Though Vanessa Williams made history in 1984 when she became the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, she recently revealed she felt her feat was received with a cold shoulder from both the Black and White communities.
In an interview with A&E’s “The Table Is Ours” podcast, the 57-year-old former beauty queen reflected on what she said was “hurtful” criticism she received from her skin folk as well as White people following her historic win, Yahoo Style reported.
“I was not seen as a 20-year-old, who is a junior in college,” the actress and singer said. “I was seen as a symbol, but also seen as a Black woman, and I was also seen as someone who was supposed to represent the American beauty.”
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Williams said at the time of her pageant win, Blacks and other people of color were not regarded as ideal representations of what was perceived as American beauty, hence the hostility she received from the public.
“There [were] a lot of folks that did not believe that having brown skin and being a Black woman represented the Miss America ideal,” Williams said, adding that the hostility towards her exacerbated to a point where she even received death threats.
“There were sharpshooters on the top of the roofs of my hometown, just because of the threats that were against me because of who I was,” Williams revealed. “I had death threats.”
Though the criticisms from all corners generally affected her, Williams said the hostile reception she got from her “own people” hurt the most as they suggested she won the pageant because she was light-skinned – seemingly brushing off her abilities, Yahoo Style reported.
“Not only was I getting attacked from White folks saying she doesn’t represent us, but some Black folks [said], ‘Oh they only picked her cause she’s light-skinned and has light eyes,’” she said. “They kind of dismissed my talent, my intellect, and my achievement. So that was probably more hurtful.”
Williams said inasmuch as the criticism from the Black community was “tough to take” at that time, she has managed to grow a tougher skin and ignores any backlash that comes her way on social media.
Just ten months after winning Miss America, Williams was forced to give up her crown after her nude images were leaked by Penthouse Magazine. And though that was one of the lowest moments in her life, the scandal that cost her the crown did not stop her from success as it set her up for one of the greatest comebacks in entertainment history, according to TIME.
Although the public shaming and ridicule delayed her career, Williams forged on to become one of the biggest recording artists, earning multiple Grammy Award nominations. She also had a very stellar acting career.
In 2015, Williams returned to the Miss America stage as a judge. During the competition, the pageant CEO apologized to her on stage for the way his outfit handled the scandal.