Wow. I almost feel like I should call you Mr. Harvey, you are twenty-six years my senior. But since we’ve become so intimately acquainted- you coaching me and my peers on how to find a man and all, I’ll just call you Steve.
My first memory of you was on the sitcom, Me and the Boys. A short-lived mid-90’s series, you played a single father parenting three sons on your own. Although not necessarily reflective of the true-to-life black family structure of prominently female-led homes, the show presented an obscured experience in popular culture– black fathers doing what they have to do, hard working and committed to raising their children. You became officially integrated into black Hollywood on WB’s “The Steve Harvey Show.” Portraying a high school music teacher, black America came to know your brand of coolness, a no non-sense mix of authenticity and humor. It was an everyday kind of comedy-you didn’t crack jokes, you simply told it like it was and we laughed.
In 2000, middle-aged black women everywhere fell for you. As a host in the acclaimed stand-up comedy film The Original Kings of Comedy, you hilariously declared your devotion to old school soul music. I can remember sitting in a crowded movie theater with my Mother, so saturated we had to sit in the third row. You were like this grand wizard taking viewers on the funkiest sonic time travel. Like a funny Don Cornelius, you introduced young Black America to love songs by Earth, Wind and Fire and Lenny Williams. For many of us, it like was a breezy nostalgia, driving in the car with our parents playing The Ohio Player’s “Heaven Must Be Like This” on the oldies station.
Instinctively becoming a champion for the old school way, you professed, “If you ain’t old school, you don’t really know what’s happening.” You transitioned into a distinctive new kind of black male comic. Undoubtedly a first, you became a maestro, sort of a crusader for the ‘back in the day.’ Hosting the BET Awards, presenting Lifetime Achievement honors to legends of our music’s past, you were one of our favorites. Never the cooning, cross-dressing comedian. You wouldn’t be caught dead tap dancing for anyone, certainly not white America.
Well Steve, 10 years later things have kind of changed you know? Many of us never imagined you become that chosen representative for all of black America. The kind of commentator, “joe-for-a-quote” routinely solicited by the media. The kind of media that will select you to “advise” black women in America and in the same breath will clown you for your seldom mispronunciation of words. I mean, we all believed in your talent. We knew you would evolve as a performer. Predictably in a Dick Gregory kind of way, but not like this.
Today you host a nationally syndicated radio show and last year, authored a New York Times bestselling book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Some argue your book help usher in the latest emergence of the myth of the ‘Single Black Woman’ or ‘SBW.’ You dedicate in your book to ‘all women,’ “My hope is to empower you with a wide-open look into the minds of men.” You urge single women to adopt the behavior of men, while preserving a chaste sensibility. In your popular ’90 day rule’ you compare sexual activity to the receipt of job benefits stating, “If Ford and the government won’t give a man beneﬁts until he’s been on the job and proven himself, why, ladies, are you passing out beneﬁts to men before they’ve proven themselves worthy?” A seemingly useful how-to, black women religiously consumed the 232 pages like a First Sunday communion.
Now you’re regularly called on by ABC. Essence magazine even gave you a column. You regularly dish advice to frantic female callers during your radio show’s “Strawberry Letter.” You’ve become the love doctor with a media-endorsed diagnosis for the new ‘Black woman problem.’ Today, you’re like another Al Sharpton. Anytime the media needs a weigh-in from a black voice, you appear. But Steve, are you really comfortable here in this new position? Somehow many of us get the impression that this isn’t exactly where you planned to be. At least I’m hoping so.
I’m hoping you really don’t want to take part in what many of us believe is a 21st century capitalist propagandist scheme timely for an ailing economy. Don’t get me wrong Steve, you give real talk and we love to laugh at your hilarious traditionalist views. Although often bloated with male egoisms, sometimes you do have good points. But Steve, we’re just not feeling it anymore.
In awe of timeless DuBoisian “double consciousness,” black women deal with a triple conscious. We habitually connect the dots of race and gender while living in America. With all due respect Steve, even amid your new “love guru” status, this is an identity you can never truly grapple with. You like many black men in America appear to operate in a privileged position in ‘SBW’ discourse even as you face crippling incarceration rates, joblessness and stolen second chances. Today black women stand before all of the world exploitatively rearranged in the public space. We never saw it coming. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Black women today are asking each other, “How does it feel to be a problem?” And dare we ask our brothas how they feel about it. You constantly remind us black men “don’t wanna talk about it.”
Steve, I watched you take part “Nightline’s” second go at the ‘SBW.’ On your follow-up appearance you were promoted to moderator and sat selective of your words. Paired with actor Hill Harper and author Jimi Izrael, at times nearly uncomfortable and visibly irritated as if you could possibly be tired of the very conversation you help to initiate. In the company of hyper-educated men who toted theoretical analysis and ‘heard it all before’ statistics, you did everything you could to stand out. From being strangely silent, the occasional monologue and blatantly disagreeing with Izrael, ironically advising black women against lowering our standards. Your real talk, old school candor with rare intervals of unbiased advice like black women being the missing link from black men’s growth and success is refreshingly received. What prominently separated you from the other male panelists is your own relationship status. You’re a family man on your third marriage with offsprings my age. Much like your comedic devotion to old school music, your relationship expertise is a sentimental recollection of yesteryear.
Still the hour-long special failed to address the immediate concerns of young black America. Sherri Shepherd, a recent divorcee and Jacque Reid, an unmarried 40-something both in rigorous search for Mr. Right represented the exhausted ‘SBW.’ For many of my peers who haven’t “arrived” at our pinnacle successes, we aren’t looking for the coveted MRS. We’re more interested in healthy relationships with men we can trust and the meantime, we, surprising to many, enjoy the single life. But your most profound offering during the entire panel was when you seemed to speak directly to my generation, conclusively suggesting we won’t get better men until your generation starts producing better men. The sincerest ‘a-ha’ moment of the evening, this is just it Steve. Maybe you should stop talking to black women, and start talking to black men.
A happy ‘SBW’ missing the old Steve