How the election of a white Miss Zimbabwe awakened the old demons of racial segregation

On September 16, Zimbabwe held its national beauty pageant to choose which of twelve young women would have the honor of representing the country at the international Miss Universe event.

After several hours of deliberation and various parades, it was a 21-year-old student who won the coveted crown. Despite her tears of joy and an excellent performance in front of the jury, her election sparked considerable controversy because of her skin color. The winner of the competition, Brooke Bruk-Jackson, is a true Rhodesian, born into the white community of the former Southern Rhodesia, which ruled this African country until its independence in April 1980. In fact, she was the only white woman to compete for the title.

Following her victory, a flood of insults and mixed comments suddenly flooded social networks. On TikTok, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), fans questioned the jury’s decision, opining in 2023 that it was « ridiculous to crown the daughter of white settlers as the representative of a country that has long since freed itself from colonial shackles ». « Mugabe would go mad seeing this, » even wrote one furious Internet user. In reference to the country’s former leader and first president, who led the fight against the Rhodesian regime of Prime Minister Ian Smith. « So disappointing to see these colonizers representing an African country, » writes another. « My ancestors would be rolling in their graves !!!!! », added a third in exasperation. « All these beautiful mixed-race women, and you’re telling me that it’s a European woman who has won a competition for blacks! » adds yet another Internet user, who questions the African-ness of this Miss with her European blond hair. The matter even took on an even more international angle after the popular Instagram gossip channel « The Shaderoom » shared the news with many black Americans, also shocked and appalled by the decision.

« I won this crown for our beautiful country, to love and serve our people, to represent Zimbabwe internationally and to show the world the uniqueness of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans, » tweeted Brooke Bruk-Jackson after her victory. But faced with the avalanche of negative and racist comments she had to deal with, the woman who is studying at the British Academy of Fashion Design in London and the Beauty Therapy Institute in Cape Town was forced to disable access to comments on her own social networks, where she had posted a photo of herself, dressed in a costume highlighting Zimbabwean artists. « Brooke deserved to win; she worked hard for this crown and her walk was so graceful. Her response was powerful, short and to the point. Well deserved. Congratulations to her, » wrote one Internet user in support, quoted by local newspaper The Zimbabwean. « She is absolutely beautiful. If she was born in Zimbabwe, then she qualifies. Everything else is drama. Let her enjoy her moment in the spotlight, » added another Zimbabwean. Both are of African descent.

Faced with her many « haters », the young model offered a brief litany to calm the situation: « The color of our skin should not define a person or who each person chooses to associate with. Together, we are aligned, a beautiful species created by God ». A masterly lesson in tolerance that could almost make us forget that in 2021, Pamela Uba, a black South African, was crowned Miss Ireland to the applause of those who are now crying foul against the election of Brooke Bruk-Jackson.

Keneth Ononga

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