Last night at the Miss America Pageant, CEO Sam Haskell gave Vanessa Williams a long overdue apology on behalf of the franchise on air. Haskell apologized to Williams, who returned to the pageant for the first time in over 30 years as head judge, for having her Miss America title stripped away shortly after it was awarded in 1984. Williams became the first African-American women to be crowned Miss America.
Haskell used this opportunity to remind Williams and all those tuning into the competition that none of the executives involved with the scandal still worked at the franchise. This was a not so subtle way of announcing that the pageant had changed its ways and should no longer be held responsible for the incident.
Although Vanessa Williams did not receive a glitzy crowning ceremony last night in place of having her title revoked, the superstar and mother, nevertheless, did receive a lot. First and foremost, the public apology raised an important discussion around slut shaming. Williams lost her title in 1984 after nude photos of her that had been taken prior to the competition were leaked. The Miss America Pageant affirmed the right for Williams to be publicly shamed for these photos by taking her title away. Furthermore, the stripping of this title also attempted to rewrite history and erase Williams’ achievement as the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America, an important title for a black woman to have. Even today we continue to combat Eurocentric beauty ideals that look down at Afrocentric beauty ideals. Black women are encouraged to follow respectability politics in order to be taken more seriously. There is a long history of making the ceiling of opportunity for black women very low in the United States, whether or not we choose to admit it or not.
Kudos to #VanessaWilliams! 👑👑👑 The #MissAmerica organization finally apologized to her after 32 years for forcing her resignation after being the first African American woman crowned Miss America when unauthorized photos of her were published by Penthouse. Chairman Sam Haskell: "I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.
The public apology gave Williams’ the spotlight she deserves and has earned. Yesterday night, we were asked to celebrate this all-star: singer, TV and stage actress, producer, former fashion model, and yes, Miss America of 1984. Williams’ embodies a woman in a league of her own. When people tried to kick her down and take away her accomplishments, she dusted her knees and went on to have one of the most successful careers out there. She demolished the low ceiling those around her try to build above her and continues to show us all what it really means to be Miss America. It is more than a crown. The question is who needs the crown when you’ve got the talent and perseverance?