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Organizers of the Miss Black America pageant are trying to revive a 40-year-old brand.

The Miss Black America pageant is on its way back. Although the pageant has been around for four decades, it seems as though it stopped operating around 1998, when the last known winner was crowned.

Now organizers of the pageant are trying to revive the 40-year-old brand that has been virtually defunct since the late 1990s. And its sponsored by Walmart. I’m not really into pageants (I guess they don’t call them “beauty pageants” anymore), but I do know about the Miss Black America contest and its storied history. Even Oprah Winfrey competed in the contest back in the day.

Years ago on a business trip, I met a young woman who had just become Miss Black Michigan, and I remember being impressed by her beauty, talent and accomplishment. But that seems like ancient history now. That was back in the day when JET magazine published its “Beauty of the Week” page in the back of the magazine. Things have changed since then, haven’t they?

Maybe it’s because we’ve had several African American women win the Miss America pageant. Or maybe because we have a black president. Or maybe pageants just don’t seem that relevant anymore.

“The world has changed so much since the pageant’s heyday,” writes Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jenice Armstrong. “Pageantry, itself, has a retro feel,” she says.

Indeed, the outdated, patriarchal language used on the web site to describe the history of the pageant, feels like it was written in 1968, when the event first began. The purpose of the pageant, it says, is “to provide a forum for the Black Man to say his wife is mentally, spiritually, and physically beautiful the same as the white man has a forum through which to say his woman is beautiful.” Really? We’re still sticking by the black woman as object for black man argument in 2009?

Perhaps that’s a reason for some to bring back the pageant, but there’s already a Miss Black USA contest that seems to be functioning with a real live reigning queen. Is there a market for more black beauty queens? Who knows?

In a time of recession, people may just need something to distract themselves from the horrible job market. Or maybe people won’t watch it, and it won’t make much of a difference either way. Jenice Armstrong notes that ratings have been”dismal” for the Miss America pageant recently, leading her to question if an African American version can do much better. Armstong wonders “if the pageant’s time has come and gone.”

I have mixed feelings about Miss Black America. On the one hand, I have to wonder if it’s really necessary. On the other hand, I guess it doesn’t really hurt to have it, right?

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WATCH Oprah talk about the Miss Black America pageant:


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