October 6, 2008

The Vanessa Williams Effect

Remember the way Vanessa Williams triumphed as the first black woman to be named Miss America?  For the record, as far as I am concerned, Vanessa will always be the first African American woman to hold the title, no disrespect to first runner up Suzette Charles who took her place.  She won the competition.  She resigned the crown under pressure, but her accomplishment still stands in my book.

Remember how in the years following Vanessa breakthrough win, there were a string of black Miss America winners? Seven, to be exact.

1984 Vanessa Williams (NY) 

Suzette Charles (NJ), also African-American, assumed the title of Miss America after Vanessa resigned.

1990 Debbye Turner (MO)

1991 Marjorie Vincent (IL)

1994 Kimberly Aiken (SC)

2003 Erika Harold (IL)

2004 Ericka Dunlap (FL)

In fact, there have been enough black Miss America winners now and with enough regularity, that in the black community, we've come to regard a black woman taking the title as unremarkable and to be expected.  What occurred to me recently is that in the event of an Obama win in this election, I predict something similar, a "Vanessa Williams" effect if you will, for the presidency.  If and when that threshold is crossed by Obama, he will be the first of many. Over the next fifty years viable black candidates for the Oval Office and subsequent black presidents will likely become a routine and unremarkable phenomenon in American politics, as well as Latino and other minority group members taking a turn as leader of the free world.

The Vanessa Williams effect.  Imagination or Reality?