After my post on Zahra Redwood, Miss Jamaica Universe 2007, I got a comment that really gave me pause.

It says: “Miss Jamaica’s dreadlocks might make some people feel good but they will eliminate any chance of her winning. Entering a dreadlocked contestant represents typical Jamaican arrogance. That stuff is just too way out there.”

I wanted to retort immediately, but I made a resolution to stay away from inevitable flame wars. Still, the loaded negativity of the statement lingered with me. It’s been a week, but I have to speak my piece. Dreadlocks being “too way out there”? “Typical Jamaican arrogance?” Exqueeze me?

Generalizing a nation of people by a personality characteristic is just silly and sad regressive thinking. The phrase sounds ancient and should be abandoned, along with calling Trinidadians “Trickydadians” and perpetuating tired stereotypes about Nigerians, as some popular blogs did recently.

Sure, I’ve known some arrogant Jamaicans. I’ve also known some arrogant Bajans, Guyanese, Vincentians, Americans, Brits… and don’t get me started on my own fellow Trinis. We have family friends who put the “arr” in arrogant. In fact, when I started Afrobella, I discovered that a former high school classmate of mine had written about me on a popular Trini website and described me as “stuck up.” Back in those days, I hated school so much because I was shy and awkward and felt like I didn’t fit in. But that was interpreted as me being aloof and yup, arrogant, in a time when that couldn’t have been further from the truth. (If anyone wants to call me arrogant now, go right ahead. I’ve grown up to be confident and self-possessed, and insecure people love to destroy that kind of thing).

My point is, there are arrogant people to be found in every culture around the world. And to label an entire nation of people of being any one thing is kind of arrogant in itself, no?

I don’t know diddly about what it takes to win a pageant, beyond beauty, poise, and brains. And Zahra Redwood has those three things in spades — regardless of her so-called “out there” hairstyle. By now we all know that she didn’t win, Miss Japan did. But I sincerely applaud the variety of black beauty represented at this year’s event. There was Zahra, a Miss Jamaica who broke down doors for those who felt that the typical winner never truly represented what the average people of that country look like. With dreadlocks down to her backside, she successfully shattered Rasta stereotypes.

On the other side of the coin, there was Flaviana Matata, an electrical technician who represented her homeland Tanzania for the first time in the pageant’s history.

With her resplendently shaved head, she proved that bald truly can be beautiful. I mean, look at her! She’s absolutely luminous. According to gambling site The Online Wire, Flaviana defended her right to be bald by saying, “I never let anyone define me, neither by hair nor clothing, as I believe God made me perfect as a pure, natural African woman.” Her words made my heart swell with pride. She destroyed the old cliche that a “woman’s hair is her beauty,” by demonstrating that true beauty really comes from within.

Besides the two extreme hair contestants, there were so many other incredible black bellas representing their countries. Rachel Smith, Miss USA memorably fell, but recovered with grace to place in the top five. Jewel Garner is a young lawyer who speaks multiple languages, and revealed that Barbadian beauties come in all shades of beautiful. Miss Guyana plans to work hard to support the underprivileged children of her country, and Miss Zambia has already founded her own charity. All of these women are stunning and smart.

I’m all about celebrating strong black female role models, and I think that this year’s Miss Universe contestants should be applauded. It is just a pageant, and anyone who dismisses such events as being anti-feminist constructs or outdated definitely has their point. But to people who hail from these small corners of the world, they matter. And regardless of the pageant’s final outcome, I’m sure all of these women made their homelands proud.

