Is Iyanla Van Zant forever and ever protected by the shield of God Oprah Winfrey, ever since she got on the God’s show and groveled before a studio audience? If that’s the case, the lack of clap back for an under-reported story would make sense. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, The Root reported on an episode of Iyanla: Fix My Life
, wherein Iyanla basically calls a woman who was being sexually abused by her sister’s boyfriend a hoe. See the video here
If you can’t watch the video, here’s what you need to know: The woman, Geneva, moved in with her sister, Barbara when she was a teenager. Barbara’s boyfriend began sexually abusing Geneva. Geneva’s language speaks to this. Iyanla says, “You got pregnant with your second child by having sex with Barbara’s boyfriend.” To which Geneva attempts to correct, “He was having sex with me.” But Iyanla isn’t having it. Even though Iyanla concedes that what happened was statutory rape, she both compels Geneva to say that she was having sex with her sister’s boyfriend and then proceeds to call Geneva a hoe. So, a teenaged Geneva confides in her sister about the abuse, and her sister calls her trifling and doesn’t believe her. What’s more, Barbara tells Geneva that if she wants to keep living with her she has to earn her keep. So, she continues “having sex” with the boyfriend because he provides for her. Then, years later, in an attempt to rectify things, Geneva gets called a hoe on cable TV? Then, after telling Geneva she was hoeing, Iyanla wants to know why she’s crying and…hugs her?
Oh. So this is how we fixing lives now?
Let me be clear. I don’t see anything wrong with “hoeing,” if that’s what we’re calling it. As the great philosopher Ice-T once said, you either a pimp or a hoe #yeacapitalism. That said, both Iyanla’s language and the lack of accountability is infuriating. A teenaged girl with neither allies nor options was subjected to abuse, only for her life coach to call her a hoe. And nobody says a word? I suppose it’s just easier to make up USA Today headlines.
Part of this is about the inability to see black people as children who are vulnerable and need protecting. And Iyanla isn’t the only culprit. The Huffington Post, for example, has been tracking the story of a young black boy on trial for killing a man who had been exploiting and sexually abusing him. The boy was 16 when the engagement began. The man was 27. What does The Huffington Post and Fox News and CBS Sports et. al. say
? That the boy killed his older male lover.
The language alone is an assault upon these black bodies. And we’re letting folks make it by not calling them out or, more devastatingly, not recognizing it when we hear it. The fact that both of these stories have been responded to with the social media equivalent of crickets is disconcerting at best. Or perhaps we only watch and care when Iyanla is shaming reality stars and washed up rappers. Our language reveals what we think, how we feel. And if this is what we say about and how we respond to the plights of black folks who have been abused, what message about their lives are we conveying to them?