Continuing a streak for Miss USA, this year's victor, Asya Branch is a Black woman from the state of Mississippi.
Asya Branch is the first Black woman to be crowned Miss Mississippi USA. Now, she is also the reigning Miss USA, CNN reports. Yes, while beauty pageants are problematic and we should question the existence of a national competition that pits women against each other, the recognition in mainstream society that Black women are beautiful, smart, and powerful is one that has been missing from our discourse. Therefore, Branch's win comes as a major victory for all Black women across the United States. In the near future, the beauty pageant victor will go on to contest at Miss Universe 2020, represented her country.
Branch is a student at the University of Mississippi. A Booneville native, she was crowned on Monday night, after the ongoing public health crisis delayed the competition for several months. She shared her victory with Miss Teen USA 2020 Ki'ilani Arruda, only the second Hawaiian woman to win the teen pageant. Branch was crowned by Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019. That year was the first time that winners of the country's top beauty pageants, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, and Miss World, were all Black women. This year's winner continues the streak for Miss USA.
From the stage at Graceland Exhibition Center in Memphis, Tennessee, Miss USA 2020 answered important questions, particularly those about American democracy. When she was asked about how to mend the polarized country, she responded that it was pertinent to restore trust in institutions like the media and government. Furthermore, when questioned about her beliefs on gun laws, she shared that her own family owns guns. Branch added, however, that more people should learn how to use them safely before they were allowed to get their permits. To many, these may seem like safe answers—balanced on the fine line between conservative and progressive views.
Despite this, Branch has, in fact, taken a strong stand on prison reform. In an interview with Miss Mississippi USA, she revealed that her father had been incarcerated for 10 years. His experience in prison motivated her to work for criminal justice reform. She even met with former President Donald Trump and other officials in 2018 to discuss measures that would reintegrate former prisoners into society once they are released. She added in the interview about her pageant journey, "I learned a lot about myself, but at the same time, while sharing my story and going through so much but not letting it stop me, I've been able to heal while also helping others find their way."
Miss USA 2020, like several other events this year, was delayed due to the pandemic. When the pageant relaunched, they took several precautions in order to ensure the safety of all their contestants and others at the pageant. Everyone had to wear masks; contestants wore bejeweled ones when they were offstage and when they visited landmarks like the National Civil Rights Museum. Audience members also had to submit to temperature checks. With Miss USA under her belt, Branch will soon compete at Miss Universe with women from across the world.