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black beauty is always universal

December 13, 2019
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When I was six years old my favorite pastime was cosplaying as a teen pop star, much like anyone else my age or older, if we’re being completely honest. Anyway, the name of my imagined worldwide sensation alter-ego was not my own. When I poured my heart out to thousands of fans in a packed stadium (my mother’s lounge furniture) it wasn’t ‘Zamalisa’ the crowd was calling out — the name they screamed was ‘Taria.’ It was an adaptation of the name Taina, which was one of my favorite shows back then, following the life of a talented Brown girl who just wanted her shot. Go figure.

See, Zamalisa felt too African for someone whose name could be on a marquee. I barely grasped what Zamalisa meant at that age, thus I could not see the beauty in it. Growing up, I’ve learned the meaning of my name and the significance of presenting your full self to the world, regardless of what you have been force-fed.

I have also learned the importance of representation for young ones. Beauty pageants are a thing of the past, similar to the notions of beauty that they propagate. But when you see the newly crowned Ms. Universe Zozibini Tunzi, it’s not the sash that declares her worth or beauty, it’s actually the other way around: it’s Tunzi’s presence and poise that is so damn electric, and the only reason why we’re discussing this “competition.” I mean, the last time we were talking about this beauty pageant with this much energy was back when Steve Harvey became Ms. Colombia’s number one nemesis in 2015.

On the one hand, we have never really needed the validation of white institutions — that is now obvious, but those people don’t matter. The people that matter are the Black girls and Black women who got to feel seen, revered and celebrated through the reverence and celebration of the magnetic and graceful human being that is Ms. Universe. We understand that the beauty of Ms. Universe was never in question, but we cannot take moments like this for granted when anti-Blackness still runs rife, even within the Black community. But then again, this isn’t about the self-hating Black masses or even the racist European and Asian trolls who had me practically abusing my block button — my version of self-care. This is about Zozibini.

To be fair to our new Queen of the Universe, the weight of dismantling colorism, discrimination and racism is not hers to bear. Her mere presence, in crown and sash, jet-setting around the world as the ambassador of leadership, awareness and love is really the best we can ever ask for in these trying times. It looks effortless because it is who she is. She’s also just so absolutely stunning.  The white women in the audience of Good Morning America were so entranced by her; you know they were aching to call her “eloquent” or “so well-spoken.”

Regardless of how you feel about pageants, having someone like our new Ms. Universe flying around the world, making change the way she sees fit feels really good to me. As I said before, this is bigger than that sparkling crown that rests so snuggly atop the coils of Ms. Universe’s teeny-weeny afro. Because, I repeat: Ms. Universe is an African woman with a teeny-weeny afro who is joining a fast-growing group of other Africans on the world stage and that is always something to celebrate, especially when that celebration can be felt across the Black community worldwide. It’s nice to collectively rejoice in something that we all knew all along: Black beauty is universal.

Also, I dropped Taria when I learned the meaning of my name. ‘Zamalisa’ derives from ‘Ntombi ZaMaLisa’ which is Xhosa for ‘Girl of the Lisa Clan.” In so many words, my name is me repping my set. I’m taking it everywhere — worldwide like Miss Universe.