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What Does It Mean to Be Crowned ‘Miss Juneteenth’?

  • June 14, 2021

The rise of Miss Juneteenth pageants has come at a moment when Black contestants have met with remarkable success in more high-profile pageants. In 2019, the winners of the five most prominent pageants — Miss World, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe — were all Black. In some corners, their victories were seen as a watershed moment for the pageant world.

Still, Miss Juneteenth pageants offer a different experience for their winners.

“Even when we have this banner year and these wonderful women winning these pageants, it’s still in relationship to a presumptive default culture of whiteness,” said Treva B. Lindsey, a professor of women’s studies at Ohio State University, where she focuses on African-American women’s history and culture.

Proponents of Miss Juneteenth pageants point out that contestants often represent a wider range of sizes than are typically found in beauty pageants and they are welcomed, even encouraged, to participate with natural, unstraightened hairstyles.

“What makes it different is that it is an opportunity for young women of color to be unapologetically themselves,” said Andrea Sledge, co-chair of the Juneteenth festival in Fort Worth. “They don’t have to fit into a mold.”

The pageants, Ms. Sledge explained, focus on all facets of Black womanhood, from style to cultural contributions in music and dance. “Our young ladies are taught that in any room that they walk in, they belong there, regardless of who else is there.”

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