mo’nique once again challenges the powers that be

February 14, 2019

It almost feels like a routine now, where Black men with power and access use it to publicly humiliate actress and stand-up comedian, Mo’Nique. Ever since Mo’Nique went public with her unfair deal offer from Netflix, something happened to her that feels out of step with the moment of women’s empowerment happening in the rest of Hollywood. Mo’Nique’s reports of unfair offers for her work due to her race and gender have constantly been resisted, and too often the resistance is made by Black men — although one might think it would be white, male counterparts that would cause dissonance, it hasn’t been. It has been men like Lee Daniels, Charlamagne Tha God and now Steve Harvey, that have constantly used their platform to delegitimize and confuse Mo’Nique’s stance.

Yesterday the conversation exploded with a televised conversation between Steve Harvey and Mo’Nique on the The Steve Harvey Show. What could have been a strong moment of public unity against racialized misogyny was instead a complicated conversation around integrity and money. Steve Harvey told Mo’Nique, “This is the money game. This ain’t the Black man’s game, this ain’t the white man’s game. This is the money game.” Mo’nique quickly responded, “Before the money game is the integrity game.”

Steve Harvey pushed back on Mo’Nique’s call for integrity and inserted his family and his employees as a reason to not take stances around political and social issues because the profit he is making can’t be at-risk because of the people depending on Harvey’s stardom and power to survive. I reject this.

As Steve Harvey said this, in the middle of Black History Month, I thought about the amount of progress that wouldn’t have been made if Black people were more concerned with profit and wealth than integrity. And I thought to myself, is the only wealth to be had in money? Is there no brand of wealth in integrity and the taking risks in order for a better world to be created because you sacrificed? Is the only wealth that the certain members of the Black community can conceive of around property, wealth and how many white people know your name?

Steve Harvey’s stance highlighted the limit of the white supremacist patriarchal imagination. Even with Harvey’s access, power and wealth, he still could not imagine a self that could publicly defend Mo’Nique and tell private truths while still maintaining his position as a performer and businessperson. And it would seem to me that if you couldn’t use hyper-wealth to facilitate moments of great risk to push for a more just, better society than what you have hoarded isn’t necessarily wealth but the cost of your silence.

It seems logical to predict that Mo’Nique may find herself in front of another Black man with power and access that dissents against her accusations of misogyny and racism in the future, and we’ll find ourselves once again struggling between believing an outspoken Black woman and a Black man that is more interested in being a vehicle for the culture of domination he inherited than in sacrificing something for a future that might be a bit more just for Black folks not interested in being exploited.