The tragedy and hilarity of Iyanla Vanzant’s ‘Fix My Life’ antics with Hazel-E
We all have an Auntie Iyanla and we all know a weepy-eyed Hazel-E. Their politics may show up in less absurd ways, but they are still there.
Content Warning: This essay contains discussion of sexual violence against a child and a mention of r/pe
Listen. I cannot deal with either one of these women, especially after sitting through this episode of OWN’s Fix My Life. I came across a short clip of what happened in Auntie Iyanla’s Legacy Room (to be explained later), and I just had to watch the rest of it, because I’m a masochist, I guess.
In this episode, Iyanla welcomes rapper and Love and Hip-Hop: Hollywood star, Hazel-E, to sit on her couch. Please understand that I am not here to defend Hazel or her words about dark-skinned Black women and gay individuals, in any capacity. She is a tired and cliché “Black girls always hated me because I’m light-skinned and pretty” head ass, and she is absolutely insufferable.
Hazel admits that one of her grievances is that others have called attention to her lightness while highlighting the fact that she would have been treated differently than darker-skinned women during chattel slavery, precisely because of her proximity to whiteness.
According to Hazel, she’s been told by people with dark skin: “[You’ve] had privileges [and] you wouldn’t understand what I’ve gone through because you’re not dark-skinned. You’re light, bright, and damn-near white.”
This is what she is hurt by. These are the words that she sees as equivalent to the dehumanization of darker-skinned people—a violence that she herself has perpetuated—despite the fact that all of these words are actually fucking true. Again, I say, insufferable.
But wait. There’s more. Iyanla’s attempt to validate Hazel’s lightskint feelings includes the phrase, “[I]n the big house, you just got raped faster!”
When I say that this episode is a whole mess, I am not exaggerating in the least bit. It’s a damn train wreck, but it didn’t have to be. During their conversation, Hazel offers a confession that, in the hands of a more competent confidant, could have opened up a much-needed channel for discussion about the traumas that mothers can create for Black girls.
“Have you ever made a space for your daughter to share with you what you created in her life?” Iyanla asks, in a rare moment of lucidity. Most mothers have not created such a space, and this instead (re)creates a painful cycle. So many Black daughters are walking around with scars and wounds that refuse to heal, traumas that reassert themselves well into our adult years because of how we were, or were not, mothered.
But the issue Iyanla so desperately wants to focus on is Hazel’s sexual expression and celebration in her music and how she behaves as a reality TV star. The session quickly dissolves into suffocating respectability politics masquerading as therapy and life-coaching.
Iyanla conflates Hazel’s sexually suggestive and sometimes explicit lyrics with her hateful comments towards dark-skinned Black women, and traces them both back to her childhood trauma.
At one point, she literally throws Hazel’s lyrics at her mother while yelling about her improper handling of the sexual violation that Hazel experienced as a child. She sees the sexuality in Hazel’s lyrics as a chaos equivalent to the over-dramatization of reality TV (ironic, innit?) and her derogatory comments towards dark skin and homosexuality.
The climax comes when Iyanla attempts to address all of this by escorting Hazel into her Legacy Room, a space decorated with portraits of historical Black icons, in an attempt to help Hazel construct a “new foundation.”
Then, in a display of self-righteous Wokeness™ that reads more like a Key & Peele sketch than a therapy session, Iyanla launches into a tirade so absurd that I initially thought it was just an incredibly bad joke. But, no, Auntie is deadass.
She forces Hazel to read her lyrics aloud to the likes of Dorothy Dandridge, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks.
“Pop my butt. Pop, pop my butt—” Hazel begins.
Do you know what ‘pop my butt’ mean to Harriet Tubman?” Iyanla interrupts and then screams, “It meant a WHIP!” All the while, pointing to Harriet’s portrait with an ardent finger, creating an instant meme that Black Twitter immediately had a field day with.
The entire episode is an investment in convincing Hazel she is lost, immoral, and inappropriate, but for the absolute wrong reasons, and it doesn’t do any real work to address colorism or homophobia.
Iyanla never considers that Hazel’s or any other Black woman’s ability to be open and unapologetic about her sexuality is a gift, given the ways in which Black women’s sexuality has historically been suppressed and governed by the likes of white supremacy, Black patriarchy, and religion.
I’m almost certain that Harriet Tubman, if she could conceive of such a thing as reality TV, would not want her image to be used by one Black woman to berate another Black woman on the Oprah channel for freely expressing her sexuality.
The notion that she, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, or other Black women who came up during chattel slavery or under the rule of Jim Crow would not want sexual autonomy for Black women is an insult to their memory.
“You have a responsibility to Ruby Dee. You have a responsibility to Harriet Tubman. You have a responsibility to Dorothy, and to Septima, and to Rosa, whose blue veins were shining through her arm when she took that seat on that bus.”
This is how Iyanla begins to wrap up her conversation with Hazel.
I can’t say whether or not Black women have a responsibility to Rosa Parks and her visible blue veins, but if every Black woman had to think about what Harriet endured in order to free slaves via the Underground Railroad before we spoke about sex and the things surrounding it, we would never get to a point where we could take ownership of our sexuality.
These women fought hard and broke through barriers so that we could get here. That is what Iyanla keeps hammering into Hazel, and by extension, into every Black woman watching. But our reclamation of our bodies and sexual expression is a part of being here, and respectability politicians like Iyanla do more damage than good by trying to convince us that these things have no place in Black womanhood.
The ideas set forth by both Iyanla and Hazel in this episode represent sentiments that are held by many people in our communities. We have to acknowledge that OWN greenlit this project and this episode because producers thought that the ideas present would resonate with audiences. And, in some ways, it undoubtedly will.
The colorism, slut-shaming, and respectability politics allowed to run rampant here are all present in our everyday lives, as something that Black people are forced to wade through constantly. This is especially true for Black women, but we must acknowledge that, unfortunately, these things are often reinforced by the Black women around us.
I think we all have an Auntie Iyanla, and we all know a weepy-eyed Hazel-E. Their politics may show up in less absurd ways, but they are still present.
They are apparent in elder Black women calling someone’s Black daughter “fast” or “hot in the butt” because her body inadvertently draws the attention of predatory men and boys. They’re in the sermons that come from the pulpit and the whispers from the church ladies about their disapproval of women’s “immodest” clothing choices.
They show up in the lectures that young Black folks always get about how historical Black figures “walked so that we can run,” followed by the complaint that our sprint looks too different from the generation before us. They’re in your light-skinned friends centering their feelings and disregarding yours, insisting that colorism isn’t real because they don’t see it, and accusing you of causing “divisiveness” because “we’re all Black anyway so why does it even matter?”
I wish I could say that the antics of this episode did not pull from reality. Alas, I cannot. Perhaps this is why the meme is already so popular with Black Twitter and also so effective. On some level, we all understand the prevalence in these ideas and how they will continue to show up in our lives after the laughs have subsided.