Miss Universe Zimbabwe: White model Brooke Bruk-Jackson wins pageant, sparks fierce debate

A white woman beating several Black candidates for the title of Miss Universe Zimbabwe has sparked fierce debate online, with a number of critics arguing that the contestant is not a suitable representative of the African nation.  

Brooke Bruk-Jackson, a 21-year-old white model from Harare, beat out Black runners-up Amanda Mpofu and Nokutenda Marumbwa to be crowned Miss Universe Zimbabwe 2023 on September 16, a decision that has prompted widespread outrage on social media.   

Bruk-Jackson will serve as Zimbabwe's representative in the 2023 Miss Universe pageant on November 18, marking the nation's first appearance at the international event in 22 years.   

The pageant, which is set to be held in El Salvador, will feature 90 women from around the globe vying for the coveted title of Miss Universe. Last year's winner, R'Bonney Gabriel, will be crowning her successor.  

Following her win, Bruk-Jackson shared a gushing statement on Instagram that spoke of her love for Zimbabwe and her duty to "serve our people".

"I have gained this crown for our beautiful country, to love and to serve our people, to represent Zimbabwe internationally and to show the world the uniqueness of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans," she continued.   

"I want to be an example of grace, understanding and inspiration to the youth of Zimbabwe, to instill the spirit of 'ubuntu' and know that together we are strong and anything in life is possible."

But many of Zimbabwe's Black population have not taken kindly to Bruk-Jackson's win, with one branding her crowning "extremely tragic and disappointing" on X, formerly known as Twitter.   

According to online reports, African ethnic groups account for roughly 98 percent of Zimbabwe's population, which stands at over 15 million as of 2023. The largest group is the Shona, followed by the Ndebele. Only about 2 percent of the population is of non-African ethnic origin.  

"All those beautiful [melanated] women and you telling me the European woman won a contest for black people [sic]?" another raged on X, with a third writing: "Imagine crowning a white person Miss Zimbabwe. That means there is no black woman in Zimbabwe who is up to her standard. What manner of white worshipping is this?"  

The debate has also spilled onto Instagram, with the heated discourse on her account - particularly on the post announcing her victory - leading the model to deactivate the comments.  

"So disappointing to see these colonizers representing an African country," wrote one, while another exclaimed: "My ancestors [are] rolling in their graves!" 

However, many have also rushed to Bruk-Jackson's defence, prompting ongoing debate about diversity, inclusion, colonisation, and the importance of skin colour. Others have pointed out that on Friday, Aishah Akorede - who is Black - was crowned Miss Universe Ireland 2023 to widespread acclaim.   

In a separate post to her Instagram last week, Bruk-Jackson appeared to address the backlash, writing: "The colour of our skin should not define a person or who each person chooses to associate with... This is to say we are all born the same way, no matter the colour or your skin. We are brought into earth through the same path."

Earlier this year, Rikkie Kollé became the first openly trans pageant contestant to win the title of Miss Netherlands, an achievement that will also see her represent the country at Miss Universe in November.  

If Kollé wins Miss Universe, she will be the first trans woman to wear its tiara. The pageant has allowed trans participants since 2012, and in 2018, Ángela Ponce from Spain became the pageant's first 'out' contestant, but she did not advance to the finals.