The crowning of this year’s Miss Universe winner, a white South African woman called Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, felt like an evergreen reminder of the legacy of colonialism in African countries.
Discussions around colonialism and its effects are always centered around the economic and political ramifications, and rightfully so. A lot of developing countries are in the state that they’re in because of imperial exploitation and subjugation of their people. The irreversibility of the damage done by Great Britain and other European countries for the sake of sovereignty and in the name of God is exemplified by perpetual crisis in the countries they colonized.
However pertinent these issues, the seldom discussed side effect of imperialism is the cultural genocide, namely the prominent Eurocentric depictions of womanhood and beauty.
I wasn’t born in South Africa but I lived there for most of my formative years. I attended an all-girls catholic school and about 95 percent of my classmates were black. But none of us wore our hair naturally because it was considered unruly to have an afro.
Black womanhood is so policed that even the hair that grows naturally out of our scalps has to be legislated. To this day in South African schools young girls have to protest for their right to wear their hair naturally. We have to protest for the right to exist as we are.
My qualms about Nel-Peters winning Miss Universe have nothing to do with the actual competition; it’s not that I wish a black woman had been representing South Africa. The whole ordeal is sourly antiquated and reflects poorly on the progress we’ve made a propos the value of women in society.
The perpetuation of physical beauty as a virtue is problematic in it of itself but the exclusion of women of color, specifically black African women, in the paradigm of social convention is dangerous. Black women are being persecuted because of this exclusion and it’s an active force of systematic oppression.
That’s the thing about the most flaccid parts of our society, they are deeply rooted in institutions that serve to undermine our existence. They subtly but actively perpetuate our dehumanization. Classifications of beauty are shallow and useless when you’re the token of admiration. However, when you’re the antithesis, they become detrimental.
Furthermore, this is a disheartening reminder of what colonial rule took from indigenous people all over the world, a clear and concise cultural identity. Looking at the traditional hairstyles and accoutrements women wore in South Africa and comparing it to the way Nel-Peters looked while representing the country is exponentially morbid.
When the world sees us, they can’t see us as we once were, with multicolored beads hanging on our necks. They can’t see us with handwoven crowns on our heads. They can’t see us with coarse hair that reaches for the clouds.
We’ve been forced out of our own homes, out of our countries, out of our skin. Now South Africa looks like the Netherlands and Britain. We’ve lost the right to assert ourselves and our identity globally unabashedly, without caring about hurting feelings. And it’s a loss worth mourning.
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