Apr 27, 2010

Dear Steve,

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.



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