“It is easier to raise strong children than repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass
Douglass said those words years ago, but their wisdom is timeless. Watching DMX on the latest episode of “Iyanla, Fix My Life,” I was reminded of them. The rapper/actor, born Earl Simmons, agreed to appear on the show at the urging of his estranged wife, Tashera Simmons. The two were also on the VH1 show “Couples Therapy” where some of DMX’s main issues – infidelity and substance abuse – were put on display.
Given the fakeness that is most of reality TV, it’s hard to tell if any of DMX’s antics on “Fix My Life” were scripted. If so, he deserves way more film work. The twitchy, angry, defensive man who Iyanla met up with didn’t seem to be acting. His behavior was so obviously addled that one of the first questions Iyanla asked was “Are you high?”
DMX shared his pain at being abandoned at age 7 by his mother, who put him in a youth home after she got frustrated with his behavior. If DMX has a father that is still alive, he must be long gone, because he’s never even mentioned. Iyanla talked to DMX’s mother who, like she did on “Couples Therapy,” seemed rather unaffected by the pain that her son is in. In Iyanla’s conversation with Tashera, Tashera admitted that for 17 years, she played more of a mother role than a wife to DMX, substituting for the mother he’d lost.
DMX admitted to marital infidelity (it was hard not to as he has six kids outside of his marriage), multiple arrests and constant use of alcohol and drugs. He told Iyanla he wasn’t ready to stop getting high. Tears, anger and defensiveness, the telltale behaviors of most addicts, were all part of the conversation. When the going got tough, DMX decided he’d had enough and refused to continue the shoot. After some intense persuasion, DMX agreed to return to talk to his oldest son, who he’s also estranged from.
Xavier, now 20, wanted to confront his father about his infidelity and drug use. Despite their initially warm interaction, when DMX thought Iyanla was interrupting the conversation between father and son, he cursed her. Iyanla offered to leave but X’s son refused to speak to his father alone. When it was all said and done, DMX told his son that their relationship could only continue if his son was able to accept him the way he was. Xavier, though, preferred a relationship with a sober father and wasn’t having it.
DMX is a drug addict in need of help. Iyanla, knowing what she had urged viewers to respond to a Twitter hashtag #Support DMX and internet prayer circles were started up via social media. After the interview, DMX’s camp issued a statement focusing on his next career moves and saying that DMX felt that appearing on the show hardly fixed his life, but made it worse. While we’re trying to figure out what “worse” looks like for DMX, the telling detail is that his camp is focusing on his rap and film career. At this juncture, is that really the main priority? Or should his health, sobriety and welfare come first?
DMX is a sad and angry man and he’s all too symbolic of the many men that we all know like that in our own lives. A victim of his childhood circumstances, DMX is unwilling or incapable of moving past his pain. That same issue is being played out in neighborhoods and in homes all across America. That the focus is on a celebrity rap star, whose money and talent gave him advantages most addicts don’t get, seems both exploitative and jarring. Sure, Iyanla has ratings to get and a show to keep on the air and she’s not doing anything anyone else in her field isn’t doing. But would it have been more instructive to have a group of black men on who could talk about what led them to substance abuse and toxic anger in the first place – and also how they’ve healed?
How do we heal these broken men, without getting broken ourselves? Watching Tashera talk about the verbal abuse she took from DMX, given that she was the one person in his life that showed him love and loyalty was truly sad. How do we hold men like DMX accountable for behavior and choices that have hurt others, while simultaneously supporting them in the healing they so obviously need? How do we as mothers, sisters, aunties and daughters heal ourselves so that we can raise strong sons who can bear what life throws at them and raise strong families themselves?
We need those kinds of solutions in our community. Reality TV does a good job at showcasing the problem. But it is our collective responsibility to fix it.