Steve Harvey and Black Women

It was in 2009 when the state of black women’s singleness became newsworthy, studied by experts and a topic that everyone from bloggers to self-proclaimed relationship experts couldn’t stop writing about. Everyone from Nightline to the Washington Post weighed in on the “something must be wrong with black women” meme. Including black men.

Advising black women on how to get and keep a man is now seen as big business with comedian and radio host Steve Harvey leading the pack. He has turned what some would call black women’s dire circumstances (70% of children being born out of wedlock, 42% of black women never having married), into dollar signs.

For Harvey it all started with his radio show’s “Strawberry Letter” segment where women would write in asking for his advice on their relationships. Harvey would give no holds barred tough love answers similar to that of an uncle. It was almost inevitable Harvey would turn that opportunity into his first book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Harvey’s first book went on to sell over 2 million copies spending 64 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, Harvey’s first book was the second-biggest non-fiction book of 2009, behind only Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue.

His decision to write a second book Straight Talk, No Chaser after such success was as predictable as Tyler Perry making another Madea movie. And like Perry, his formulaic method is apparently what audiences want. Not even two months old, his second book is also a NYT Bestseller.

In my heart of hearts I want to believe that 2 million women did not purchase his first book. I want to believe that his second book is not really a NYT Bestseller and this is all a cruel joke. But it’s not. The reality is that there are black women out there who don’t understand when we are being pimped. Exploited. All for the sake of the almighty dollar.

Recently a video of Steve Harvey’s second ex-wife of 16 years hit the net. She accused him of cheating during their marriage, read letters from a mistress and even accused Harvey’s current wife of being the mistress while they were still married.

Why would we, in droves, listen to a comedian turned “relationship guru” who has been married three times? Help me to understand what would be appealing about taking his advice seriously.

At the core the problem is patriarchy. And that is no easy task to dismantle. Women are conditioned as hell.

Unfortunately, the media, black men and seems like the world is constantly telling black women we are undesirable and we are the problem. Statistics are used to validate this claim. In return, women in massive numbers believe that any black male celebrity who comes along to offer his golden advice, whether it is Hill Harper, Jimi Izrael or Steve Harvey, must have the master key of unlocking the gates to love. We have to stop this y’all.

Ask yourself why isn’t Steve making books for black men. Hell, they have a host of issues that need to be dealt with. Statistically they may be worse off than black women. But he knows better. Harvey knows that he wouldn’t sell more than 10,000 copies, let alone 2 million, targeting black men.

Knowing that women aren’t listening to other women writing books of the same genre is also very telling. Wouldn’t it make sense to read the perspective of a woman who most likely understands, empathizes and has been through some of the same joys and pains? Iyanla Vanzant has written books both dedicated to women and men in an effort so build stronger relationships in our community. Former NFL wife Shanae Hall wrote a counter to Harvey’s book Why Do I Have to Act Like a Man?. In 1999 author Denene Millner and husband Nick Chiles wrote What Brothers Think, What Sistahs Know about black relationships. What Steve Harvey is doing is nothing new.

It’s really unnerving that there are black men who choose to capitalize off of some of black women’s belief they need some type of help on finding or keeping a man. But it saddens me that we allow them to do it.

It is not my intention to make black women who do read Harvey’s books feel bad.  Women have different reasons for reading what he writes and love is the one thing we all desire. However, every time women support one of these self-help books written by men who are not preaching the same garbage to their male counterparts, we are contributing to a patriarchal system capitalizing off of our desires. We are essentially telling men, ‘Keep dictating to us on who we should be and what we should do. We’ll keep supporting it.’ And that’s not something any of us should be willing to do.

  • Antonio Maurice Daniels

    Nice piece! Harvey continues to exploit people who are willing to be exploited. People are silly for listening to relationship advice from a man who has had three failed marriages. If anything, women and men should be running away from Harvey's relationship advice. Again, nice piece!

  • I couldn't have said it better myself. A friend of mine actually tweeted, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man" the other day and I felt so bad for her. She fell for the okie doke along with the other thousands of women who purchased Steve's book.

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  • Drew-Shane

    Steve Harvey, oh how I love thee…
    He's just been saturating everything and every form of media. It's getting annoying. The sad part about him giving advice is that these women, and some men, are listening to what he has to say. Everyone has an opinion today, even if they don't govern themselves by their advice. Times are hard. People are looking for answers.

