Iyanla Vanzant on Shedding Self-Hate

2012 Harpo Studios
2012 Harpo Studios

(The Root) — In a promo for her new show, Iyanla: Fix My Life, best-selling author and inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant tells Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada, "You've been rewarded for being a thug among women." As the screen fades to black, Vanzant continues, "It's going to cost you."


That snippet is part of the OWN show's explosive two-part series premiere on Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, in which Vanzant helps Lozada — known for her extremely violent behavior on Basketball Wives — get to the heart of what's really fueling her life choices. The pair also dissects the alleged head-butting incident between Lozada and her estranged hubby, NFL star Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson.

The revealing conversation is just one of many that Vanzant has with guests on her new program. And if anyone knows about going through hell and coming back on top, it's Vanzant. She has survived childhood rape, verbal and physical abuse and teen motherhood. And over the past decade, Vanzant has been traversing through hellish difficulties: a dissolved relationship with The Oprah Winfrey Show, a failed television show, the death of her daughter, a third divorce and the depletion of the millions she earned that led to bankruptcy and home foreclosure.

In February 2011, Vanzant made a comeback before The Oprah Show audience in an unforgettable two-episode reunion with Oprah Winfrey during the show's final season. Vanzant and Winfrey addressed the reasons behind their split and the challenges Vanzant had faced. The appearances on the show helped shoot Vanzant's new book, Peace From Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

By the end of the year, the rift was long forgotten and Vanzant was christened as one of OWN's spiritual gurus. Born Rhonda Harris, the soon-to-be 59-year-old will share more aspects of her life with Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday this weekend.

The Root spoke with Vanzant about a myriad of topics, including her new show, experiences working with OWN, what's plaguing people of color, the real reasons behind women's disrespect toward one another and how African-American parents have failed their youths.

The Root: Iyanla: Fix My Life seems like a better fit than your previous talk show, Iyanla, which you did with Barbara Walters. How do the shows differ?


Iyanla Vanzant: I have a very clear intention for doing Iyanla: Fix My Life that is supported by both the production team and the network. That was not the case when I did Iyanla 11 years ago. The most important difference for me is that I have a much deeper understanding of who I am and my purpose on the planet. I recognize that this is not about doing television. It's about being the truth of who I am and fulfilling my purpose in life. So it has a much different flavor.

TR: When you last spoke with The Root in 2010, you expressed a desire to reunite with Oprah, and voilà, you did. How has your life changed since your appearance on the show 18 months ago?


IV: My life has not changed. How I do my work has changed. The basic core of my life is about teaching and service to the world. About six months after I appeared on The Oprah Show, Ms. Winfrey invited me to do her Lifeclass show on OWN last fall.

After one of the Lifeclass shows, which aired once a week for six weeks, she said to me, "You know, you really need your own show." And I said, "Really? You know, I'm OK." And she said, "No, you need your own show." That was it. So we started working on the concept [of this new show] last year.


IV: What I've noticed with people of color is that they don't know the truth of who they are. They don't have an authentic experience or an authentic sense of themselves.

We wear masks, titles and labels. And we don't know how to be people. We know how to be doctors, lawyers, mothers, girlfriends and boyfriends, but we don't know how to be vulnerable, joy-filled, peace-filled people and give other people permission to do the same thing. I don't limit that to African Americans. That's a human condition.


TR: What about black youths? What's your take on what's going on with them?

IV: The adults in the African-American community, we abandoned our children a long time ago. Trayvon Martin is just one of the many. And when I say abandoned, I mean the interests and the needs of our family. So we stopped paying attention to what was going on with our children in school.


We didn't make noise when the community centers were taken away, and we did nothing when we started seeing how they're portraying our young women half-naked on videos. And we silenced [the ones like] C. Delores Tucker [who spoke against it] for free enterprise.

TR: How do you change that?

IV: [When] we remember how to be people [it will change]. People serve one another, take care of and look out for one another. That's what people do at their basic core. We become people in the midst of tragedy.


We remembered on 9/11 and during [Hurricane] Katrina that we were people. We became people during those times because they reminded us that we're all connected, none of us is immune, and what happens to you matters to me. And until we can remember that, until I can look at you and say, "I'm not my sister's keeper, I am my sister." Until we get that, we're going to keep dying.

TR: You work a lot with mothers and daughters. What are some of the biggest challenges they face?


IV: Having worked with women, what's specific to women is the hatred that we hold for ourselves or the limited expectations — the low worth, the low values — that we hold about ourselves as individuals that we project onto other women. And therefore we have very little regard for them.

TR: That behavior seems to be reflected in reality TV shows, whether it's Basketball Wives, Mob Wives or Dance Moms.


IV: As long as women are kept detached and disconnected from their innate and divine power, we don't become a threat to the status quo. The minute that we get clear, the minute that we step into our power, it threatens the status quo …

Remember, the true power of a woman is not in her mind; it's in her heart. So you've got to pray. That's the answer. We pray and move, pray and beg, pray and forget. You've got to pray and listen. And you've got to pray the right prayer. [Asking for] help — that's the right prayer.


TR: Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada is among those who have asked for help. How was it working with her?

IV: I see all of my guests as the same: people who were courageous enough and willing to step up and say, "I need some help, I need some support" and present themselves naked before the world. To me she was just a courageous individual.


TR: When most people acquire debt, one of the first things that come to mind is attachments to materials. You've had and lost a lot of things. What are you doing differently now?

IV: I don't have an attachment to material things. I do like them. But the quest for material acquisition does not drive me. One of the lessons that my life has taught me is to instead of having many wants, have fewer needs.


There's very, very little that I need. I need warmth, food and love and people who support me. If I could have a car, great. If I could have a house, great. So it's limiting my attachment and demand or expectation of having material acquisition because I can't take any of it with me.

Aisha I. Jefferson is a frequent contributor to The Root. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her at aishaiman.com.