After my post on Zahra Redwood, Miss Jamaica Universe 2007, I got a comment that really gave me pause.
It says: “Miss Jamaicaâ€™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.