How Steve Harvey Birthed A Generation Of Black Male Relationship ‘Experts’ & Why Black Women Follow Them

When the name Kevin Samuels comes up, you can expect some groans, a lot of anger, and once in a while, the odd supporter who believes in his “tough love” style of relationship coaching. 
Delivering deeply chauvinistic dating “advice” through his radio show and YouTube channel — which has a whopping 900,000 subscribers — Samuels has gained his following demonizing Black women (his primary targets) with videos titled “Why are women so angry?” and “Do modern women owe men?” But still, it’s the women who come directly to Samuels for help that truly suffer the worst of his degrading style and unrelenting misogynoir. In one particularly scathing “session,” he took aim at a young Black woman’s height, weight and appearance, claiming that men only want women who are fit. Similarly, he compared another woman who had called into his radio show to a “linebacker” after he asked her for her height and weight and she complied.
Advertisement
But the problem isn’t just that the “image consultant” is both cruel and completely unqualified for the role for which he has now become so popular (he has a degree in chemical engineering). Samuels is just the latest in a wave of Black men who have built entire careers by dishing out patriarchal advice to Black women on how to find a “good” man — or spot a bad one. 
If Samuels’ relationship advice is a bit too harsh for your tastes, there’s always Derrick Jaxn. This “self-love ambassador” developed a huge following for viral videos (many of them recorded inside of his car) where he delivered relationship pointers to his 712k-deep YouTube audience. Seeming to take a kinder, more empathetic approach to the topic, Jaxn gained the trust of hundreds of thousands of women who were looking for answers in their love lives, or seeking a sympathetic male perspective to help them make sense of a tempestuous dating scene.

When were Black women sold the idea that shitty cishet men held the cheat codes to understanding other cishet men, and that they were willing to hand them over to women for our benefit? Two words: Steve Harvey.

And it’s not just them. A few other well-known and controversial figures in the Black online space have also dipped their toes into the murky waters of this dubious enterprise, profiting off the Black women who come to them seeking legitimate guidance. Social media commentator and film producer Tariq Nasheed is notorious for his misogynistic, queerphobic, xenophobic and often ahistorical commentary on Blackness in America. He has weaponized terms like “bed wench” (which referred to enslaved Black women who were raped by white enslavers) against modern-day Black women who are in relationships with non-Black men. And, his latest film is about “buck breaking” a term that denigrates Black queer men, suggesting that they are tools of white supremacy being used to harm the Black community. The latter idea isn’t Nasheed’s alone. It’s one that is pervasive throughout the Black community, rooted in religious and social constructs that position homosexuality as a blight on male masculinity, and a way to supress our capacity to reproduce as a race. While pushing this agenda, Nasheed has also found time to write several relationship advice books, including this one with the misogyny written right into the title: Play or Be Played: What Every Female Should Know About Men, Dating, and Relationships.
Advertisement
Then there’s Umar Johnson. The self-proclaimed “Prince of Pan-Afrikanism” regularly dispatches harmful fauxtep takes on everything from government conspiracies to how queer people are destroying the Black family. According to Johnson, the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender in the Civil Rights Act was a way to strip Black people of the gains that the act was intended to yield for them — as if Black women and Black queer people don’t exist and intersect. 
Just like Samuels and Jaxn, much of Nasheed and Johnson’s platforms have been dedicated to "educating" Black women on how to keep a good Black man. OG Housewives fans will remember that Johnson was featured in an early season with the Atlanta crew, where he hosted a relationship seminar that Kenya Moore attended. And for years, his appearances on radio shows, at seminars and on college campuses have included advice for Black women on how they can achieve a successful relationship.
So, just how did the find-a-good-man industrial complex come to be? When were Black women sold the idea that shitty cishet men held the cheat codes to understanding other cishet men, and that they were willing to hand them over to women for our benefit? Two words: Steve Harvey.
*****
“Everything you need to know about men and relationships is right here,” Harvey declared in the opening pages of his 2009 bestseller Act like a Lady, Think like a Man
The book was supposed to help women find out what men really thought about love, intimacy and commitment. Filled with what I’m sure Harvey considers to be actual nuggets of “wisdom,” it functions more as a collection of sweeping generalizations about men that only serve to absolve them of any real agency and responsibility in relationships. “Men are simple,” he announces at the top of chapter one. “Get this into your head and everything you learn about us in this book will begin to fall into place.” 
Advertisement
To this day, Harvey has zero credentials that would qualify him to dole out his advice in the fashion and scale that he does. And the audacity of him to position himself as an expert on how to “keep” a relationship becomes even more absurd considering that the former radio host and comic has his own long, messy relationship history consisting of alleged infidelity, three different marriages and the philosophy “You've got to get a divorce to find the right chick.” (Harvey denied the accusations of infidelity through his lawyer, calling them “slanderous” and “malicious.”) 
In any case, Think Like A Man was later adapted into a movie of the same name starring a number of Black Hollywood’s finest like Taraji P Henson, Meagan Good and Michael Ealy. Film critic Roger Ebert (RIP) wrote that “the movie's mistake is to take the book seriously.”
“This might have worked as a screwball comedy or a satire,” Ebert continued. “But can you believe for a moment in characters naive enough to actually live their lives following Steve Harvey's advice?” 

