Thursday, 8 August 2013

Is Miss São Paulo racist?

Candidates to Miss São Paulo 2013
If you’ve been following the local news you may have noticed the official candidates for Miss São Paulo 2013 were recently announced. They are the lucky ladies who came through the initial selection process in which 77 hopefuls are put in black bikinis and high heels and appraised in groups of 8 by a panel of judges including last year’s competition winner. With photos of the winning girls having now been officially published, most mainstream media considered it important enough news item to cover, most of them under a predictable “pick your favourite” format.

Other than the obvious fact that this is a dated and sexist event, what is worth highlighting is what most media didn’t say about the photos despite it being glaringly obvious. Nobody questioned why almost every single candidate is white (incidentally they are disproportionately blonde) despite the demographic makeup of the region being 44% non-white at the 2010 census. 

There appear to be two ways of reading this, the first one being that, as this is a beauty contest and the ultimate criteria for success is ultimately how good looking the girl is, it has been decided that there are statistically fewer good looking black and mixed race girls. In other words it is a racist contest but nobody seems to mind. The usual argument to deny that racism exists, and there does appear to be a high level  of denial, is that although mixed race and especially black people are under-represented in many spheres (business, politics, etc) it is not due to discrimination but opportunity barriers (access to education & healthcare, wealth, etc) with the sometimes accompanying implication that the root of it all is historical (a long lasting effect of colonial slavery etc). If we were to buy that  argument, which I personally don’t, then the Miss World qualifiers would be an excellent way to prove it. After all, no minimum income or education is required to take part, removing the so called opportunity barriers and leaving beauty as the only criteria. What, then, is the reason non-whites are knocked out or, as is probably the case, don’t apply in the first place?

Miss Brazil 2012, an ambassadorial role?
The second reading is that it is not actually a beauty contest rather an exercise in charitable fundraising and the promotion of tourism. In other words, they are not just good-looking girls, they are ambassadors. This may indeed be the intention and it is true that a moderate sum of money has been raised across the globe by the Miss World organization and donated, mostly to children´s charities. But that takes us back to our original question; why are ambassadorial females consistently and disproportionately white year after year in an area of such, supposedly, celebrated racial diversity? Are there non-white females inadequate ambassadors or is Miss São Paulo not only sexist, but racist too?

Of course this is not an exclusively Paulista or even Brazilian issue. Miss World has been around since 1951 yet it took until 2001 for there to be a black Miss World and until 2007 for there to be an East Asian winner. But if upon reflection of all of that, you’re still interested in following the contest you’ll be glad to know it will be given live coverage on Band, one of Brazil’s major media groups, and will likely be hosted by Adriane Galisteu who is, you guessed it, a white, blonde, female…

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