In 1983, Ugly Betty star Vanessa Williams made history as the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, but that monumental win brought in a lot of criticism, from not just the White folks, but the Black communities as well in America who didn’t believe she represents them because of her skin colour.
“I was not seen as a 20-year-old who is a junior in college,” she recalled on A&E’s The Table Is Ours podcast. “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.”
“And there are a lot of folks that did not believe that having brown skin and being a Black woman represented the Miss America ideal,” Williams continued
“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,” she said. “I had death threats.”
She reveals the pain hit in deep when she got threats from her “own people”.
“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 with] light eyes,’” Williams recalled. “[They] kind of dismissed my talent, my intellect, and my achievement. So that was probably more hurtful.”
Looking back, Williams said it was “tough to take that criticism” from the Black community. But thanks to her ignoring “a lot” of negative comments on social media, she’s learned to accept her win wholeheartedly.