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Harlem Millennials: A Female Portrait

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Netflix and social media addicts; narcissistic and smartphone-obsessed. These are some of the words used to describe millennials. Pew Research Center defines millennials are anyone born after 1980, and the first generation to come up in the new millennium. Now in the prime of life, they are also a boon to the advertising industry and marketers of all stripes. On TV, in magazines, everywhere on the internet, the millennial lovefest is in full swing. But millennials are not quite exactly a monolithic bloc. We differ in important ways from city to city, and sometimes from one borough to the next.

As a young woman in the Big Apple, the concerns of the Harlem millennial are more geared toward self-care, self-empowerment through technology, and a fresh new way to go about issues that impact her community, neighborhood, family, and lifestyle.


Gracy Obuchowicz, a self-care mentor, defines self-love in one equation: “Self-care plus self-awareness equals self-love.” And as a millennial, I couldn’t agree more. A recent NPR report concluded that millennials are not only “the generation that takes advantage of the internet the most,” but also the one that devotes the most time and money to the $10 billion self-care industry.

And beauty corporations are posting ever bigger returns as aging millennials begin to contemplate the inevitable passing of time. But even as we grow older, the number of free do-it-yourself options available online only seem to multiply with no end in sight. It’s empowering and yes, I must admit, a little alarming. But you can’t blame young women in Harlem for our devotion to a healthier lifestyle when the fun part about it is that it’s all free– or seems to be free. Either way, there are no excuses anymore not to care about self-care.


Millennials have been called narcissistic and entitled. But in reality, they are one of the most outspoken groups on matters they care about, and young women in Harlem, too, are speaking out on the issues that arise in the neighborhood.

A common issue for young women in Harlem, is being “cat-called.” Back in 2014, Hollaback, a non-profit group working to end sexual harassment, partnered up with Rob Bliss of Bliss Creative to produce this video, which went viral overnight, thrusting cat-calling at the top of the national conversation. In the video, a young woman of color, Millennial WOC, is quietly walking down the streets of New York, a hidden camera secretly recording the scenes as she is subjected to a flurry of cat-calls by young and older men alike.

Collier Meyerso created for Jezebel a response video portraying WOC’s reaction to the disturbing street harassment scenes, wondering why there was not a single white male shown on the harassment video. Meyerso, a white man, concluded that white men were simply edited out of the video, portraying black and latino men as the sole culprits.

Zoila, a young Harlemite, explained in a segment of Meyerso’s video that she was more likely to be sexually harassed in a bar than outside in the streets. “Honestly, it’s usually the white guys who make me feel uncomfortable,” she says. The scenes in the original WOC video were shot on downtown streets, not in Harlem, she added.

While Millennials are perceived as narcissistic and entitled, they are one of the most outspoken groups on matters they care about.

Even so, it is a fact that young black women in black communities are more at risk of sexual harassment and violence than other young American women. So as young women in Harlem, we care do care about issues other than Netflix and the latest beauty influencers on YouTube.

How Her Gizmos and Gadgets Work for Her

As far as technology goes, Harlem millennials are, as you would expect, very attached to their apps and devices. A sweeping 2014 Neilson report concluded that millennials define themselves primarily as tech users. And this is true regardless of where millennials happen to reside. In Harlem, young women are all over the tech trend, with access to a smartphone treated a basic human right; a life necessity, almost like air and water.

We care a lot about our gizmos, apps and applets. We are constantly in awe of our easy and unlimited access to the best the internet has to offer. And women on mobile phones are the demographic showing online shopping the most love.

What’s the Harlem millennial’s definition of being black?

Well, it’s simple, really. She wants to be herself.

Harlem is currently undergoing a rapid transition with historical implications. Blacks now make up just over 50% of the population here, down from over 70% in the 1990s. But this has had little impact on how young black Harlemites perceive themselves. We are New Yorkers, first and foremost. We are deeply attached to the city, its values, and cultures. We deplore the skyrocketing rents, the uprooting of the poor, but at the same time, we feel more attached to the values of diversity, being as we are at the forefront of one the most profound changes to confront Harlem, New York City, and America.

RELATED ARTICLE: Harlem Millennials: A Male Portrait

Arielle Bines

Arielle Bines is a New York-based writer, marketing professional and lifestyle blogger. She is the co-founder of Bines & Co. Creative Consulting. She has contributed content to Dreams in Heels PR and the Fourhundred Magazine, and marketing expertise to SanTech Global Corp and the fashion show production company J Model Management.
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