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September 2012

Why People Listen To Steve Harvey’s Advice (Ugh…)

Yesterday, a Black woman on Twitter asked why are people taking relationship advice from Steve Harvey. Now, this could actually warrant a full book (and not only about him—but the general issues that allow people like him to profit). But, the simple answer is:

1) An overall commitment to anti-intellectualism. If he were educated in counseling and lived his life in a way that reveals what we used to consider necessary for expertise, he wouldn’t be popular. He wouldn’t. Not in this day and age. The concept of “expertise” has changed (because some of those with it have abused their power considerably, and because of the overall distrust of institutions [including education] that exists now. I just read a good book on this called Twilight of The Elites - The End of Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes, from UP With Chris on MSNBC). Some people like the idea of someone unqualified providing advice or knowledge, because they associate this with “realness” or being “down to earth.” Sarah Palin has the same type of audience. This doesn’t mean traditional credentials are always needed; at all. (And I read the academe for filth everyday. People can have organic epistemologies and expertise.) But it does mean just publishing/yelling out sexism and stereotypes does not make a man capable of counseling.

2) Patriarchal and sexist norms surrounding expertise. Any Black man with “advice” on how Black women “should be” will be considered an expert over a Black woman, educated or not. More people follow Harvey’s advice than educated or uneducated Black women. I’ve not crossed anyone White who considers him an authority on relationships (though that could be because of racial bigotry versus the real reasons why they shouldn’t. It could also be that they perceive his “advice” as “Black advice” in the way that White films are perceived as “for everyone,” but Black films are for “Black audiences”). The consensus via media (and even among some Black people) is that Black women are the “most broken” and require patriarchal men, preferably Black men (since some Black people will accept nonsense from other Black people that they wouldn’t accept from Whites; while others might accept it from Whites, but feel a closer “connection” to someone Black spouting what ironically amounts to memes of a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society) to “fix us” and get us “in line” with the needs of a White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society.

3) Celebrity culture. There are three methods to power (articulated well in the aforementioned book). Money. Platform. Networks. Within the Black community (and somewhat outside of it), Harvey has ALL THREE. It’s irrelevant if the advice he perpetrates absolves men of responsibility, is sexist, is sloshed in religious dogma (that is also bent on women being inferior), and is only operable when a woman decides that a good chunk of who she is will be submerged or not even developed, in order to please a man. It doesn’t matter as this is simply the order in which White men operate when peddling advice. Some Black men in particular, feel the need to re-exert their power as men because of the racial bigotry that they face, which eclipses the full landscape of patriarchal power that they could have, which White men do have. Instead of critiquing such power and its overwhelming corruption, for some, it’s better to try to achieve it, even if it is limited by race (though some of those limits relax [but don’t erase] once money, platforms and networks are achieved).

4) The connection to religion. Back when I had a (now closed) psychology blog several years ago, I wrote about how Black male relationship experts (Twitter has increased this exponentially) that have one foot in religion (after all, it is more of a challenge to advocate female “submission” without religion, though some secular folks still manage to [i.e. secular positivity culture, some evolutionary biologists]) plus prosperity gospel pastors are the two groups replacing the traditional fire and brimstone pastors in terms of patriarchal leadership amidst Black people. (Of course, celebrities still have a role, and politicians do, though smaller than celebrities’.) It’s not a coincidence that Steve Harvey’s audience is primarily Black women and Black churches are primarily filled with Black women. I had a conversation a few days ago with one of my followers on Twitter, where we discussed how it is not a rejection of patriarchy that makes men (who aren’t atheists, skeptics etc.) skip church, but a rejection of the order—the hierarchy within patriarchy, or in other words, taking orders from a man (a pastor), when they rather be giving orders to a woman, is what they’re rejecting. Further, most advice books are written from the angle of female deficiency, not male; men will not spend money on them and many of their error in ways will be viewed as caused by women or men “just being men.” Either way, zero to minimal accountability…kinda similar to many Black churches. The advice culture runs parallel to Black church culture (though church can also be a place of support for Black women).

This is why men like him seem apprehensive about atheists and feminists/womanists. Both represent ideologies that can challenge patriarchy and religion. Oh…it’s not their Christian worry about the ”lost souls” who don’t follow the patriarchal norms of religion. It is worry about a loss of platform and then loss of money and then loss of networks and ultimately a loss of power if the status quo is upset and Black women and men consider healthy, equal, consistently challenging the status quo-type of relationships. People will be out of jobs. And power. What is happening intraracially is simply a microcosm of the problems amidst the White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society that we live in.

5) “Racism is bad. Sexism is good.” This ideal is an undercurrent to much in the Black community, not just advice culture or Black church culture. Couple this with the sometimes lopsided or one-sided racial loyalty of Black women to Black men, and Harvey’s book is practically shoved down many Black women’s throats (in the way that Tyler Perry’s work is. I find myself intrigued by how Black men are not required to indulge Harvey or Perry in the way that Black women are). I read his first book and thumbed through the second. He even signed my first book in Miami. Thus, I am not guessing as to what he has done. I know. Benevolent sexism is not romance. Patriarchal norms are not advice…even if it is all done with “humor” while wearing bright coloured suits.

Here is a link to one of my favorite books I’ve read about women and love, and four good books about Black love…and none of them were written by Steve Harvey, Tyrese, Rev Run, Hill Harper (and the latter shows that even having education [Harper went to Harvard, though he didn’t become a PhD, MFT, or LMHC…even though the latter three can STILL peddle patriarchy and sexism as advice] isn’t sufficient for rejecting patriarchal and sexist norms as “advice”) or any of the like. They’re by a Black woman, bell hooks (though in some areas, particularly sexual politics, I dissent with her).

As bell hooks writes:

Many women have turned away from the feminist project of female self-actualization for fear they will be alone and unloved. The irony, of course, is that patriarchal devaluation of womanhood is far more likely to ensure they masses of women will remain alone and unloved.

The only thing that Steve Harvey convinces me of is how oppressive the cishet Black male gaze can be to Black women at times. And his recently announced dating site will only make this worse.

(Originally posted September 2012; edited October 2014)

  1. real-girlfriend reblogged this from gradientlair and added:
    Trudy said it all and and more! At first I saw some good in Steve Harvey’s book, even though I couldn’t see myself...
  2. jaeger---bombastic reblogged this from gradientlair
  3. historydiva25 reblogged this from gradientlair
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  10. kaiserwilhelm reblogged this from gradientlair and added:
    Steve Harvey is an expert on perpetuating stereotypes. Racial and gender roles. Nothing more. He’s a clown.
  11. poitreenmoshun reblogged this from gradientlair and added:
    “Further, most advice books are written from the angle of female deficiency, not male, men will not spend money on them...
  12. m1ghtykn1ght reblogged this from gradientlair
  13. shadesoftrey reblogged this from gradientlair
  14. somebody-tell-me-whats-going-on reblogged this from gradientlair
  15. shadowlove89 reblogged this from gradientlair
  16. prohairvolution reblogged this from gradientlair and added:
    “Benevolent sexism is not romance.” Well said!
  17. michelletrenae reblogged this from gradientlair