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thope says:
June 5, 2007, 10:22 am
WHAT!!! I can not believe how some people think sometimes, but luckily we all have freedom to say what we think! My husbands family is from a small town in NC and when we were newly married, one of his sisters was saying something about a young man from the neighborhood that got in trouble. Can't remember the exact converstation, but I do remebember her saying, "Well, he does have dreds after all." What does that mean? I shut her up quickly by saying, "So does my brother." To some people that aren't exposed to outside cultures or anything out of their own perceived "norm" it is easy to make snap judgements and to project insecurities on something they don't understand.
Cluizel says:
June 5, 2007, 10:29 am
I JUST got into an argument about this with my mother this morning! I was trying to tell her that you cannot just throw a blanket over an entire country and give them a personality trait. To that I was called naïve and to that I just said whatever... I love that these "beauty queens" are so tall like me...GET IT! I had no idea...
June 5, 2007, 10:36 am
I just shaved my hair completely off about a month ago to begin my natural journey, and seeing Miss Tanzania looking sooo beautiful with her bald head gave me so much inspiration. I am soooo proud that black women are being portrayed in a positive light. I am not really into pageants, but I think they are doing a great job in showcasing what smart, beautiful black women have to offer to the world. And that is a lot. I am also ssoooo tired of ppl and their negative remarks of black culture. I think it just goes to show how far we have come...and that is obviously not a long way.
islandgirl550 says:
June 5, 2007, 11:29 am
Great Post! Missed you... glad you're back. I'm sure we all know how we can be in West Indian families... with the comments and all. Now that my locs are past my shoulders people are beginning to accept me.(rolls eyes). When my locs were young and in their cultivation stage... ooo, the comments. I'm so glad you did this post to show beautiful, strong, black women in EVERY shade.
1969 says:
June 5, 2007, 12:36 pm
You are far more eloquent than I would have ever been. Great response. Listen to India's "I am Not My Hair" five times today people. :)
Donna says:
June 5, 2007, 12:53 pm
I just wanted to say that you are truly an inspiration to me. I've visited your site often within the last few weeks and I keep coming back to see what you come up with next. I happen to agree with your thoughts on this whole dread lock thing. I am also of West Indian/Caribbean heritage and I can remember when dreads were considered Taboo. In fact amongst the older generation it may still exist. But I say this is a new time and a new world and we need to throw the arrogance out the door! Your hair does not define the person you are but rather is an extension of who you are. I am so proud to see the diversity this year in the Miss Universe pageant. I love to see women embracing their natural beauty, whether through curly, kinky,dreadlocked or bald headed. Keep up the excellent work are a true BEAUTY!!!!!
Sophia says:
June 5, 2007, 1:26 pm
As always, I enjoy your posts and look forward to the topics, links, musics, and your perspective on culture. Stay blessed!
The Narcist says:
June 5, 2007, 2:21 pm
Another great post as usual. Thanks for highlighting that sexy and beautiful come in many different forms! I have a question that I'd like for you to discuss or answer. I have recently decided to go natural, and I want to know what are the proper actions to take to start this transition. I also would like to know how to combat tenderheadedness. Thanks in advance=)
ceecee says:
June 5, 2007, 2:30 pm
I watched the paegant and cheered for Ms Tanzania and Ms Jamaica they are both so gorgeous, it's sad that ignorant stereotypes exist, but it is what it is and will probably never go away. We all just have to correct people who make such broad ignorant statements because it really is for a lack of knowledge. So thank you bella for not letting that ignorant comment lie but correcting it calmly and factually. Ms Tanzania is the true winner of the paegant in my eyes. Her smile is so beautiful!
Patrick Jnr. says:
June 5, 2007, 2:50 pm
A beautiful and thought provoking post as usual little sister! Keep doing what you're doing, you make me proud everyday!
kia says:
June 5, 2007, 2:53 pm
when i went on the site after seeing zahara on your page, i was very delighted to see the array of differences and women represented. i just knew that they'd all be the standard beauty expected in a pageant... long, flowy hair and slim. i was excited to see the women rocking their own style! thanks for bringing this to my attention. i look forward in keeping up with the pageant next year!
star says:
June 5, 2007, 3:11 pm
