Beauty contests are very popular in Jamaica. Many find that these bright celebrations are an affirmation of Jamaican culture on the world stage – such as sports and music.
Jamaicans celebrated on December 14, 2019, when Jamaican Toni-Ann Singh won the Miss World contest. But a week earlier, on December 8, Miss Universe generated distaste for a “national shame” for the national costume of the Jamaican representative, Iana Tickle Garcia, who paid tribute to a legendary slave owner.
Although Jamaicans celebrated Singh's victory in Miss World on social media, the controversy over Miss Universe's suit continued to generate online debate.
Singh, a medical student from the rural district of St. Thomas, dedicated her victory to the country's ambitious girls, like her:
To that little girl in St. Thomas, Jamaica and all the girls around the world – please believe in yourself. Please know that you are worthy and capable of achieving your dreams. This crown is not mine but yours. You have a PURPOSE. pic.twitter.com/hV8L6x6Mhi
– Toni-Ann Singh (@toniannsingh) December 14, 2019
To that little girl from St. Thomas, Jamaica and all the girls around the world – please believe in you. Please, you should know that you are valuable and able to achieve your dreams. This crown is not mine, it is yours. You have a PURPOSE.
Not surprisingly, Jamaican social media exploded in joy and in a wave of patriotic fervor:
– Terri-Karelle Reid (@TerriKarelle) December 14, 2019
I always told the truth! Queen…
The Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports of Jamaica, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, was especially delighted:
And it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She’s done it. Miss Jamaica, Toni-Ann Singh is Miss World 2019. We are so proud! #Jamaica
– Hon.Olivia Grange (@Babsy_grange) December 14, 2019
Yes!!!!!! He did it. Miss Jamaica, Toni-Ann Singh, is Miss World 2019. We are so proud!
For many Jamaicans, the Miss World crown helped calm the anger and discomfort caused in the Miss Universe contest, when Iana Tickle Garcia appeared on stage in a carnival-style white suit titled the “White Witch of the Pink Hall.”
Garcia's suit for Miss Universe generated outrage because she paid tribute to Annie Palmer, protagonist of the Caribbean Gothic legend of the “White Witch of the Pink Hall”. According to legend, Annie Palmer was a white woman born in Haiti, who learned to practice voodoo as a child. He moved to Jamaica and married John Palmer, owner of a “big house” – Rose Hall, located in Montego Bay, now a major tourist attraction.
The legend derives largely from a 1929 novel by H.G. De Lisser, full of racial stereotypes. In the book, she was sexually voracious, had four husbands and several lovers, including slaves, many of whom he murdered. She was finally killed by a slave, and history says that Annie Palmer's ghost still harasses the historic house.
Investigations show that there was a real woman named Rosa Palmer – Rose Hall's first lover – who apparently had four husbands, but no criminal tendencies. Then, there was an Annie Mary Palmer born in Jamaica, with no connection to Haiti, and a widow died in relative darkness and not in Rose Hall. But the story of the “White Witch” has become an exciting attraction for visitors to Rose Hall, which offers tourists a haunted night tour during which the ghost of Annie Palmer could appear.
A Jamaican strongly objected to what the costume represented, and wonders if the contestant had expressed objections:
Why would the ppl in charge of the #MissJamaicaUniverse pageant send this young lady to the #MissUniverse stage as a notorious slave master who killed countless black ppl esp black men. Also, why didn't goodie speak up? #AnniePalmer was the best y'all could do? One wrong fi dis. pic.twitter.com/0Vs6x0ZgJ2
– Denise Walters (@like_daw) December 7, 2019
Why would those who are in charge of the Miss Jamaica Universe contest send this young lady to the Miss Universe stage as a well-known slave mistress who killed countless blacks, especially black men. Besides, why didn't the girl say anything? Was Annie Palmer the best they could think of? Someone wrong his profession.
The Miss Universe Jamaica Facebook page published this description:
(…) Dubbed the White Witch of Rose Hall, local folk legend has it that Annie Palmer ruled the 18th century plantation with an iron fist and drove fear in the hearts of loved ones and enemy’s (sic) alike. Her iconic home, the Rose Hall Great House is a national heritage site in Montego Bay Jamaica and still stands magnificently today after almost three hundred years as a popular visitor attraction where many claim they have spotted Annie Palmer’s ghost.
Nicknamed the White Witch of Rose Hall, local folk legend says that Annie Palmer ruled the 18th-century plantation with an iron hand and sowed fear in the hearts of loved ones and the enemy. Its iconic house, the Great House of Rose Hall, is a national heritage in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and still stands magnificently standing after almost 300 years as a popular tourist attraction where many claim to have seen the ghost of Annie Palmer.
Jamaican social media users were deeply offended by the description of a slave owner of Miss Jamaica Universe:
This outrage is not about the costume, or about whether she was real or not.