    • RoniLynn

      You are So right! Good gracious I've been saying the same thing Drew-Shane. I've had just about enough. And this piece was so on point and exactly what my friends and I have been saying. But SOMEBODY is reading and buying. I would love to get their viewpoint on WHY…

  • I have to agree on all your points.

    You are so right, as men, we are not asked to and rarely talk about love unless its to complain about black women. Harvey is doing just that.

    Some might argue that if Harvey did write a book for Black Men and love, it wouldn't sell. Of course it wouldn't because as men, we don't even have to mention the word love in the same sentence as relationship. That is also part of the patriarchy.

  • 1Rekka

    "We are essentially telling men, ‘Keep dictating to us on who we should be and what we should do. We’ll keep supporting it.’ And that’s not something any of us should be willing to do."

    Completely agree with this comment. We as women are far too willing to accept men assigning our roles and interpreting our experiences in patriarchal ways. We have the power to use our voices to articulate our own experiences and also learn from them.

  • Denise K

    I worked on a project where I asked young black men what they thought of relationships. The responses that I got were eye opening, maybe I should get back to that. I agree that too many black women think that there is something wrong with them because they want certain things in their relationship that for whatever reason black man can't or won't provide (there is always the flip side to this, but that's not where I'm going today.) The first thing that black women should know is that it's okay to want what you want in YOUR relationship, and if a man can't provide that to you, kick him to the curb. Trust and believe a man doesn't have the same issue for what he wants in his relationship.

  • This right here is awesome! I continue to love your blog. Steve Harvey grates my soul because so many impressionable women buy into this crap. Now he wants to cry over lost black men? FOH! He needs to apologize to women for those terrible books first.

  • aJwitaFrO

    Honestly, I don’t see this as exploitation at all. Steve Harvey wrote this book because he felt that this is what women wanted/ needed and so he brought it to them. Why would he write a book for a group of black men who obviously don’t want to be helped? You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped so I think that would have been a waste of time.

    Furthermore, there are other self help authors who write for black men who want to be helped and they’ve done a good job if you ask me. Two good examples are Bereolaesque and Tony Gaskins. I understand that a lot of people are weary of Steve Harvey’s advice because of his personal background but I’ve read the book and there are some good points to it. I feel that Steve is just giving his views about “the game” and how women who want to win should know how to play. For example, in the book Steve talks about waiting until a man commits before you sleep with him in order to prevent yourself from being strung along, used or played and seeing a man’s true intentions. It’s simple advice that most people don’t follow. How many women sleep with men hoping that one day he’ll commit?

    There are good men out there and I believe that there are some things about relationships that women can only learn from men. Woe to the girl who takes relationship advice from Cosmo.

    All I’m trying to say is that I don’t think there is anything wrong with what Steve Harvey has done. He writes from his perspectives just like all self help authors and I honestly feel that he genuinely wants to help people in addition to making money.

    I read a lot of books and I feel that there are things that you can learn from various people’s writings. One author wrote that men can only do what women allow. As much as women want to shift the blame for our societal problems on black men (eg being players + dead beat dads), it’s up to women or at least individuals to better themselves and demand more an not expect anything less…just my opinions


    • writtenbyBene

      "You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped so I think that would have been a waste of time."

      And this is what I want women to examine. Why do we think we need help? From a man? In particularly one who cannot keep his own affairs in order. Patriarchy and

      "For example, in the book Steve talks about waiting until a man commits before you sleep with him in order to prevent yourself from being strung along, used or played and seeing a man's true intentions. It's simple advice that most people don't follow."

      Again, this statement is extremely problematic. No man or woman should be dictating the sexual encounters of a woman. And no one should be making a woman feel like if she slept with a man at 1.5 months and the relationship didn't work, it is her fault. That's not always true and a large generalization. Furthermore, this line of thinking again is very patriarchal. I'm looking at this as a woman, but also a feminist. You may not be. But I don't think you have to be a feminist to understand what is at the core of this problem.

      You say that "black men obviously don't want to be helped." That is all the more reason for Steve to reach out to them. I don't see any books telling men what they need to do. That's the difference. The self-help books for men have a different tone to it. The self-help books for women comes from centuries of men believing they can tell us what needs to be done to get and keep them. And if we don't follow the "rules" to the game it's our fault. You don't find that problematic?