There is an overwhelming amount of popular media and cultural messaging that is dedicated to telling Black women there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed, in order to find a good man.

Sadly, this is no satire. And judging from the millions who bought the book, TLAM was at best trite entertainment, and at worst, used as an actual roadmap for how to understand the inner workings of men. It was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks and still maintains at least a 4-star rating on most book sites today.
It was during this era that the Black man as a relationship expert truly emerged in all of its glory. TLAM came about as a by-product of Harvey’s time as a morning radio host where, according to the book, women would call him for relationship advice. The ‘Ask Steve’ segment of the Steve Harvey Morning Show was apparently a hit, and even though Harvey himself admits the advice thing started out as somewhat of a joke, he quickly found that women were earnestly seeking and taking his counsel on men. 
Advertisement
After the success of TLAM he went on to write three other books, including a follow-up to the original titled Straight Talk, No Chaser : How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man. Still, the broader context of this moment that allowed for him to be so successful is important to consider. Harvey was capitalizing on a long-internalized idea within Black church culture that the magniloquent Black man was the authority on all things — including love, marriage and the family. One of the most recognizable voices in Black entertainment, he put his own spin on that blueprint, making straight Black women feel like they were finally being allowed into the boys club, finally being let in on a secret that would improve their love lives forever.
In Jaxn's case though, the facade fell when the world found out that he had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs, to the torment of his wife of four years. (I won’t rehash the bizarre sit-down that followed where Jaxn ‘apologized’ for his indiscretions, and the two reaffirmed the strength of their marriage. But, it’s safe to say that this guy’s capacity for manipulation is unmatched).
Olivia F. Scott wrote in Essence Magazine that as an avid supporter of Jaxn, she was hurt and disappointed when the news came out. She also spoke with “a respected psychotherapist … who shared that in her virtual sessions over the past several days, she’s seen clients who are hurt, angry and feel taken advantage of by this exposure.” Jaxn has since announced a new book capitalizing on his recent infamy: Heal Together Without Hurting Each Other.
Advertisement
It's no surprise that Black women are falling victim to these scams. There is an overwhelming amount of popular media, cultural messaging and actual peer-reviewed study that is dedicated to telling Black women there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed, in order to find a good man. And judging from the comments section of Samuels’ YouTube page, the appetite for solutions to these romantic quandaries is as strong as ever, even when the advice being given is far from healthy or even useful. "What’s the point of coming on the show to talk about your problem with finding a man to marry if you’re not gonna listen to the reason why you’re having a problem?" one female commenter asked. “Preach, Kevin!” responded another. “I just had a lonely friend… call to guilt me about I'm doing too much with a high value man, because I'm not answering her phone calls when I'm with him. I told her, I will not apologize for that.” And that’s not to mention his YouTube live streams, which are full of women willing to pay Samuels to “teach” them how to find a man.
When participating in the dating scene, Black women are navigating the slippery nuances of racism, colourism and misogynoir, all of which have a huge bearing on their dating outcomes. 2014 data from OkCupid, for example, found that Black women were having far less success on dating apps than white women were. In fact, Black women consistently received the worst ratings for potential dates, based simply on a view of their profiles. 
Advertisement
The official numbers are also bleak. The 2009 U.S. Census data showed that nearly 40% of Black women aged 34 to 39 had never been married, compared to just over 13 percent of white women. With Black women preferring to date within their race and with Black men making up 34% of the U.S. prison population, Black women who prefer to date and marry Black men are up against significant challenges. 
And while marriage itself has long been touted as the ultimate goal and measure of success for Black women, Black men regularly impose patriarchal, eurocentric and unattainable standards of beauty on those same women. Black features have also historically been denigrated on Black women and celebrated on non-Black women, creating a perfect storm for men to treat Black women as undesirable. Black women who date men are then left desperately seeking answers from seemingly understanding men, who seem to hold secrets they would otherwise not have access to. 
And that male insight, that notion of finally getting to see behind the curtain, is what really helps sell the whole deal. 
Before he was exposed, even my mother had sent me more than a few of Jaxn’s videos encouraging me to heed the wisdoms he was sharing. Though something about his earnest schtick immediately felt dishonest to me, countless other women are genuinely deceived by the act, and were disappointed to have bought into the elaborate charade. 
Samuels, on the other hand, shows no signs of letting up. The easily digestible and widely popular format of the ‘online relationship therapist’ means that there will always be an audience for his “content” no matter how egregious it is. 
As for Harvey, if there was any further proof of his hypocrisy and the inefficacy of his advice, it would be the fact that his own daughter, Lori Harvey, doesn’t seem to be following it, and appears to be thriving in high-profile relationships that she defines on her own terms. And she’s not the only one who appears to be tuning him out.  In 2019, the king of shaky advice had his talk show, Steve, cancelled in favour of The Kelly Clarkson Show. But even though he lost one of his biggest platforms, the space he opened up has continued to thrive, always just one click away.

More from Sex & Relationships