Out of Many Propaganda?

Thanks to Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley Jamaica is famed as a font of black consciousness.

Now the question must be asked – why are nearly all the women chosen to represent this country on the world beauty stage clearly unrepresentative of the population at large?

This is not to criticize Sharlene Rädlein, who was probably a worthy winner. And there would be nothing inherently wrong with a ‘European looking’ girl occasionally being voted ‘most beautiful’ in a country of mainly African descent.

But when it happens almost every year you have to wonder if something is not amiss with that country’s psyche.


Now Jamaica has handled the tricky issue of race better than almost anywhere else. But Martin Luther King’s dream of a man being judged by the content of his character and not the colour of his skin has been fully realized here only in tourist brochure fantasies. For though matters have improved greatly over the years, the old saying of “white is alright, brown stick around, but black stay back” still holds true all too frequently.

File Photo - The Jamaican Blogs™
File Photo – The Jamaican Blogs™

Even now ‘quality and pretty hair’ means ‘fair complexioned with long tresses’, and ‘bleaching’ remains sadly prevalent. For Hollywood movies and cable TV have unfortunately counteracted the fading of colonial racial hangovers. And it will take a determined and conscious education effort to persuade children whose main source of entertainment is a 90% Caucasian screen world that white skin and long hair are not the universally desired norms.

Now raising the question of colour in this country usually brings an immediate “Out Of Many One People” chorus. And our admirable motto is undoubtedly one reason why populist racism has not destroyed our national economy a la Zimbabwe. Yet excessive out of context parroting of this fine sentiment can make it seem at times almost a defense of the status quo.

For while this island may have citizens of all races and hues living together in rare harmony, the plain reality is that 95% of Jamaicans are of primarily African descent and it is absurd to pretend otherwise. Were we a truly racially blind and integrated society 95% of most positions in this country – both high and low – would be held by recognizably black persons.

There are also many gatherings of the good and great here, not to mention quite a few gated communities, where practically the only black faces are waiters, bartenders, maids and gardeners. And would a Martian looking at the pictures in Sunday newspaper socialite columns not think that Jamaica is predominantly populated by visibly non-black persons? While of course light complexions are virtually unknown in our ghettos and penitentiaries.

“Jamaica has a class problem, not a colour one” some blithely respond, which is to some extent true. And it’s certainly easier to change class than colour. But when the lowest class is completely black and the highest predominantly light skinned, well class and colour are bound to get confused. There are many uptown verandahs where plantation racial prejudices still prevail. And persons in similar jobs are still sometimes treated differently depending on their appearance and background.

Now skin colour is a strange thing. Few things are more scientifically irrelevant – the human genome project showed that every human being is 99.99% identical genetically and the ancestors of every living human came from Africa. Yet many still rigidly classify people according to how much melanin they have in their epidermis.


It’s human nature to be more comfortable with the familiar, which is why social circles tend to have a certain average hue. What is unacceptable is to regard skin colour not merely as one of the thousand elements we use to evaluate people but as an overriding factor that cancels out everything else. And though Jamaica has moved further away from this than most places, there is still a long way to go.

One reason for our lack of racial tension over the years here has been the patient wisdom of the Jamaican masses, who realize that centuries of inequality cannot be remedied overnight. They know that while race is irrelevant, cultural attitudes are not and only time changes these – though careful legislation can help the process.

Jamaicans have tolerated often patent injustices as long as they saw steady progress towards equality being made. But the people would undoubtedly not hesitate to let their quiet majority power be heard if the move towards full racial parity ever stalled. And certainly a full and vigorous debate of the issues is an indispensable prod in our march towards that goal. It may make some uneasy, but discomfort is a necessary – if not sufficient – condition for change.

So while it may seem trivial to some, the colour of our beauty queens is not irrelevant. Because they are very visible signposts of how representative of the average Jamaican our institutions really are. No one would want an ‘affirmative action’ queen, but a black Miss Jamaica winning a global beauty crown would certainly be a cheering milepost of progress. Trinidad did it. And perhaps Jamaica can too in the not too distant future.

By Kevin O’Brien Chang

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Rohael Douglas
7 years ago

The Authentic look of a true jamaican is not black, white nor asian, not tool light not too dark… Jamaica is an Island Conlonised by many… Its the combination of all.. Take a look at Lisa Hanna.. She is and will always be the favourite when it comes to Beauty Queens, because we all can see apart of ourselves in her. REMEMBER … Out of many, ONE people!! Love each other,enjoy and bask in the beauty of a truly mixed nation…

Garry Anderson
7 years ago

So true.

Steve Ricardo Aitken-Mellers Mbe

She is still Jamaican! She was the most beautiful. If it is a beauty contest, then the most beautiful of that nationality should be chosen. Whether Black, white, green, purple or whatever. Why are you turning this into a ‘black/white thing’? Jealousy perhaps? Any representative of the country should be, of that nationality,whatever the background and a permenant resident of the country. The most beatiful should win, its not wrong as the clue is in the title ‘Beauty Contest!’

Imhotep Faya Ashanti
7 years ago

First of all we must state that Jamaica is an African outpost in the west and all this “OUT OF MANY, ONE PEOPLE” notion is/was a colonial impositon. Africans are majority in Jamaica, few Chinese, Indians, Syrians and Europeans who controls the economy and exploits the African mass from the time of shackle slavery. So this narative of fair skin and pretty hair it’s menticidal inherited from the European indoctrination, because in fact fair doesn’t mean light skin but means (good). So let us be proud of our Africaness and rule the world again through the “BLACK POWER” as it… Read more »

Ray Sasso
7 years ago

If you don’t enter the contest, you cannot win. And they say that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so maybe you have to change the judges outlook on the contestants?