This is outrage against what that costume represents; slave masters oppressing slaves. You recognize that in your history books, you don't celebrate it as an expression of our culture.
Get that clear. https://t.co/2dw9fkmGCh
– Stepping Razor ?? (@geoffmarsh) December 8, 2019
Has Twitter ever asked for the demolition of the great Rose Hall house for what it represents?
What about the books that portray Annie as a patron?
What about making the children go on a study trip to the great house of Rose Hall?
But NOW Twitter has the strength to speak against a suit?
This is outrage at what that costume represents, or if she is real or not.
This is outrage over what that suit represents, slave masters who oppress slaves. They recognize that in their history books, they don't celebrate it as an expression of our culture.
However, Garcia's sponsor, Rose Hall Developments Ltd., stood firm. The administrators of the Miss Universe Jamaica organization posted this response on Facebook:
With this year's costume, we never sought to glorify slavery, nor promote witchcraft or any of the folk tales Annie Palmer has been accused of, instead, what we sought to do (…) was to just tell the story of another part of Jamaican history without endorsing, glorifying or celebrating her deeds or the atrocities of slavery, and hopefully, the conversations resulting could lead to teachable moments for these same young people we were targeting, especially those who have no interest in history taught the traditional way.
Obviously, we have succeeded in this mission, as more people are now talking about this aspect of Jamaican history and we hope they will now be motivated to engage in further research in the topic to have a greater understanding of our past.
With this year's suit, we never seek to glorify slavery, nor promote witchcraft or anything of the popular legends that Annie Palmer is accused of. Instead, what we wanted to do (…) was simply to tell the story of another part of Jamaica's history without endorsing, glorifying or celebrating its acts or the atrocities of slavery, and hopefully, the resulting conversations could lead to moments of teaching for these same young people we were addressing, especially those who have no interest in the history taught in the traditional way.
Obviously, we have accomplished the mission, now there are more people who talk about this aspect of the history of Jamaica and we hope that now you are motivated to investigate more on the subject to better understand our past.
However, blogger Chelan Smith was not fooled:
I understand they want to step outside the box (…) Unfortunately, the organizers jumped out of the box and into the sugar cane fields. To those who can't see the issue, I would want you to learn the difference between culture and history. A slave owner is not our culture; chattel slavery is our history and not something that should ever be feathered and sequined. Anti-Semitism is a part of Germany’s history, but Miss Germany wouldn’t go as Hitler, because it’s not their culture…
However, my heart goes out to the current Miss Universe Jamaica contestant, who probably didn’t have a say in all of this. I can't imagine my horror if I were asked to walk down a stage dressed in slavery cosplay. The organisers released a statement that they succeeded in generating discussions about this part of our history, and even quoted Marcus Garvey. Nice try.
I understand that they want to be creative (…). Unfortunately, the organizers thought creatively and got into the sugarcane fields. Those who cannot see the problem, I would like them to learn the difference between culture and history. A slave owner is not our culture; movable slavery is our history and not something that should be filled with feathers and carvings. Anti-Semitism is part of the history of Germany, but Miss Germany would not go like Hitler, because it is not her culture …
However, my heart is with the current Miss Universe Jamaica contestant, who probably had nothing to say in all this. I can't imagine my horror if they asked me to go down to a stage dressed as a slave. The organizers published a statement stating that they had managed to generate discussions about this part of our history, and even quoted Marcus Garvey. Nice try.
Given all the debacle, Toni-Ann Singh's victory in the Miss World 2019 competition felt like the ancestors' work:
One of our own black women … from St. Thomas … wins in England … within said week of “slave owner representation” … at Tyler Perry studios … on a former confederate army base … where competition won by a black … South African … woman w /… Natural hair
Ancestors working overtime
– Deika Morrison (@deikamorrison) December 14, 2019
One of our own blacks … of St. Thomas … wins in England … in the week of “representation of slave owners” … in the studies of Tyler Perry … in a former Confederate army base … where the competition was won by a black … South African … with natural hair.
The ancestors work overtime
Another Twitter netizen commented on Singh's birthplace – in Jamaica, the St. Thomas district is known for its practice of the indigenous spiritual practice of obeah:
Wait, St Thomas ?? The ancestors DEFINITELY avenged the Annie Palmer costume. https://t.co/Rd846CQf82
– ??? (@jordanfibonacci) December 14, 2019
Direct from St Thomas to the world. Miss World 2019, Jamaica.
One moment, St Thomas? The ancestors DEFINITELY avenged Annie Palmer's suit.
Certainly, when the world learned that Jamaica had won the coveted Miss World title, and that women of color had won the five most important beauty pageants in the world, Jamaicans were happy to join the #BlackGirlMagic ( black woman magic) and set aside the experience of the “White Witch”:
– Harrod ? (@Harrod_USA) December 15, 2019
Miss United States
Miss United States teenager.