‘I Wonder Why?’: National Pageant Draws Criticism for Removing Contestants’ Headshots After Black Girls Received Significantly More Likes Than Others; Organizers Say It Has Nothing to Do with Race

Officials for a national beauty pageant organization are speaking out after being accused of removing contestant headshots from social media because of the outpouring of support for Black girls.

Thousands of Black Facebook users flooded the Black contestants’ photos with likes and reactions before the photos were wiped from the respective competition pages just days after they were posted on April 3, raising questions about the organization’s motive.

“We here for our own. The fact that some only have like 8 likes. Baby we are here to show up and show out. Representation matters. Rooting for our own matters. I freaking love us,” Sierra Karmo wrote in a Facebook group on April 5, the day all but the high school and college girls’ headshots were removed.

Controversy over pageant posts
A screenshot of a Facebook post featuring a headshot of a Black contestant.

Some members who saw the posts later noticed the content was no longer available.

“I went to the page and can’t find the posts anymore,” wrote A’chynee Edmundson.

“I think they deleted that post. Not sure why,” Barbara Amoako responded.

“My guess is because of the disproportionate amount of likes the brown girls were getting over the others,” Edmundson said.

“I wonder why,” replied Mary Reed after seeing a disclaimer about a deleted post in another group.

“Don’t move the goal post because a black girl excels,” wrote Tiffany Monique.

“Oh, they closed it down because that math wasn’t mathing,” Gabby Guerin wrote.

While headshots for some of the other competitors had hundreds of likes and reactions, Black and darker-skinned contestants garnered thousands of likes before the photos were deleted. However, National Director Miss High School America Pageant Organization Amanda Patterson told Atlanta Black Star that it had nothing to do with race.

Patterson said she decided to remove the posts after several parents complained about “malicious” and “hurtful” comments targeting the contestants that are elementary, middle and high school and college students.

“The Miss High School America Organization exists to develop, enhance and enrich the lives of young girls. Our biggest commitment is to their safety and wellbeing,” Patterson told Atlanta Black Star in a statement. “Many of the comments on our public post were malicious, hurtful and targeted many of our children. Consistent with our anti-bullying platform, we decided to take down the post to protect our contestants and their families.”

Some parents sent Patterson messages asking for their daughters’ photos to be removed after seeing the viral reactions.

“It’s already going viral. And is continuing to increase by the minutes. Is there no way to turn off commenting or sharing?” wrote Logan Gray in a Facebook message to Patterson.

Screenshot of A Facebook message from a parent asking Miss High School America Organization about contestant headshots.
Screenshot of A Facebook message from a parent asking Miss High School America organizers about contestant headshots.

One of the screenshots Patterson received had comments about the contestants wearing excessive amounts of makeup and looking like “news anchors.”

“Little kids cosplaying as grown women for the enjoyment of grown people,” Ashley West wrote.

One screenshot shows a user seemingly responding to a comment about someone questioning one of the contestant’s race.

“My Cousin is Black. Regardless!!! If you have an issue, you can take your vote back. She’s a CHILD and she doesn’t need to prove her Blackness to YOU or anybody else,” wrote Asia Sheree.

Contrary to what the flock of Facebook users thought, likes and reactions to the Facebook posts do not count as votes for the contestants, according to pageant officials. Although some competitions have a People’s Choice award, that voting is conducted on the organization’s website for $1 per vote. The headshots are posted on the Facebook pages to showcase the girls.

Screenshots Amanda Patterson, director of the Miss High School America Organization received from parents.
Screenshots Amanda Patterson, director of the Miss High School America Organization received from parents.

LaTosha Nightingale’s of Jacksonville, Florida, daughter Joy is a contestant in the Miss Elementary America pageant this year. She told Atlanta Black Star that “it was absolutely flattering” at first that the pictures were receiving so many likes and interactions, “but it quickly went downhill.”

“We received numerous inappropriate comments and messages. I believe they were from spam accounts, but I don’t know because my daughter’s Facebook account was eventually disabled for ‘unusual activity’ after being tagged so many times,” said Nightingale, who is Black.

Nightingale said she also asked for Joy’s photo to be removed, and it “had nothing to do with race but had everything to do with safety.”

LaKishia Edwards’ daughter Laila Simone is the reigning Miss Elementary America 4th Grade. Edwards said she wasn’t aware the posts went viral until after they were removed. Several other parents sent her screenshots of the comments that she described as “negative and derogatory.”

Edwards, who lives in Houston, Texas, was unaware that an influx of reactions to the photos derived from a movement to support Black contestants. She heard from other parents that “there were a lot of likes on the pictures” but there was also “negativity.”

The former pageant titleholder said any suggestion that the decision to remove the photos from Facebook was racially driven doesn’t coincide with her and Laila’s experience with the organization for the last three years.

Kennedy Whisenant, Miss Collegiate America 2022
Kennedy Whisenant, Miss Collegiate America 2022. (Kennedy Whisenant/Facebook)

Three of the 10 titleholders in the Arkansas-based pageant organization are Black girls. Kennedy Whisenant is Miss Collegiate America 2022, and Amayah Moore is Miss Elementary America 2nd Grade.

Edwards told Atlanta Black Star she supports Patterson’s decision to remove the photos.

“These are children,” said Edwards who has competed and worked in the pageant industry for over 20 years. “These are minors that have worked so hard to be here and to get to this point and you know, we should be uplifting them and recognizing them and celebrating them.”

Patterson said she will be posting the contestants’ headshots this week on the organization’s Instagram page, where there are more restrictions.

In addition to leaving supporting messages, Patterson said people can support the contestants by offering scholarships, sponsorships, appearance and community service opportunities and professional career connections.

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