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In Search of Diahann, Dorothy, Josephine, and Nina

Last semester, a fellow student of mine produced a mini-doc that focused on the misconceptions and similarities between Kim Kardashian and the infamous Marilyn Monroe. It discussed their childhoods, accomplishments, scandals, and their rise to wall poster fame and idolization among millennials.

It was fabulous for numerous reasons, but here are two of them. One, the mini-doc included interviews with students who have Monroe posters tacked to their walls, but have no idea that she was an A-list actress who struggled with the level of fame she had attained. Two, it revealed a notion that had been brewing within me for some time: black millennial women idolize that which we fail to comprehend.

Truth.

Black millennial women have been bombarded with inaccurate images in the media that have warped our sense of who we should admire and for what reasons. No offense to the Basketball Wives fanatics out there (I’m one of them), but Shaunie O’Neal is not a role model. She exploits other women in the name of six-figure checks, chic accessories, and Miami lofts.

And let’s be honest with ourselves. Kim Kardashian and Marilyn Monroe are not women that children and teenagers should spend their lives admiring as the pinnacle of womanhood either.

If given the immeasurable chance, black women would condemn Karrine Stephans for her ignorance, emasculating Twitter rants, and lack of self-value and worth. But we sit glued to our television screens as Kimmie gallivants through Los Angeles with her egotistical mother and aspiration(less) sisters, spending unearned moolah and shooting the breeze. The same Kimmie who left her husband after two months, carried on an affair with Kanye West while he was in a relationship, and garnered profit from the sale of her own nude degradation. Marilyn was beautiful and talented, but she was also an adulteress, who carried on an affair with the President and his brother while she was married to Joe Dimaggio. But, women flock to the stores to purchase her photograph and hang it proudly in their dorm rooms and first apartments.

But, I can’t seem to find an affordable photo of Diahann Carroll on the Wal-Mart shelves. You know Diahann, right? She was one of the first visible black women on television when she starred in Julia. Josephine Baker seems to have disappeared from Ikea. Yes, that Josephine, who was so dedicated to Civil Rights that she fought to integrate shows in Las Vegas. And my dear Dorothy Dandridge, so troubled and so beautiful, has never graced a wall on this college campus dedicated to the uplifting and empowering of black women. And let us not forget Nina Simone. Yes, that Nina Simone, whose words still seem to stir souls long after her death.

Oh, the irony.

Where is the place for these trailblazing black women on the walls and in the hearts of black millennial women? All of them are flawed, as Kardashian and Monroe are, and all of them represent the dimensions of us. All of them are righteously iconic in their own right, but their photos and memorabilia are not saturating the retail market because we have no interest in preserving their legacies on t-shirts, posters, and tote bags. Their words are significant, their histories impeccable, but we rarely quote Nina Simone who once said, “There’s no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were.”

She’s quite right. There is no excuse.

You are entitled to watch and idolize whoever is appealing, but before spending countless dollars on Monroe posters and Kardashian books, do the research. Realize the importance of role models and decide who is worthy of this distinction. You might end up wanting to keep up with Dorothy, Josephine, Diahann, and Nina after all.

Let us hope that after I finish hanging photographs of my four women, plus Billie, in my first apartment, other black millennial women will opt to learn their histories as well.

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