The director of the Mrs America beauty pageant has been accused of racism by several contestants in the competition, with one woman alleging that she was told “black women need to stop having babies and having four baby daddies”.
Four 2018 Mrs America contestants say that David Marmel, executive director and co-founder of the pageant, made a series of racist generalizations at this year’s contest in Las Vegas.
One woman alleged that Marmel suggested black men were “drug dealers” who are “killing each other”, while another contestant said Marmel told her “black men are criminals who need to stop shooting each other”.
Marmel, the executive director of Mrs America who co-founded the competition in 1978, denied having made racially insensitive remarks.
He said some of his comments had been taken out of context during “what was agreed to be a confidential session where we were going to consider our collective experiences”.
Speaking at a news conference with women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred in New York City, Mrs America contestant Crissy Timpson said that Marmel issued a number of racially charged comments in two separate conversations at the Mrs America contest in August 2018.
She alleged that during a meeting in Marmel’s office he said, apparently in reference to Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who protested police brutality during the national anthem, that “the asshole needs to stop disrespecting my flag”.
Timpson, who is black, said she told Marmel that Kaepernick was not disrespecting the flag.
“David changed the subject and said ‘well you people need to stop killing each other, we need people to bring up the black community’.” she said.
“He told me that: ‘You black women need to stop having babies and having four baby daddies, your men are drug dealers, incarcerated, in jail, you are on welfare and killing each other.’”
Timpson appeared with fellow contestants Brandy Palacios, Kimberley Phillips and Jeri Ward on Monday. The three other women shared similar stories of Marmel’s behavior at the contest.
Allred, who has been a women’s attorney since the 1970s, most recently representing some of the women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, said she had been “shocked” to hear the Mrs America entrants allege they had been subjected to “racially insensitive comments”.
“They feel that it is their duty to share what they allege was their experience, because they do not want next year’s contestants to be subjected to what they consider to be racially offensive and demeaning comments,” Allred said.
Timpson, Palacios, Phillips and Ward were competing in the Mrs America tournament after winning each of their own statewide beauty pageants. It cost each of the women $1200 to compete in the national pageant, and the four said they had spent thousands more on travel, clothing and treatments.
Allred said the women had “no plans” to file a lawsuit or seek damages.
“We ask [Marmel] to acknowledge what they allege that he said, take responsibility for it and apologize to them,” Allred said.
Timpson, Palacios, Phillips and Ward also want Marmel to undergo sensitivity training “focused on the issue of racial bias and racial stereotypes”, Allred said, “so that what they allege they were subjected to never happens again”.
Recalling the conversations, Marmel said he relayed his experience as a Jewish baseball player who was subjected, along with African American teammates, to abuse from crowds. The women had complained that Marmel had used the “n-word” when recalling a sign he had seen at one baseball game, which he confirmed.
“For them to twist that into me using that slur as some sort of epithet is disgusting and says something about them.”
Marmel said he had founded the Annual American Black Achievement awards television show, which he said had highlighted black people’s achievement. He denied having made the statements listed by Timpson – specifically he said “that’s bullshit” – and said he would not be apologising or undergoing training as the women requested.
“Based upon my career and what I’ve done for the African American community, does it sound like I need sensitivity training?”
Marmel’s Mrs America pageant is the second incarnation of the contest. The original Mrs America, started by east coast publicity guru Burt Nevins, began in 1938, originally as a ruse to attract people to the New Jersey boardwalk, and ran until his death in 1968, according to an exhaustive Jezebel article.
Marmel revived the pageant in 1976, and the contest has taken place every year since. This year’s contest, held to decide who would serve as Mrs America 2019, was held in Las Vegas in August. It was won by Nicole Cook, from Illinois.