post, she explained that I took her comment out of context - she meant that, there were so many accusations flying around, from an unknown jump-off to an STD, that everyone was jumping to judge the situation without knowing what the full story is). I probably overreacted, but I said "why didn't you believe it? Why does there have to be something more? She didn't provoke anything! He wanted to beat her down so he beat her down!" At that moment I was standing up, looking over into her cubicle. I realized that a few people were looking at me, probably alerted by the tone and volume of my voice. So I sat down before I embarrased myself or my coworker. We quietly talked about women we knew in college who'd been in abusive relationships. The impression I got was that she felt men abused women due to an underlying relationship issue, whereas I felt it was a control issue within the man.

Then, I came across this story on ABC News. The article is basically about black parents' reactions to the incident, as it relates to how celebrities influence their children. Of course, one of the black parents interviewed wanted to stay neutral, and was reluctant to side with the battered woman. I applaud her son for feeling that he could pass judgment:
Kuae Kelch Mattox was surprised that her 9-year-old son Cole's third-grade
classmates were all aware of Brown's arrest. "They are obviously plugged into
the news of what happens with these celebrities," the Montclair, N.J.,
stay-at-home mom said. Her message to them: "Let's withhold judgment until we
hear the whole story. He's innocent until proven guilty." Her son, Cole, has
already changed his opinion, though. "I never heard anything bad about him," he
said. "After hearing about this story, Chris Brown isn't any better than Lil
Wayne. Now they are both practically bad guys. If he's actually proven guilty,
he should actually go to jail and no one should ever listen to his music."

And he's 9 yrs old! I don't understand why he could see the issue so clearly, while his mother could not.

I definitely agree with what one of the other mothers had to say:
Antona Smith, a St. Louis stay-at-home mother, believes some of the focus should
be on Rihanna as well. "She has to heal. She definitely needs to go to counseling," she said. "I hope the music industry, especially hip-hop, will look at some of the messages they send out about men and women. They are not the only young couple dealing with domestic violence and control. There's a great opportunity here to talk about this."

But I can't help but feel that Kuae Kelch Mattox's reaction is the more typical one. One thing that the R. Kelly phenomenon has taught me is that one's artistic value to the black community overshadows any criminal culpability. What's even more irrational, and infinitely irritating, is how people will point out other celebrities who've done bad things, as their reason for still supporting someone. I was listening to the radio one day last week, and the radio personality asked "should we stop playing Chris Brown's music?" One female caller said "well, no one stopped playing Mystical's music or R. Kelly's music, so there's no reason to stop playing Chris's music. Y'all go right ahead." Now, my grandma said that two wrongs don't make a right. So just because we didn't hold other celebrities to the fire, doesn't mean we continue to send the message that one's private life doesn't affect their artistic career. The way I see it is, we're patrons of a person's art. It used to be that patrons who supported artists could withdraw support for any slight, or for a sudden disinterest. But now, we don't want to keep a brotha down. *sarcasm* I say, if I don't like what you do, you're not getting my money, period. Money talks.

So in the grand scheme of things, Chris Brown's attack on Rihanna won't matter. As long as he keeps dancing, as long as girls think he's cute, and, more important, as long as parents and others who hold his financial support are willing to withhold judgment, thinking that Rihanna somehow contributed to his actions, or that he just didn't seem like the type, then men like him will continue to get away with crimes perpetrated against black women. I shouldn't be surprised though. It's not like there's been a public outcry in support of a black woman before, even in the black community. That's why I advocate for us to support ourselves and support each other - because certainly, black men and mainstream society won't. Rihanna might be a different story because white people really like her. Black women with crossover appeal aren't lumped together with the rest of us. So for us everyday, average sistas, let's be our sisters' keepers and ensure that we're valued for who we are above someone's crimes against us.

Question of the Week: Black Women Role Models

Question of the Week:

Who were the black women that served as positive role models for you during your youth? How has their example of black womanhood shaped your life?
(doesn't have to be a famous woman)

The Soundtrack of You

Do you have certain songs, that when you hear them, make you feel wonderful inside?

I start my day by listening to "Get Up" and "God In Me" by Mary Mary, followed by "Diva" by Beyonce. These songs remind me that I'm fabulous and why. Not because of what I'm wearing, what I look like, or what anyone else says about me... but because God says so. Once I get my morning chair dance on, then I'm focused on the day ahead with a self-appeciating smile on my face.

What songs are included in the soundtrack of you?

Question of the week

Question of the week:

How will you spend your Valentine's Day?

First Lady Obama covers Vogue

I love it I love it I love it!

I'm not a Michelle O. stan, but I admire the achievements of our First Lady. I'm so proud she graces the March cover of Vogue. Most of us, black or white, felt she should be there anyway. I will definitely be purchasing this issue, even though I didn't buy any of the other 'collector's editions' newspapers or magazines that feature the President and First Lady. I wonder if this issue will sell out as quickly and as widely as the Black Italian Vogue issue.

No matter what her detractors say - First Lady Obama's image is being broadcast around the world as a beautiful, intelligent, classy black woman. How many times are we freely categorized as such? I say we enjoy it where were can. We've been waiting for a black woman to represent us this well - and, apparently, so has the world.

Question of the week

I'm starting a new feature here at Black Femininity. The Question of the week is an opportunity for me to ask you thought-provoking questions and allow me to get to know you, my lovely readers, better. I'm very appreciative that you read my thoughts (thank you!!) but I'd like to know what you think as well.

Question for this week:

Do you think you are more or less attractive than women of other races? How did you form that opinion?