Mbathio Beye was crowned the first “Miss Black France” April 28 under a heavy cloud of controversy in the still racially-charged city of Paris.
The exclusive contest was created to celebrate Black beauty in a way traditional beauty contests failed to do, one organizer said.
“The Traditional Miss France contest is not representing today’s French population accurately. There are usually very few Black candidates in it,” Frederic Royer, one of the organizers of Miss Black France, told AFP. “Our contest aims to focus on these women, who are rarely given any media attention.”
The pageant was a joint project between the French Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN) and the organizers of the traditional Miss France competition, according to RT.com.
But many decried the contest as unnecessary, divisive, “stupid” and even “dangerous.” Even CRAN’s founder and former president Patrick Lozès called it hardly “progressive.”
“This logic is detrimental to the values of French society,” he said, according to the Black women’s website Madame Noire. “If I think that there are not enough Black people in the most prestigious schools and companies, am I going to go create establishments exclusively reserved for Blacks?”
He later said such exclusive events undercut attempts at integrating Blacks into French society.
“Everything possible must be done so that these people recognize themselves as French, and not as Black people living in France,” he added. “We can’t start having ethnically exclusive contests if our ultimate goal is to have all-inclusive national contests. It’s a serious strategic error.”
Historian Pascal Blanchard, a specialist in immigration at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, shot down the initiative’s supporters who pointed to ethnically-exclusive beauty contests in the United States.
“I know that in the U.S., there are ethnic beauty contests. The fact that they’re tolerated doesn’t change my mind,” he said. “Anytime that anyone, no matter where in the world, talks to me about a contest reserved for a specific racial category, I hit the roof!”
Despite the philosophical wrangling, the show went on. In the end, Beye, a 21-year-old marketing student from Senegal, won after being selected from a pool of 1,000 applicants and beating out 16 other finalists.