Congratulations Miss Universe Leila Lopez!

A quick congratulations to Leila Lopez, the new Miss Universe 2011. I hope you’re successful in enlightening your people not only on the issues of poverty and HIV that you’ve highlighted but also on the issue of race and ethnicity, which is a big part of the Angolan culture. I should know I’m Angolan.

I first found out about the winner of the Miss Universe Crown while at my Portuguese Angolan friends house. I was blow drying her hair when her sister sent her a message to say that the new Miss Universe was from Angola, Benguela where I’m from. Instead of being excited, the first comment my friend made was that I bet she’s mixed and that the competition was rigged.  It wasn’t something that I’d thought about but it was a possibility since a lot of Angolan women, (not the majority) from Benguela are of mixed heritage of African Angolan, Portuguese, Cape Verde, and recently because of the civil war also Cuban. Angola apparently has the biggest non-English speaking mixed race community, locally known as Mestizo or Mestiço (Portuguese word for mixed), in Africa making up some 2% of the estimated 18.5 million people (

Eager to find out who this woman was I asked her to turn on the computer and Google her. When her image came up on screen my friend was shocked to find that she was not a light skinned Angolan but dark. I was just happy that she was Angolan and yes from Benguela my homeland. I would not have cared had she been mixed. And I don’t understand why the issue of race has come on some online forums. I’ve no official position on beauty pageants. The only reason I’m acknowledging this one or this particular contestant is because we come from the same country, and for me it’s about national pride and racial pride. This doesn’t mean that I would have been upset or writing negative comments had anyone from another race or country won. I see comments on the net about whether or not she deserved it, whether she got given the crown as a form of charity because she was black or that the competition was rigged, shows the level of ignorance and prejudice that is out there.  Let’s please all treat the new Miss Universe with the respect and courtesy that we would have for any contestant regardless of race.

For those reading this and are wondering why we were discussing Miss Universe’s skin complexion instead of celebrating the fact that another black woman has just won a prestigious beauty pageant will need to understand our history.  A few quick facts about Angola.

Before Africa was subdivided according to European interests at the Conference of Berlin 1885, the Angola was inhabited by people with different political traditions, ranging from decentralized mobile groups to autocratic kingdoms. During this time Angolans fought against the Portuguese migrants who had established colonies on the west coast of Africa. For centuries Angolans where affected greatly by the Transatlantic slave trade (I’d previously read somewhere that 20 million Angolans where sold into slavery). Slavery is such a big part of Angola’s history that a slave museum was established in 1997 in the capital Luanda. Even when the international slave trade ended and was abolished, slavery within Angola. Indigenous Angolans were taken from their villages and brought to work in the main cities.

Like many Portuguese colonies, racial mixing was actively encouraged during the earlier periods of colonisation.  The mixed population of Angola is said to have surpassed the European population in the 1900s when most Europeans in the country were male. The civil war in 1975 led to some Portuguese people fling back to Portugal, however a lot of them have returned back to Angola for economic reasons. Portugal is one of the countries who required a financial bail out from the European Union during the financial crisis. Estimates of have the number of Portuguese in Angola surpassing 100,000.  During the civil war 50,000 Cuban troops were based in Angola.  As a result of the countries wealth of resources, crude oil, diamonds and other minerals, Angola like the rest of Africa is attracting a large Chinese interest.  A fellow countryman who visits at least once a year says that the Chinese live and mix among-st the population. Angola is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities.

Although I am proud to be Angolan, I am rather sad about the racism in my country, so much so that I’m paranoid about going back on vacation as next year. Racism in Angola exists on two fronts. The first is the tribal one that is consistent with other countries across Africa. And the second, a hangover from being a former Portuguese colony is the issue of skin colour. In Angola, a persons attractiveness is very closely tied to the lightness of their skin. Men prefer lighter women and lighter skinned women are considered to be more attractive than women with dark skin. Traditionally the skin tones of Angolan’s has varied depending on what ethnic tribe a person was from. Tribes closer to the Namibian border, tended to have been lighter in complexion and had similar physical characteristics to those of the bushmen. The rest of the native Angolans have similar physical characteristics and skin tones of the Bantu people. I remember the stories mum used to tell me about the beautiful women living along the borders of Namibia and Angola. They were tall, majestic, with the smallest waists and sumptuous behinds. On your identity card, you’re required to state what your race is. There are three options; black, white, and mixed.

Going back to Miss Universe and our previous discussion about her skin colour, I can understand my friend being baffled by the fact that a dark skinned Angolan had won the title. She begun by saying that Miss Angola wasn’t attractive enough to have worn the title and had to scan through all the other contestants to be convinced of her worth. Being born in Portugal from two mixed Angolan parents, making her a mixed Angolan and having lived in Portugal has unfortunately affected her perception of beauty and race. Although I am from the same African/Portuguese cultural background and grown up with a cultural influences that has reinforced the principle that dark skin is inferior to lighter skin, I don’t subscribe to the same school of thought. Most mixed people from Angola, Portugal, Brazil, and Mozambique grow up with a superiority complex. The Portuguese culture that we all share supports this.

My friend is mixed and is very beautiful but I don’t attribute her beauty to her lighter skin complexion rather.  I’m a few shades darker than she is but was brought up by a mother who told me to be proud of being black. My mother suffered a lot of racism in Angola for having dark skin and kinky hair. I’ve grown up with stories about how she and my uncle fought racism and rose above the class status of Angola. Being constantly called names for being a dark skinned only made her stronger. In our family we have five different shades of brown and although my sister and I are the lighter two, we’ve grown up desiring the darker skin complexion of our darker siblings

What I hope Miss Universe has done specifically for her country Angola by winning this beauty pageant is to hopefully boost the confidence of all those dark skinned girls and women in Angola (and hopefully the world) who are often teased and are called ugly because of their skin tone. Beauty should never have anything to do with how light or dark you are.




  1. Demi said

    Wonderful post!

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