      "As much as women want to shift the blame for our societal problems on black men (eg being players + dead beat dads)…"

      That's a pretty loaded statement. So you think black women are to blame for their own problems, should stop blaming men and then listen to men to learn the things about relationships that "only men can teach us"? Yeah, we're going to have to agree to disagree.

      Thanks for reading! Always happy to have new readers. 🙂

      • @TAARenaissance

        I will say THIS, black women are the cause of alot of their OWN problems… and that is the TRUTH

  • Bene, you said, "Hell, they have a host of issues that need to be dealt with. Statistically they may be worse off than black women."

    May? May??!??!?!?!

    The question is this: Why do publications like Essence put Mr. Harvey on their covers? You've written for them– perhaps you can provide some insight. Why oh why would a publications that "claims" to support the black woman experience use their platform as a conduit for him to sell his snake oil?

    Perhaps the problem is patriarchy, and yes, that's a BIG item to tackle. But what needs to happen FIRST is that publications that claim to respresent and uplift black women and then help ole Steve push up his sales need to be SERIOUSLY re-examined.

  • John Feller

    Great Article. Nothing more attractive than an intelligent woman. The reason that Steve Harvey doesn't write books geared towards black men is the same reason that the church is predominately filled with black women. Game recognizes Game. Most men know a slick pimp when they see one. I wouldn't go as far as to say Steve is a slick pimp, but he does indeed have some "pimpish" ways in the way that he markets himself and his advice towards women.

    Personally I can't listen to his morning show because it is saturated in coonery and over the top negrodian antics. Steve depends on the same single dejected not to perceptive crowd that Tyler Perry does. But in all fairness I actually read his first book and I must say that there were some pretty good tips in there, my problem comes in with his delivery when he gives his advice either on his radio show or during his many television appearances. He give it with an air "high and mightyness" that is simply not cool. He never gives his advice with an air of humility . None the less, GREAT article and I love the way you think.

  • Diane

    I have no idea the type of woman who would buy Steve's book…unless it's for comic relief. Everything Steve thinks women don't know, women do know. There is no man slicker than a woman when she wants to be slick. There are only women who refuse to see the truth. Steve said it himself when he said, "I'm trying to help y'all but you just won't listen." How many of us, women, have told our friends the same thing. You cannot help anyone who wants to see and believe what they want to see and believe. It is not only black women, it is women of all races. Here is some badly needed advice for Mr. Relationship Guru, Steve Harvey: Get your current wife out of your business with your ex-wife. Make your ex-wife whole financially and work with her to raise your son. So many men make the mistake of allowing the new woman to control issues with the ex. Steve has been played by his new wife and he doesn't even see it. She is the one that told him to take his son. If he doesn't do the right thing, he will lose more than a talk show on OWN. The woman that helped him rise to the top, he thew to the side. The one he now puts on a pedestal will bring him down.

  • nero180

    here is the misconception. Steve is not writing about relationships or necessarily 'giving advise', he's writing about how men approach relationships, so the book is really a 'How Men Approach Relationships for Dummies' …and seems as qualified as any given his numerous relationships.

    its not saygin do this or do that and you'll have a successful marriage, its saying 'hey ladies, this is how the male mind approaches certain things so u can have an understanding to judge his actions based on intent and not just surface action'.

    Also, it seems steve's wife is quite the storyteller herself according to recent court developments.

    at any rate, i think his info is something women should look into just to get a perspective on how a man's mind thinks… don't lose the message because of the messenger…

    • writtenbyBene

      "I think his info is something women should look into just to get a perspective on how a man's mind thinks."

      So you think all men think alike? Men are not a monolith. No book is needed for me to get a perspective on how men think. I have male friends if I want different males perspectives on things.

      "Don't lose the message because of the messenger."

      I think you're missing the point of the article. Clearly I don't think Harvey has a message. And it's not about discrediting his message because of the alleged claims against him. It's about him being no authority on anything. Also he's a man focusing on telling women how to think and how to act. Hence the title of his first book. Where are his books for black men? If you replace Steve Harvey with Bill Cosby, who has been married at least 20 years to Camille, I'd still think it was problematic that he chose to write a woman geared toward women. It would be less problematic if it was Cosby, but still problematic.