A couple of weeks ago, I came across a story about Joyce Bryant, a curvaceous entertainer in the 1950s and 60s who was known as “the Black Marilyn Monroe.” I researched her further, and Bryant was beautiful and talented in her own right, oozing sex appeal and class simultaneously, but instead she was compared to the Blond Bombshell. There’s also an intriguing story about Greenwood, a small town in Oklahoma, which became known as “the black Wall Street” because of its thriving community before a race riot destroyed it in 1921.
I thought about how many times I’ve heard someone or something referred to as “the black” whatever” and why that is. Understandably, for so long, we’ve only had whites to look to as the standard of beauty, intellect and talent. We looked to those figures when our heroes were few, far and in between. Honestly, even when there were counterparts of African descent who were comparable or even better–Lena Horne or Jackie Robinson—the Frank Sinatras and Marilyn Monroes were still the mold.
In present day, it’s still happening. The list of African-Americans who compare themselves to white icons is endless, especially in pop culture and entertainment. Back in the Bad Boy era, Lil’ Kim often referred to herself as the “black Erica Kane,” the infamous and stylish diva on All My Children and Notorious B.I.G. dubbed himself the “black Frank White” after a fictitious drug lord in the film, King of New York.
Then there’s my favorite, which has been adopted by countless fashionistas/writers—“the black Carrie Bradshaw,” after Candace Bushnell’s golden girl in Sex and the City. Even one of the most prestigious HBCUs, Howard University, which has a laundry list of bragging rights, including graduating some of the most notable African-Americans of our time, is unofficially coined the “black Harvard” by some alumni.
I don’t like it. It gives the impression that we want to be someone or something else.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a white woman refer to herself as “the white Oprah,” or the “white Beyonce’.” In fact, they’re doing just the opposite. Take Miley Cyrus, who’s been in the media lately for her “ratchet” antics, as an example. As Clutch recently reported, Miley rejected a Billboard critic’s moniker as “the white Nicki Minaj” after twerking her way back into relevancy. She responded, “A lot of people wanted to try to make me the white Nicki Minaj. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I love ‘hood’ music, but my talent is as a singer.” Umm, okay, Miley. I’m sure she was thinking “why be the white Nicki when I can just be the white me? I’m enough.”
There’s a popular joke from Chris Rock’s classic standup, Bigger and Blacker, where he says a poor white man wouldn’t trade places with him because he’s African-American, even though he’s wealthy. “There’s a one-legged busboy in here right now that’s going, ‘I don’t want to change. I’m gonna ride this white thing out and see where it takes me.’”
Rock was jokingly referring to “white privilege,” the latest discussion topic for thought leaders and social media intellects. This concept suggests that a person gets points just for being whoever they are, a particular gender and/or race.
Regardless of these so-called privileges, it’s time out for us to focus more on what we do, rather than look to others as the blueprint. We are no longer in the shadows of others. Referring to ourselves as the black anything only devalues our own accomplishments and worth. Sure, it’s easy to tack black onto the front a well-known name because that person may be the mainstream point of reference, but we have skills, experience and expertise strong enough to stand alone. We can be our own brand without having to lean on what others have achieved.