Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana: Is “Miss Black France” Acceptable?

While French people are still in the midst of the presidential elections with its second round coming up on May 5-6th 2012, another vote buzzed last week: the “Miss Black France” [fr] contest.

The home page of the event scheduled on Saturday April 28, 2012, says [fr]:

Célébrons la Beauté Noire!

Let's Celebrate Black Beauty!
The Official Poster of Miss Black France

The Official Poster of Miss Black France

The “About” section of the Facebook page [fr] of the contest explains:

Les jeunes femmes noires vont enfin avoir leur élection. Jusqu’à aujourd’hui très peu représentée en France – et en tout cas pas dans les concours de « Miss » que l’on connait –, la beauté noire va pouvoir être mise en avant à sa juste valeur.

L’élection Miss Black France est ouverte à toutes les jeunes femmes françaises ou étrangères vivant en France, de métropole, des DOM-TOM ou d'Afrique, âgée…s d’au moins 16 ans, sans autre critère que l’élégance et le charme.

Black young women are eventually going to have their election. Black beauty, which has been very little promoted in France up to this date -at least, not in the usual ‘beauty pageants’- will be showcased there.

All young women, French nationals or foreign residents, natives of France, the French Overseas Regions or Africa are eligible if they are at least 16 years old and with no other criteria than elegance and glamour.

This introduction to the genesis of this pageant has raised many questions among French people and bloggers, among which Bondamanjak from Martinique [fr], who wonders:

Dérive communautariste ? Acte militant ? Impérialisme yankee ? Bizness ?

Excessive communalism? Activist move? Yankee imperialism? Business?

These questions are justified by the founding motto of the French nation, according to which all citizens are equal and cannot be distinguished on account of ethnicity or religion. In this perspective, having a national contest based on the ethnicity of the pageants seems heretical to many netizens.

A post published on a Martinican blog People Bo Kay explains both points of view [fr] and where the division lies.

Supporters of the pageant advocate the need for more visibility [fr]:

mettre la lumière sur ces femmes noires extrêmement nombreuses que l'on voit peu dans les médias.

cast the light on these extremely numerous Black women, who are little represented in the media.

En France, les seules miss noires que nous avons connues étaient soit métissées ou originaires d'outre-mer. Il n'y a jamais eu de filles issues de parents sénégalais ou algériens. Ces filles là ne se reconnaissent pas encore dans le concours de Miss France. Elles pensent qu'il n'est pas pour elles et donc s'auto-censurent.

In France, the only Black pageant winners that we have ever known were either mixed-raced or natives of the French overseas regions. There has never been any girls from Senegalese or Algerian parents. They cannot identify with the Miss France pageant yet. They think it is not made for them and become self-conscious to the extent of self-censorship.

This last point was made by historian and specialist of cultural diversity matters, François Durpaire [fr], during an interview on French national channel, France 2.

One of the cons to this pageant was that to some, it symbolizes reverse discrimination – the most recurrent question being, “What if a fair blonde French young woman wants to participate?”

A comment published following the post at Bondamanjak says [fr]:

La couleur noire n'est ni une identité, ni une classe cela est ridicule de faire une quelconque différence face à une miss blanche. Le combat qu'on doit mener n'est pas à ce niveau. Contruisons avant une communauté unie , solidaire défendant notre mémoire pour contruire une vraie identité.

The color black is not an identity, nor a social class. It is ridiculous to make any difference with a white contestant. Our struggle does not belong there. Let's build a united and self-reliant community to defend our collective memory and our true identity.

Although this beauty pageant has been very controversial and triggered much division among people over its legitimacy, one thing make people come together: why use the adjective “black” in French, instead of “noire”.
The answer is that black sounds more like a marketing success than “noire”.

The results of the pageant are published along with the picture of the winners on this post at People Bo Kay:

A 21-year-old marketing student from Senegal, Tiah Beye was crowned ‘Miss Black France 2012′ along with her two runners-up, 22-year-old, Ivorian-born Romy Niaba and 23-year-old, Aissata Soumah from Guinea.


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