Queen of the VirginsPageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean

Queen of the VirginsPageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean

M. Cynthia Oliver

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781604732429

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Abstract

Beauty pageants are wildly popular in the U.S. Virgin Islands, outnumbering any other single performance event and capturing the attention of the local people from toddlers to seniors. Local beauty contests provide women with opportunities to demonstrate talent, style, the values of black womanhood, and the territory’s social mores. This book is a comprehensive look at the centuries-old tradition of these expressions in the Virgin Islands. It maps the trajectory of pageantry from its colonial precursors at tea meetings, dance dramas, and street festival parades to its current incarnation as the beauty pageant or “queen show.” For the author, pageantry becomes a lens through which to view the region’s understanding of gender, race, sexuality, class, and colonial power. Focusing on the queen show, the author reveals its twin roots in slave celebrations that parodied white colonial behavior and created creole royal rituals and celebrations heavily influenced by Africanist aesthetics. Using the U.S. Virgin Islands as an intriguing case study, she shows how the pageant continues to reflect, reinforce, and challenge Caribbean cultural values concerning femininity. The book examines the journey of the black woman from degraded body to vaunted queen, and how this progression is marked by social unrest, growing middle-class sensibilities, and contemporary sexual and gender politics.