Hi Bella, I understand what's being said and no one should pass judgement on a person(s)..because of their hair, skin or size. However, as a child I remember people frowning when they saw someone w/locs or rolling their eyes. I thought their hair(people w/locs), was just dirty and to cut your hair short was a no-no. I knew up thinking my hair was my "GLORY". So many of my thoughts, came from my surroundings and some of my beliefs carried over into "young" adulthood(sad, but true). Once, I moved into new surroundings and began to meet new people...that's when I realized how "FOOLISH", I had been. I'm not making excuses for anyone...because it's still wrong to pass judgement. Now I know better, so I do better and I share all that I know....with my daughter. Another, wonderful post!!!!!!
black beauty says:
June 5, 2007, 4:29 pm
About Miss Tanzania: 1. The crowd in Mexico loved her. Whenever she took the stage the crowd cheered lowdly for her. 2. Miss Tanzania made top 10. So out of 70(?)she was condisered somewhere between(10-6)most well togeather(not only looks) woman in world. 3. I think part of the reason that Miss Usa was booed was because she made the top 5 and Miss Mexico(she has a banging figure)and Miss Tanxzania did not. When she fell the crowd actualy cheered her on after she stood up and smiled. It was after she was chosen as one of the top 5 that the audience seemed to be disapointed with her. 4. I was rooting for Miss Tanzania,Miss Jamiaca, Miss Japan and Miss Angola.
Tamu says:
June 5, 2007, 8:29 pm
The problem with the comment you received is that she or he agrees with people who would put that person down that they are right. Part of the problem with any form of persistent discrimination is the internalization and co-opting of the belief that these notions are true. Take heart in all of the comments from people with a healthier perspective. Those women are beautiful.
JahGyal says:
June 5, 2007, 8:54 pm
As a proud Jamaican woman, with natural hair, that is often perceived as locs (I keep it twisted), I'm both offended and saddened by the comment of that person. But not surprised. Isn't it sad how still in 2007, many of us are still enslaved? That poor unfortunate soul has so much self hatred that the only thing they could think of to say was to call another persons hair style "out there" and a whole nation of 2.7 million and their antecedents "arrogant". Don't know bout the commenter, but give me arrogant over ignorant any day. As usual great post Bella. I remain your faithful reader, and welcome back, I was beginning to get withdrawal symptoms.
RJ says:
June 5, 2007, 9:09 pm
I agree that locs are extravagent, but that is what a beauty pageant is all about! I think that locs provide a more grounded figure for a thin woman and stamina to a heavier frame. Locs do display arrogance and pride, but this is what beauty is all about: showing the full extent of both inner and external beauty. Locs may be to bold for me, but that doesn't mean that it could decrease chances for Miss Jamaica. I think that it should increase them because they make her personage more memorable and display an ancient form of beauty that has yet to be appreciated in the mainstream media; in other words, she's fresh and controversial just because of her brilliant locs!
Thaddeus Carvaloh says:
June 5, 2007, 9:59 pm
You gon' make a brotha do somethin' naughty if you keep postin' pic like this. She is beautiful.
SHonQUAYshah says:
June 5, 2007, 10:25 pm
afrobella- i love this post although, i have to admit,after more than a year of growing my hair out...i went back to the creamy crack dealer once more! but i know that no matter what style i rock, i am still beautiful, because my beauty comes from within! this post reminds me of this reggae song i used to hear back in the 90's "Black is my Color" i forget who it was by. i am loving the sister that are loving ourselves...bump whatever he say, she say! and you are TOO CRAZY for referencing WAYMON from LOW DOWN DIRTY SHAME in that post! (one of my all-time favorite movies!!!)
afrobello says:
June 5, 2007, 11:23 pm
I thought they were being called LOCKS now, because they aren't dreadful. That crap about not being able to win a beauty pageant because your hair is in its natural state is a crock. It infuriates me mostly because people of color have been complicit in the prevailing attitude that natural hair is an aesthetic liability. Arrogance? Natural hair is arrogant, yet the falsehoods of makeup, heels, gowns and titillating swimsuits is TOTALLY appropriate? The ideal woman this event aims to create is b.s. anyway.
lockedgoddess says:
June 6, 2007, 1:02 pm
I have waist length locks that the most ignorant people comment on. From "is that your hair to "That is the ugliest mess I've ever seen." I think Miss Jamaica is beautiful, all of them are. It is still alot of people with their heads up their butts that understand how beautiful all black women, permed, pressed, natural and bald are. Until then, we just have keep walking with our heads up high and keep shattering those myths.
