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Miss USA Cheslie Kryst said she never thought she’d be able to discuss her support for Black Lives Matter onstage in her early pageant days

  • Miss USA Cheslie Kryst told Insider she never thought she'd be able to discuss her support for Black Lives Matter onstage during her early pageant days. 
  • "I had never dreamed of a time when an organization as large as this, in pageantry, would be posting on its official channels that Black lives matter," she said.
  • Kryst used her high-profile position to speak out about Black Lives Matter as protests against police brutality swept across the US following George Floyd's murder.
  • "I've been waiting my whole life to advocate for causes that are important to me," she said. "And one of those is Black Lives Matter, it is racial equality, it is criminal justice reform."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Miss USA 2020 will air on Monday night, and in a year that has seen a pandemic, presidential election, and protests against police brutality, there will be no shortage of topics. 

For those who haven't watched the competition in recent years, that may sound surprising. The stereotype has always been that politics and pageant queens don't mix. 

But just this year, the Miss Universe organization has vocally supported Black Lives Matter. And it's two current titleholders — Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi — have proudly marched in support of the movement. 

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Kryst told Insider that she never could have imagined, during her early pageant days, that she'd be able to discuss her support for Black Lives Matter onstage one day. 

"I had never dreamed of a time when an organization as large as this, in pageantry, would be posting on its official channels that Black lives matter," she said. "As soon as I saw that post go up on our Instagram pages, I was like, 'Wow. How cool, not just that I'm a pageant fan and a woman in society that I get to see this, but also that I'm one of the titleholders who gets to continue pushing this message.'" 

Kryst said the moment felt especially significant for the pageant world which, in 2019, saw Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss America all go to women of color. 

"I do think it was a really important moment," she added. "We are acutely affected by what's happening right now." 

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Kryst said it was "surreal" to be part of such a historic group, and an "inspiring moment" for the pageant world as a whole. 

"I'm glad that the Miss Universe organization has really taken the time to give us more platforms to speak on the importance of this moment," she continued. "We need to make sure to elevate this message so that people will know that, just because there is one Black winner, doesn't mean there can't also be three out of three." 

Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi, and Miss Teen USA 2019 Kaliegh Garris in New York City on February 28, 2020.
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

It was a fear that Kryst held last year when she watched Kaliegh Garris win Miss Teen USA just days before her own Miss USA competition was set to begin (Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe are all part of the same organization). 

"I remember watching Kaliegh and thinking, this is a light-skinned woman of color who has naturally curly hair, and she's gorgeous," Kryst said. "And I remember thinking, there's no way they're going to crown another one of us, not two days after this, there's no way." 

"So I was glad when I won, and I was glad that all of us women of color kept winning, because there is that discussion among communities of color, especially in pageantry, that you always have that token Black girl who's going to be in the top five, or maybe two in the top 10, but never more than that," she added. 

Cheslie Kryst during her crowning as Miss USA 2019.
Miss USA

But Kryst said she believes the Miss Universe Organization has defied many people's expectations — including her own — that "pageantry locks out Black people and women of color." 

"I try to think of pageants as representative of what is happening now, and where we could go," Kryst added. "So I was glad we could set this example, because there were so many women who messaged us afterward and said, 'You've inspired me to compete in pageants.' I just think this is an important moment, and maybe people can carry this inspiration into other areas of their lives." 

While Kryst's reign has looked very different due to the pandemic, she is also glad that she was able to use her high-profile position to speak out about Black Lives Matter as protests against police brutality swept across the US following George Floyd's murder.

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"I've been waiting my whole life to advocate for causes that are important to me," she said. "And one of those is Black Lives Matter, it is racial equality, it is criminal justice reform. And now all of those issues are at the forefront of people's minds." 

"So rather than thinking, 'Oh I've missed out on so many opportunities,' I just think, 'Wow, now I can speak out. And not just as Cheslie Kryst, but as the reigning Miss USA.' And I think that's a really large message to be able to get across to people." 

And while politics may have once been taboo on the pageant stage, Kryst believes that those tough but important discussions will be here to stay. 

"In my year, I answered questions about millennials, I answered a question about #MeToo and Time's Up, and the other women answered questions about whether people who have been convicted of felonies should get voting rights while they're still behind bars, they answered questions about the environment, about immigration," Kryst said. "So it's like, you know, now when you're Miss USA, why wouldn't you still answer these same questions?"

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