Joyce BryantA 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.

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38 Comments

  1. If i had a son i’d want him to be the next Neil deGrasse Tyson. Heck if i had a daughter i’d want the same thing. Being a trailblazer is far more exciting than being the black copy of whatever.

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  2. Great article! You’ve made some very valid points here. Even in our self acceptance and so-called Black pride, there is still an age-old tendency to compare ourselves against a White standard, as if our own standards of beauty and talent aren’t enough. Unfortunately, this occurs amongst all types of Black people. This type of self-deprecating speech MUST be eliminated from our vocabulary in order for us to move forward and truly accept ourselves as we are.

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  3. I enjoyed reading this and totally agree. It’s something that I’ve scratched my head about too. I don’t think anyone’s called me the white fill-in-the-blank, but if it ever happened, it would annoy me to no end.

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  4. I never liked those types of terms. Why would anyone would want to be called “The Black Carrie Bradshaw” or “The Black Marilyn Monroe”? There are so many beautiful, talented, and legendary Black Hollywood actresses for Black women to nick-name themselves after.

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  5. OnFire

    Hmmm… call me crazy, but I’ve never actually interpreted the phrase that way. It’s very difficult to find old Hollywood actors of color. What if someone is genuinely more like Elizabeth Taylor in their acting style/persona than they are Eartha Kitt? Or more Brigitte Bardot than Dihann Carrol? When there are only a handful of well known people of color to compare a young entertainer with, I’d rather they get an accurate comparison- regardless of race- than one to just any person of the same race. Hopefully one day, there will be more people of color to make those comparisons to, but right now there really aren’t.

    When an ex called me “the black Kate Moss” (clearly lifting the reference from Yeezy), I didn’t think of it as him saying that I transcended my blackness to be as chic as Kate Moss; I took it as him finding me more comparable to Kate Moss than Jourdan Dunn, Naomi Campbell, Joan Smalls, etc in terms of style and attitude.

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    • I think that you’re right – in some cases. And I think the article writer is right – in some cases. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why people make such comparisons.

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