The Miss Universe Zimbabwe has sparked a debate over racial representation after a white model was declared the winner.
The pageant was held for the first time in 22 years on Sept. 16 and Brooke Burk-Jackson, a white native of Zimbabwe, was crowned the winner. Her victory received mixed reactions as some felt a black woman should have won the contest to reflect the nation’s majority black population.
Burk-Jackson was born in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. In addition to her modeling career, she worked in a beauty salon.
“I have gained this crown for our beautiful country, to love and to serve our people, to represent Zimbabwe Internationally and to show the world the uniqueness of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans,” she wrote on Instagram after being crowned. “I want to be an example of grace, understanding and inspiration to the youth of Zimbabwe, to instill the spirit of ‘ubuntu’ and know that together we are strong and anything in life is possible.”
She ultimately turned off comments on her post after receiving a wave of criticism.
“So disappointing to see these colonizers representing an African country,” read one comment, per the Atlanta Back Star.
“My ancestors rolling in they graves!!!!” wrote a second person, while a third commented, “This is sad and disgusting yall literally have to be the face of everything?”
“Lmao the shot is still tragic though!! All those beautiful melanted women and you telling me the European woman won a contest for black people!!??” wrote one X user in a post.
“A f—in disgrace! Yall should deactivate this whole f—ing account!” was one reaction to a photo of Burk-Jackson on Miss Universe Zimbabwe’s Instagram. “You’re basically telling the black woman in your country that this is what the standard of beauty should be.”
“Why should a colonial face represent the Zimbabwean country?” wrote another user. “Does she even know how to speak any of our languages?”
Some social media users posted messages of support for Burk-Jackson. Supporters of the model argued she demonstrated an “exceptional ability to answer questions” and that she deserved to be crowned, per Essence.
“She’s absolutely gorgeous. If she’s Zimbabwean-born, then she qualifies. Everything else is rato drama. Let her enjoy her limelight moment,” Brian Ngoni Muzabazi wrote on Facebook. “Would you like someone taking away something from you at a funeral in public? Or at your wedding, they repossess your car? Don’t make her opportune moment turn into a chance for you to make it difficult for her to rejoice.”
According to the CIA, the population of Zimbabwe is 99% African, specifically Shona and Ndebele.
While speaking with ZNT Prime, Burk-Jackson said she felt her win was “definitely God’s plan for me.”
“He has gifted me with a lot of things I am so grateful for and, obviously, having my parents’ support and guidance has been one of the biggest blessings,” she said during the Sept. 20 interview. “I think when you want to do something in life, you work for it and you work hard.”
“No matter what country you come from – if you come from an African country, for example – you can enter no matter what color you are,” she added when asked about what advice she’d given other young people interested in modeling or pageants. “You can be from any culture, any background. Nobody should define you by your color or by the way you look or by the shape of your body.”
Burk-Jackson will represent Zimbabwe at the Miss Universe pageant in El Salvador on Nov. 19, 2023.