Miss USA Deshauna Barber was breaking down barriers when she competed back in 2016. In an interview with Refinery29, she talked about how she wasn’t even thinking about pageants until she was approached by a former Miss USA contestant in Target. From there on, she competed in pageants and felt proud to represent the dark-skinned girls in Miss USA. “I thought it was beautiful that I could represent those darker chocolate girls that don’t always see themselves on the national stage,” she said.
However, not everyone was excited about Barber’s team dark-skinned love. Racism, colorism, and anti-Blackness reared their ugly heads, especially on the international scale. “Competing in Miss Universe and dealing with the fans of competitors in other countries got tough,” Barber said. “A lot of people in different countries considered me ugly because my skin is darker. The darker you are, the poorer you are — or whatever the case may be.”
She continued, “They’d send me monkey emojis, and say that my skin looked like a poop emoji and tag me in photos with apes… I didn’t speak about it, because I didn’t want to deter anyone from competing. You want to make it seem like everything is happy and hunky-dory, but there are a lot of very challenging moments.”
Despite all of this, Barber pushed through. “I could have let the words of these people really get to me,” she said. “When you’re doing something that people aren’t used to, some people just won’t like you. I can’t change who I am to make someone else comfortable.”
Barber still had some major watershed moments during the Miss USA competition, especially when she did her final walk sporting her natural hair. “My mom always pushed me to wear my natural hair, and I would always would say no,” she said. “I didn’t think I would be crowned Miss USA if my hair was in its natural state. She’d still push me, because she thought they’d love it. And she was right….I knew that the pageant would be airing on Mother’s Day, and what better way of paying tribute to my mom?”
She continued, “I wanted to take baby steps. If I take a small one by showing my natural 4c hair, the next girl will take one, and then we’ll ease our natural hairstyles into the pageant community.”