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2024 Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley just said this to NBC News:

If you want to know what it was like growing up, I was disqualified from a beauty pageant because I wasn’t white or Black because they didn’t know where to put me. So look, I know the hardships, the pain that comes with racism.

My question is, is it true that Nikki Haley was disqualified from a beauty pageant because she was neither white nor black?

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    It might be worth noting that she claims this happened when she was 5 years old which would have been around 1977 which could make it harder to track down.
    – Joe W
    Jan 22 at 23:17
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    @njuffa Well, were there racially segregated child beauty pageants in South Carolina in 1977? Jan 23 at 8:11
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    The question would be better if it pointed to Haleys' more complete statements what happened, such as "Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley shares why she was disqualified from a beauty pageant" at wmur.com/article/nikki-haley-beauty-pageant-story/45853372, where Haley explains that the kiddie pageant had "a white queen and a black queen" and the pageant organizers told her parents they would have to disqualify both Haley and her sister because parents of children in either category would get mad. But the pageant did let 5-year-old Haley sing her song. Jan 25 at 18:01

1 Answer 1

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The full claim is as follows:

At a kiddie beauty pageant, Haley and her sister were ushered off the stage because they were weren't black or white − fitting neither of the local prize categories.

This requires journalistic research but it's not implausible on its face.

Before 1968, Miss America did not accept black applicants, although Native Americans and Asians were allowed to participate by the 1950s.1 In early 20th century Miss America competitions, during the musical part of the pageant, black women appeared as slaves in the back of the stage while the white contestants sang plantation songs.2

In response to this, two ethnically segregated pageant systems arose in the 1950s: Miss Indian America and Miss Chinatown USA.3 Black women did not have a national system; beauty pageants were generally associated with segregated high schools and HBCUs.4

The first black contestant in Miss America appeared in 1970, and the first winner was not until 1983. It's at least plausible that during this transitional period, local child beauty pageants may have still been perceived as places where beauty was evaluated racially. However, that's far from a proof that this incident happened the way Haley recalls it.

1 Valerie Felita Kinloch, The Rhetoric of Black Bodies (2004)
2 The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity (1999)
3 Beauty, Bodies, and Boundaries: Pageants, Race and U.S. National Identity (2010)
4 Black Beauties: African American Pageant Queens in the Segregated South (2020)


Edit: I've been asked to add a source on the idea that Haley would have confused Southerners in the 1970s by being neither white nor black. This common reaction is well-represented in period fiction, but I'm not sure what non-fiction citation to use as evidence. Until someone suggests one, I recommend the film Mississippi Masala (1991).

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    @DJClayworth Just because it is believable doesn't mean we don't need evidence to show that it actually happened.
    – Joe W
    Jan 24 at 12:58
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    @JoeW The answer agrees with you. Jan 25 at 10:20
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    @JoeW the answer very clearly marks itself as a partial answer: "This requires journalistic research but it's not implausible on its face". Partial answers have been discussed on meta (example, another) and the consensus appears to be that they're useful and acceptable, so long as they're relevant, referenced, and up front about their limitations (like this one is) Jan 25 at 14:49
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    I believe the meta links above demonstrate that we have collectively decided to welcome any sort of objective knowledge contribution as long as it helps people render judgment on the question. I guess I did not help you, but it seems I helped some other people, so it turned out ok.
    – Avery
    Jan 26 at 3:03
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    @JoeW If it was impossible to be true that would be useful information. So if it is not impossible (and in fact quite likely) that is also useful information. In fact from your very first comment here you seemed to think such a thing was impossible and you made fun of the idea. Now this answer has shown you that it might have happened, and happened fairly frequently. So you have better information than you did before, making this a helpful answer. But please, if you want to talk more please go to chat. This has got far beyond the purpose of improving the answer. Jan 26 at 3:33

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