Sallie Toussaint: Miss World USA 1997
By: Hephzibah Adesina
2019 was the first time black women were crowned as winners of several top beauty pageants — Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss America, Miss Universe, and Miss World — simultaneously. This pivotal moment for this historical group of black women was made possible by previous Black women who were either contestants or winners in those competitions. Sallie Toussaint, a Trinidadian American and former Miss Connecticut USA winner and Miss World Winner, would be considered a pioneer for the events in the American pageant world in 2019. Hestah was fortunate enough to have a brief conversation with her, discussing assimilation, mental health, mommy life, and a little more.
H: Growing up in Connecticut, did you ever feel misplaced, and how did these conditions shape your identity?
S: I still feel misplaced except for when I’m with family. I feel very fortunate that there are many Jamaicans in the Hartford area because they are the closest connection to Trinidad, but it is a different culture and country in some ways. I do think Jamaica is a little more misogynistic than Trinidad. Trinidad has had a female leader, and Jamaica is still a long way from having one.
H: I see it in their mannerisms, Jamaicans, based on my compared experiences around your family and some of the Jamaicans I’ve met over time. I also hear many stories about men, and it’s usually not promoting gynocentric ideologies.
S: Yeah, I wish it was different because they are the closest thing we have to Trinidadians. I think a fair amount of the younger generation is rebelling and has lost their previous generations’ work ethic.
H: Do you think it’s conditioning? The loss of their “true” Jamaican identity mixed with the identity projected onto African Americans in lower-income communities has now created this identity for the new generation of Jamaican youths.
S: Yes, exactly. I wish a lot of Black people would get psychologically screened at a young age. I think that a lot of black people struggle with mental issues.
How can you not have mental issues and be Black in the western world? It’s something exceptional to be black. I think it’s important to be screened. Many people are walking around with anxiety, depression, bipolarism, or autism and need help or medical care, but are just managing to get by. I think it’s an issue many people in the black diaspora, particularly in America, are facing.
H: What was your experience like in the entertainment industry?
S: I just wanted to be in and out and not a big star, so I got the fulfillment I needed from the entertainment industry. I honestly always wanted to be a mother, and I think this is my passion and the most incredible job in the world.
H: That’s amazing!
S: Honestly, I love being a mother!
H: What are some challenges, barriers, and obstacles you faced throughout your career, and how did you overcome them?
S: Honestly, I didn’t face much. They would tell me what campaign was for someone with my body type and skin color, and I would go except for the Jack Nicholson project. I think I got lucky with that one. I do believe that many times it’s in your brain. I come from a black country, and I like being black, so that mentality motivated me during my short career in the entertainment industry. The message for black people needs to change. The response, “because you’re Black,” is blaming you, which needs to change. It needs to be because that person is a racist, that person has a problem, and there is nothing wrong with you. That wordage needs to stop being put in people’s heads.