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Cheslie Kryst became a part of history when she was crowned as Miss USA 2019, joining the ranks of Nia Franklin and Kaliegh Harris, two other black women who held the titles of Miss America and Miss Teen USA, respectively. But before taking the stage in May 2019 representing North Carolina, Kryst was admittedly worried that the country wouldn’t be ready for another black woman to be crowned as Miss USA just two years after two other black women held the title for consecutive years.
“I know I was worried that I had won too close to two other black women. Because I think there have been times where we’ve seen a woman of color crown a woman of color,” Kryst said during an Instagram Live with Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi and hairstylist Nai'vasha on Allure’s account on Monday. “We’ve seen these collections before here, there, sporadically, but like seeing Deshauna [Barber] win in 2016 and then Kára [McCullough] in 2017 and then Sarah [Rose Summers] right after, I was like, can we do another one? Is there room?”
While many celebrated Kryst’s journey to the crown and the fact that three black women represented the country with the top pageant titles, it became evident that not everyone was comfortable with the evolving face of beauty pageants. Many even questioned why Kryst, Franklin and Harris were talked about so often.
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“We were everywhere and I remember somebody commenting on one of my pictures and was like, ‘Why does everybody keep talking about race? We just need to understand that these are three accomplished women that just won on their own merit.’ And I was like, ‘Well, while I agree with you, yes, the reason we’re talking about race is because when has this ever happened?’” Kryst recalled. “It’s because of that sense of tokenism that we have, that many other people besides us have. That they think, OK, we’ve got a black Miss America they should be happy. Or we’ve got a black Miss USA, they should be happy. Not thinking like, we can have five of these titles.”
Tunzi, who made history as the first black woman to win Miss Universe with her natural hair on display in November 2019, went on to denounce the idea that more than one black woman with a crown is ever “too many.”
“That’s why I felt like it was so important to have Cheslie and I and all the other queens that won who were black at the same time, to show people that actually you can have more than one,” Tunzi says. “People speak about diversity and representation like the world is ready. But when it actually happens, people can’t take change. They can’t deal with it. Which is why we have things like cyberbullying, which is why people will send you nasty DMs, say nasty things in your comments. Because they’re just not dealing with it, they’re not ready.”
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