Dahls says:
June 6, 2007, 1:55 pm
Bella you always amaze me by posting issues that I’ve just debated with my friends and family, I swear I’m convinced your in my mind! I completely agree with your retort on that posted comment. I was recently told by a family member that my choice to wear my hair in it’s natural state was a form of arrogance & stubbornness, and that I should wait until I become more established in my future career to become natural. The explanation for that comment was that my natural hair made me look less professional. I find it so sad that in this day and age that these views are still held. I was so happy to see Miss Jamaica & Miss Tanzania sporting their individual natural looks. I felt that it proved the point that beauty, particular the beauty of us darker girls is not marginal, I honestly thought that it would be a positive thing. I guess not.
Stephen Bess says:
June 6, 2007, 4:26 pm
This is a wonderful post! Bravo! I like the way you defend the sisters who are confident and bold enough to against societal "norms." These women are beautiful and hair has little or nothing to do with it. Well, I would have a problem with processed blonde against there dark skin, but that's another story. It reminds me of when I met my South African wife because her hair was cut very short. I loved it! She tried to grow it back recently and I begged her to keep it short for a while. I'm happy to say that she did. Beautiful and informative website. I'll be back.
Colonise This! says:
June 6, 2007, 6:24 pm
I am not into the whole beauty pageant thing for the "outdated constructs" reason and more, however I am willing to entertain the idea that for women of colour, particularly women of African ancestry, these pageants may have a positive function, e.g. validation of our beauty and existence. I for one was very happy to see the Jamaican and Tanzanian reps. I believe that if we are going to do these pageants then it is healthier to have multiple representations of our looks. I can't think of any two looks that represent the wonderful extremes in our range of choices better than a dread and a baldie. Plus we had every thing in between ... except an AFRO right? Maybe next year.
XcentricPryncess says:
June 7, 2007, 9:46 am
Even if a black woman did not win, I am glad that they showcased beautiful black women with varying skin tones. Black people are our own enemies. We call each other nappy headed and black with negative connotations. Little girls need to see that black and nappy headed IS and can be beautiful!!
AppleDiva says:
June 7, 2007, 11:31 am
These women remind us that pretty is pretty, and that pretty is not always the fake beauty "standard". I applaud them for being themselves, which is can be a bold feat. They are breaking the mold and I applaud them!! Yay Jamaica!!!
berrybrowne says:
June 7, 2007, 3:56 pm
hi bella - i agree with you as usual, but i'd add one more point just because i think it should always be brought up. the one thing all of the contestant always have in common is thinness. it stinks that the "universal" standard of beauty is thin. you can be dark, light, tall, short, bald, dredded or wavy - but you better be skinny! i'm just sayin'.
Karen says:
June 8, 2007, 5:24 pm
Black Honey says:
June 8, 2007, 7:21 pm
Miss Tanzania is so pretty. I hope she competes in the Miss World competition.
designdiva says:
June 10, 2007, 10:10 pm
I agree with berrybrowne. I'm not into beauty pagents, but I thought the one with the locks (Miss Jamica?) was beautiful, and I thought her hair was beautiful also. And Miss Tanzania? She's so cute!
designdiva says:
June 10, 2007, 10:14 pm
Maybe I shouldn't say cute...that's kind of demeaning...she's beautiful.
peppar says:
March 6, 2008, 1:37 pm
I have stumbled upon your site completely at random twice now and I always get sucked into the article and read the whole page, I really enojoy your writing, and that you have a wonderful open point of view.
john stanton says:
May 26, 2008, 10:19 pm
beautiful...very beautiful
closecut says:
August 29, 2008, 6:08 pm
now thats one hot sexy bald mama!!!
patty omalley says:
August 15, 2012, 8:09 pm
why do black people always have to be thrilleed so wrapped in the fact that they are black if anyone else did it they would be racist, could you imagine if white people ran around with slogans such as white is best, respect the black womaN ETC, i know many people who think all of this just plain stupid, i knew 2 guys from grenada who always had a tshirt or baseball hat or something to say where they came from because they did not want people to think yhey were from jamaica. a ex workmate of mine said that blacks make themselves disliked. it is not or coming to o others fault for black on black violence
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