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Felix Gillette’s “Miss Appropriated” (6/21), while intended to be supportive of the interests of D.C., was absolute garbage. The writer succeeded only in launching an unjustified, bitter tirade against the 2002 Miss D.C. contestants, writing an article laden with accusations and innuendo that were not supported by the sparse facts that he provided about this year’s contestants.
Miss District of Columbia 2002, Sarah-Elizabeth Langford, was treated especially harshly with her front-page picture emblazoned with the misleading caption, “How pageant-industry carpetbaggers stole Miss D.C.’s crown.” Langford is neither a carpetbagger nor a thief. To the contrary, she is a third-year student at the Howard University School of Law who entered and won a pageant that any D.C. resident—native or newcomer—was free to enter. Gillette’s vicious insinuation that Langford is a “pageant-hopper” who came to D.C. looking for an easy win is indicative of a lack of research, a dearth of journalistic integrity, and/or a simple disregard for the truth in favor of cheap sensationalism.
The truth is, many people move to D.C. to go to school and work. This is to be expected, because the city is the seat of our national government as well as home to a disproportionately high number of colleges and universities in a relatively small geographic area. These factors make it a transient city in many respects, and I hardly think that nomadic would-be beauty queens add significantly to this reality. Langford, like many other Miss D.C. contestants, moved to D.C. to attend school—not to slip in under the residency cutoff date for any pageant. Another contestant, Susan Coggin, recently graduated from George Washington University. Tiffany Jarman attends American University, and Meghann Dotson attends Georgetown University. Last time I checked, undergrad was four years and law school was three. Is that not enough time to qualify to be in a local pageant? You can run for local office in less time than that!
I would like to give Gillette credit for at least being consistent in his irresponsible babble, but he cannot earn even that. He admits that “it is not impossible for an outsider to authentically represent D.C.” by noting that many are “drawn to the District by schools or careers.” He even singles out Gwendolyn King, from Fayetteville, N.C., for special recognition by noting that she works in the mayor’s office. So what’s Gillette’s point? Are King’s mayoral-office credentials more compelling than Langford’s Howard University connection? Howard University has been here since 1867, and Mayor Williams is from Los Angeles, but I think that even under Gillette’s logic, Langford passes the “litmus test” as well as King.
Gillette’s logic is equally inconsistent when he complains that the pageant represents the “triumph of savvy outsiders over local interests,” while later citing D.C.’s historical indifference to beauty pageants. If D.C. is so indifferent about the pageant, then there is no local interest truly being triumphed by savvy outsiders at all. To the contrary, nonlocals are entering a contest in which native Washingtonians apparently have little interest.
Gillette’s assertion that D.C.’s “embryonic pageant system” allows virtually anyone to enter the single-round competition belies the notion that locals are being squeezed out at all. Since anyone can compete, D.C. natives are as free as others to try their luck. I share Gillette’s underlying objective of promoting D.C. zealously. I come from a family of native Washingtonians, and am a third-generation Howard alumnus. I received a journalism degree from UDC, and my J.D. from Howard’s law school. It does not bother me that UDC, as the host school, did not produce a contestant. Many UDC students work full-time and/or have family obligations that curtail their extracurricular activities. What does bother me is Gillette’s irrational xenophobic attitude toward Langford and other individuals who may very well choose to make D.C. their permanent home after college, law school—or the pageant.
Sarah-Elizabeth Langford earned her crown. Try giving her a chance before unjustly branding her as some fly-by-night opportunist.