Vanessa Williams made waves this week with her return to the Miss America Stage. After serenading the audience with a powerful performance, Williams received an apology from current president of the organization Sam Haskell. The gesture received a mostly positive reception with a shared sentiment that the apology was “long overdue.” As an individual who stands with Ms. Williams in her intersectionality of blackness and femininity, I am here to simply say that an apology isn’t good enough.
In 1983, at the tender age of twenty, Vanessa Williams made history as the first black recipient of the Miss America title. Williams only held the title for ten months before she was forced to resign.
The provided reason for Ms. Williams dethroning was that nude photos from her past surfaced and compromised the integrity of her title. I say “the provided reason” because truthfully society was not, and arguably still isn’t truly ready to acknowledge black women for the inherit queens that we are. Thus, to strip Ms. Williams from her crown, is to undo what society never wanted to see happen in the first place. What Miss America pageant did was hand Williams what seemed to be a crown, but was really noose.
On the surface, Williams seemed much like the other contestents. However Williams’ participation in the Miss America pageant demonstrates a black woman trying to obtain a crown from the same America that seized and enslaved her people. A black woman can’t expect a country who stole her crown centuries prior to give it back without strings attached. America has never done anything for blacks that has not benefited its majority on a larger scale. The black woman’s yearning for visibility and acceptance is nurtured by racism, and personified in events like the Miss America pageant and places like Hollywood. In capitalizing on the ingrained insecurity of blacks, whites are consistently able to pursue their own agendas in occasionally offering blacks visibility and conditional acceptance.
In crowning a black woman with the “Miss America” title, America appears to fulfill its promise of equality and diversity. However, in crafting said recipient as unfit for the role, the racist media continues its unwavering portrayal of blacks as the cause of their own disenfranchisement. The Miss America Pageant is a charade in portraying whites as extending the olive branch for black improvement all the while demonizing blacks in painting them as their own deterrents.
Williams did what many young girls do as they come of age in both traditional and contemporary society. Most young girls are seduced by beauty and all the promises and evils that often come along with it. This takes on many forms, and for Ms. Williams it came in the offer of a photo shoot that promised to capture her beauty. She surely was not the sole contestant to fall into this trap, but slut shaming a black woman substantiates traditional tales of her hyper sexuality. This contributes to the silent declaration that black women simply aren’t worthy of greatness.
So, no an apology isn’t good enough. Although admittedly it is good for ratings and even greater for a society that does so much talking but very little action. An apology does nothing to negate the cloud that’s hovered over Williams’ career resulting from the plague of systematic racism. Haskell’s gesture did not restore Williams of her title, thus is more symbolic than anything else.
No apology is sincere without addressing the root of the problem, and there is just no sentiment or hallmark card to apologize for racism. To admit to racism, is to admit to all that’s resulted from it, starting with the African holocaust. You can’t just say sorry for raping my grandmother, or castrating one of my forefathers. You can’t apologize for the past and present murders of my black brothers or the slaughtering of my sisters.
Sorry just is not good enough for this level of injustice, in fact it isn’t even a proper first step.
So as a black woman existing at the intersectionality of femininity and blackness I request that the Miss AmericaOrganization as well as the United States as a whole, do better, in compensating for the continued disenfranchisement of my people. But, I know that the Miss America pageant, much like the society in which it maintain its relevancy will do what it does best- nothing.