Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009

A Shameful Legacy

Beauty pageants haven't exactly been agents of change. Until 1970, some of the most recognized contests — such as Miss America and Miss U.S.A. — refused to allow women of color to participate. The Miss America pageant even went so far as to codify its bigotry with its notorious "Rule number seven," which stated that all contestants must be "of good health and of the white race." So when Christina Silva's Miss California title was taken away from her in November 2007 after judges said the votes had been miscounted, Silva countered with a $500,000 lawsuit, claiming racial bias was the real reason behind the organizers' flip-flop.

The pageant's director, Keith Lewis, dismissed Silva's claims, saying, "I've had three winners since I've been a director. Two have been African American ... And the current Miss California U.S.A. is 25% Filipino. I think my record speaks for itself." Less than a year later, Silva had her own change of heart and dropped the suit.