Vanessa Williams made history when she was crowned the first Black Miss America but the experience led to harsh criticism from inside and outside of the Black community.
The actress, singer, and producer shared her experiences during an appearance on A&E’s The Table is Ours podcast. “I was not seen as a 20-year-old, who is a junior in college. I was seen as a symbol but also seen as a Black woman, uh, and 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,” said Williams.
Williams faced potential danger from those who believed she deserved to die for threatening white supremacy. “I had death threats. I had sharpshooters when I did my homecoming parade. There were sharpshooters on the top of roofs of my hometown, just because of the threat, the threats that were, you know, against me because of who I was.”
She was also met with negative feedback from those who thought her light skin and light eyes weren’t Black enough to truly make a difference. “The people that are crazy and want to kill you and your family that’s one thing but it was like my own, my own people,” she said.
“Not only was I getting attacked from White folks saying she doesn’t represent us, but some Black folks saying, oh they only picked her cause she’s light, oh they only picked cause she’s light, light eyes and kind of dismissed my talent, my intellect, and my achievement. So that was probably more hurtful,” she continued.
“It was tough to take that criticism,” she added.
Later in the conversation, Williams is asked what self-love looks like for her and how she maintains the confidence and poise she’s been known for since being crowned Miss America 1984.
“I think you have to ignore a lot, she says. Especially social media.”
Listen to Vanessa Williams on The Table is Ours podcast here.