Forty years ago, I helped black girls become more accepted as the “girl next door” as a Miss America contestant. After seeing this year’s pageant, I fear a Pandora’s box of politics has been opened. It risks making an institution that has helped empower women for almost 100 years irrelevant and further polarize our society.

Miss America featured black contestants since 1971, but television audiences only saw fleeting glimpses of them until I advanced to the semifinals as Miss Delaware in 1977 pageant. It was an honor to do so, but my journey was challenging. Racial animosity dogged my progress, and there were several moments I didn’t think my family could handle the pressure.

Persistence paid off. I didn’t win, but the first black Miss America was crowned in 1983. Race is no longer an impediment. Politics, however, seems to be a new barrier to advancement.

In choosing Miss America for 2018, contestants were asked a series of loaded current events questions. Miss Missouri was asked about President Trump’s alleged election collusion with the Russians. Miss North Dakota was asked if Mr. Trump should have withdrawn from the Paris climate accord. Miss New Jersey got the question about Confederate statues. Miss North Dakota was the most decisively anti-Trump. She won. Draw your own conclusion.

These questions now capture the most attention. In 2009, Miss California was admonished by a judge for not agreeing with him on same-sex marriage. In 2015, Miss Tennessee was criticized by pro-life groups for false statements about Planned Parenthood services to make a case for public funding of the nation’s largest abortion provider. Yet the organization reportedly told the 2012 Miss Delaware not to discuss her pro-life views.

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LifeNews Note: Day Gardner is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network and the president of the National Black Pro-Life Union.