Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett competed wearing her natural hair at this year’s Miss Universe pageant, causing a social media stir in admiration of the “first Afro queen.”
For many Black women, seeing natural hair recognized on an international stage Sunday night was empowering. There has been an outpour of love on Twitter for Bennett’s choice of hairstyle.
Natural Inspiration: Miss Jamaica, Davina Bennett, and her beautiful natural halo is runner up for Miss Universe beauty contest; continuing to illuminate global push by black women to openly embrace, display natural hair and African, black hairstyles. #DavinaBennett #missuniverse pic.twitter.com/xwV0ICKh4F
Ark Republic (@ArkRepublic) November 27, 2017
Shonda Rhimes, creator and producer of the hit TV shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal,” tweeted on Tuesday:
I am clearly going to need some Miss Jamaica dolls for my daughters. So they can play with a doll that shows them they are fully EVERYTHING the universe ever needed.
shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) November 28, 2017
Bennett, a 23-year-old philanthropist and model, came in second place, but she said on Instagram that she takes pride in being an “Afro queen.”
“I did not win, but I got what I was seeking,” she wrote. “I won the hearts of many, I got to highlight deaf awareness. I stand as the first Afro queen to have made it thus far. I represented my little island and I received all the love one could possibly wish for … THANK YOU!
“I came, I conquered and if you know me, then you know that’s just another story and you will be seeing a lot more from me.”
In September, Bennett said in an interview with theJamaica Observerthatbeauty stereotypes regarding natural hair need to be challenged.
“Short, natural hair which I feel should be embraced more, and not ignored,” she said.
Rutgers University professor Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd told DiversityInc “the Afro, in particular, is associated with the Black Power Movement [in the U.S.].”
The hairstyle became popular for Black men and women during the 1960s and ’70s to represent Black pride. Celebrities wore Afros as well. Legendary singer James Brown sported an Afro after releasing the 1968 hit song, “Say it Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Nowadays we are seeing a resurgence of natural hairstyles. “The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit And Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair,” released by the Perception Institute in February, found thatmillennials are more accepting of natural hair.
White women “had the strongest explicit attitudes that were negative. The significant bias is a challenge for Black women that has to be acknowledged,” Alexis McGill Johnson told DiversityInc.
Researchers discovered that millennials who are a part of the “naturalista” hair community are consistently exposed to affirming images and celebrating natural hair in a way that helped them reduced their biases.
However, Alexander-Floyd, an attorney and associate professor in the Department of Women’s & Gender Studies, said, “millennials wearing Afros or natural hair doesn’t necessarily translate into a resurgence of movement politics.”
Though more and more Black women are opting for natural hairstyles in the workplace, and outdated corporate protocols regarding appearance are changing, there’s still resistance.
“Workplace norms and standards for dress and appearance have expanded in some ways, arguably,”Alexander-Floydsaid. “But, there is still corporate and social resistance to wearing natural hair. Policing cultural identification becomes particularly heightened in hostile environments or when people are seen as outsiders or are increasing in numbers.”
Though Black women are embracing natural hairstyles, Alexander-Floyd suggests that there isn’t a direct link between a Black woman’s identity and her hair.
“I would caution against any easy equation between Black women’s identity or self-concept and their hair,” she said. “For some, it is an affirmation of cultural heritage or self acceptance. For others, it is a fashion statement.
“We have also witnessed, for instance, an ongoing obsession with long hair, and the proliferation of various hair weaves, including extensions with ‘natural’ hair texture.”