A few weeks ago I entered my six-month-old in a country beauty pageant. I’ve always been curious about the pageant scene and thought that while she still won’t have a memory of the experience, why not try it. I’d hate to traumatize her with flashbacks of little girls crying on stage, watching creepy dance routines, and worst of all, losing. My fears were unfounded: we ended the day with a sash and tiara.
More than one person I talked with about the pageant voiced concerns about taking my black baby with gay dads to a Midwestern rural town for competition. While I understand prejudice runs rampant in many areas, would we really experience discrimination at a beauty pageant? Doesn’t the gay mafia run them? It was something I had never thought about. But our admission fee was paid, and we were going to sashay down the runway come hate or high water.
The pageant was a scene right out of Toddlers and Tiaras. Little girls pranced about in vibrantly colored, way too expensive dresses, sipping pixie sticks, and waiting for show time. We sat in the corner, in our $5 eBay dress, sizing up the competition. As the 0 to 23 month age group took to the stage, white girls in full glitz surrounded my black baby in her second-hand party dress. Aside from one other baby, all the other girls could walk. As their names were called, and the spotlight shone on each girl, they began to run away, cry, or stand sheepishly, staring out at the crowd. My daughter smiled.
We didn’t enter all the categories within the pageant. Something didn’t feel right about the swimsuit category. So we were automatically out of the running for the grand prize. At crowning, when they announce the winners, categories came and went. And we remained seated. Then it happened. We won the beauty category for our age group. We got a trophy, a sash, and a tiara. My baby couldn't have cared less. I was thrilled.
The overall pageant winner was the only other black girl in the competition. After announcing our win to friends and family, it was an apparent consensus my daughter won because they were looking for something exotic. Exotic? Suddenly fears of discrimination from a racist crowd and hostile judging panel vanished, replaced instead with confidence a rural pageant would reward a unique beauty in a sea of similar.
I’m a white guy (in a relationship with another white guy) raising a black baby. And while I’ve thought casually about how race has played and will play a role in our daughter’s upbringing, so far I’ve only dealt first-hand with the fact while learning about hair care products. It didn’t cross my mind that exposing her to social settings could have a negative impact on her. Sitting here typing, I realize I’ve been naïve.
I’m glad we entered the pageant; happy we won and happy the concerns of our friends and family came to naught. I’m also happy we went because those conversations were had. Whether I was just clueless or filled with Opie Taylor optimism, the world is indeed a tough place. And while I’ll shield my daughter from it for as long as possible, it means I have to be aware of it myself.