I strive every day to check my privilege. I want to DO BETTER as a white woman to celebrate the diversity in this community, and recognize where I can be a positive force for inclusion and representation of all of the wonderful ways we are all different.
I’m learning how to better speak about the tough topics. I’ve been SCARED to say the wrong things, so I’ve said nothing at all. But I know that there’s always room for growth and progress through having these tough conversations.
In this episode, I’m having a tough conversation. When I first spoke to Sarah Rose Summers, she was nearly halfway through her term as Miss USA 2018 and preparing for the Miss Universe competition in Thailand. I loved our conversation, but it never made it to air.
You might remember the headlines that came out of the competition, the story about Miss USA and the comments she made about another contestant. We held off on airing her original episode, because my team and I knew we had an important responsibility and opportunity to face a tough topic head on and have a larger conversation about what happened and what we’ve all learned.
I am thrilled to welcome Sarah Rose Summers to Goal Digger.
Yes, we are two white women, stepping up to the mics to talk about diversity, race, and inclusion. I want to have a real, honest conversation that gets us all thinking of ways to do better, grow, be challenged, and show up after we’ve messed up.
Road to Miss USA 2018
Sarah Rose always loved pageantry, and reaching the Miss USA competition was a goal on her heart, but before she went on to claim the crown in 2018 she was a dedicated college student. Sarah Rose earned two degrees in four years while working two jobs through school, and it wasn’t until she graduated and earned her certification as a child life specialist that she returned to her Miss USA dream.
She was named Miss Nebraska and went on to compete at Miss USA. Sarah Rose aimed to make the top 15, which had only happened for Nebraska a handful of times. She went on to exceed her goal and earn the crown as Miss USA 2018.
Through her year term, she traveled the country supporting causes that were important to her. She visited children’s hospitals and advocated for child healthcare. “I remember a mom at the children’s hospital in Boston brought me into the hallway and told me it was the first time she saw her daughter smile in weeks, and that’s what this is all about. Those are the things society doesn’t get to see,” Sarah Rose explained.
Of course, Miss USA goes on to compete at Miss Universe and in 2018 it was hosted in Thailand. Sarah Rose spent several weeks in Bangkok, Thailand meeting 95 other women from all over the world, and preparing for the live telecast while participating in community service opportunities. She remembers all the fun she had with her fellow competitors, and how being in their presence helped her grow and learn so much.
One particular incident seemed to overshadow all of the positive things about the Miss Universe competition. Sarah Rose was chatting with Miss Australia and Miss Colombia on an Instagram livestream about how hard it would be to leave your home country, go to another country with 95 other women, and not speak the same language as anyone else.
The next day, headlines of this chat reached her phone. “Things were cut up and perceived in ways that I had not intended it, and my life and character were cut to shreds,” she said. In the media, her comments were labeled as mockery, racism, and bigotry. “What I intended was to appreciate and to empathize with, and it was flipped into malice and mockery.”
What She Learned
I remember reading the headlines myself, and I remember having chatted with Sarah Rose before this all happened, and for me, it didn’t align with the Sarah Rose I knew. But I asked her straight out, “Can you see how people took things the wrong way?”
She responded, “Of course. When I watch the clips back it was very much a deep, intelligent, intentional conversation that was being had, but the setting wasn’t appropriate.” Sarah Rose explained that she identifies now that the lighthearted approach to the conversation, her tone, and the backstage rehearsal setting lead to the negative interpretation.
After the headlines came out, Sarah Rose sat down with the two women she was talking about in the livestream, Miss Cambodia and Miss Vietnam. A translator helped Sarah Rose explain to the women what had been going on. She was emotional, she apologized, and explained that she had no ill-will in her comments.
Sarah Rose remembers the women hugging her and assuring her that they knew her intentions. “At the end of the day that’s all that matters, is that ‘my sisters’ knew that I had no ill will towards them,” she explained.
What She Did After
In the weeks and months following the Miss Universe competition, Sarah Rose focused on growing and showing up in new ways in response to the criticism. She traveled to Vietnam (a trip coincidentally planned with her family well before the incident) and had the opportunity to learn more about the country.
Sarah Rose became hyper aware of her comments and how they were translated, and why her word choice was offensive. She checked her privilege of speaking the language of many others at the competition, and reflected even deeper on how that impacted her fellow competitors.
This was not an easy conversation to have. As two white women, we took on the discussion of privilege and what it means to be a white woman in this country today. We spoke about what we can do to hear criticism and not bristle defensively when it comes our way, about the ways we need to be showing up as allies and taking the lead to support diversity and representation on our platforms.
We’re not experts, and I know that for me especially, I’m trying to do better and show up in new ways in this space. Press play on the player above to hear the full conversation. Neither Sarah Rose or I let each other off the hook through the entire chat — It was an important discussion, and I hope each time I approach the subject I can speak to it more clearly, with a better understanding of my privilege and what I can do to recognize it each day.