updated 7/29/2013 5:47:14 PM ET 2013-07-29T21:47:14

“What about our black girls and those who mother them?” Harris-Perry asked spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant Saturday.

The value of black men and boys in the United States has been at the forefront of national conversation in the days following the George Zimmerman verdict. Sadness and anger among activists and celebrities alike has moved them to speak out about inequality in the justice system.

Last Friday, in a surprise press conference, President Obama relayed his personal experiences as a black man in America. Social media also sparked online efforts—such as Essence magazine’s #HeIsNotASuspect hashtag, where women were asked to post photos of the black men in their lives on Twitter.

In the middle of this national conversation, host Melissa Harris-Perry asked Saturday about another group that seems to have been forgotten.

“What about our black girls and those who mother them?” Harris-Perry asked author and spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant, host of Oprah Winfrey Network’s Iyanla: Fix My Life, in Saturday’s “One on One” interview on Melissa Harris-Perry. “What about the struggles and public safety questions faced by young black women?”

Vanzant commented on the relationship between black girls and their mothers using the newest episode of her show as an example. In a clip, Vanzant confronts Brenda Thompson, mother to R&B singer Syleena Johnson, about her behavior towards her daughter. In the end, Thompson opens up about her own emotions, admitting that she thinks “sadness is weak.”

“If I show my weakness, if I’m vulnerable, I’m going to be hurt. People will take advantage of me,” Vanzant said about black women’s internal dialogue. “But in the meantime, we shut off a piece of our heart that our children need.”

“We’re talking about the problems with black boys, the problems with black girls, the problem with brown children,” Vanzant added later. “We can’t keep looking at what’s wrong with the children. They are the fruit. We have to say, what’s going on with the tree?”

Harris-Perry and Vanzant then discussed the switch in national conversations from ten years ago—when more in the media focused on pregnant black teenagers—to the current concern for the safety of black boys. In the end, Vanzant made it known that the conversation should be bigger than just one or the other, asking, “what about our children?”

“We have to stop acting like it doesn’t matter, the hate crimes against our children,” she added.

Later in the show, Harris-Perry and Vanzant discussed the Zimmerman verdict and last week’s ABC interview given by “Maddy,” Juror B29 at the trial. Watch the rest of the conversation below.

Video: The role of black mothers in raising our daughters

  1. Closed captioning of: The role of black mothers in raising our daughters

    >>> since trayvon martin was shot and killed last year, a lot of focus has been placed on what we, as a society, can and should do to help save black men and boys in our communities. this week, congress got involved, inviting martin's father, tracy, to speak at the first-ever gathering of the first congressional caucus on black men and boys. we highlighted the concerns facing black boys on this show recently, when i spoke to author and spiritual life coach, iyanla vanzant . we spoke about father lessons and the subject of her show,

    iyanla: fix my life, on the oprah winfrey network. what about our black girls and those who mother them. what about the struggles and public safety questions faced by young black women?

    the latest edition of "iyanla: fix my life" will premiere at 9:00 p.m . on own and focus on black mothers and daughters. here with me to discuss it and much, much more is the one and only iyanla van zandt , who beginning in september will be a columnist for "o" magazine. thanks for joining us.

    >> thanks for having he.

    >> so we do a lot of work as mamas on our daughters. so what is the thing you're working in this particular episode, what is it you're trying to do to heal between this mother and daughter?

    >> language, actually. the gist of tonight's episode is about a mother's language, that was used in her daughter's life, and how it created a breakdown in their relationship. but for me, i think the episode is really not about daughters or sons, it's about our children. and i often think that as parents, and particularly in today's world, that we really forget how important we are as parents in our children's lives. and that everything that we do leaves an imprint on our children's soul. and this story is about what happened when a parent didn't recognize that.

    >> i want to show a scene from it that really, in the context of what we've been watching with sybrina fulton , who is, in certain ways, become the mother, to whom we are all looking. and yet, this moment was a powerful one. i would like to watch it for a moment.

    >> what has she done, that is so horrible that you would allow her to die a slow death?

    >> this lady right here, really don't know what it's like to be loved. have no clue. nobody loves me. and i'm okay with that.

    >> no, you're not.

    >> but it will be okay.

    >> no, it will not.

    >> sadness is weak.

    >> i feel so uncomfortable with this emotion.

    >> sadness is weak.

    >> and that is what she said. so many mothers of color, that is a badge we wear. if i show my weakness, if i'm vulnerable, i am going to be hurt, people are going to take advantage of me. but in the meantime, we shut off a piece of our heart that our children need, and we shut off that compassion and tenderen and nurturing and we become disciplinarians and providers, but we're not the soft place for our children to fall. we're affect our boys, it affects our girls, but more importantly, it affects us. because now that this mother is older and her children are older, she doesn't understand what happened, why they don't have a good relationship.

    >> and as i'm watching that, and as i hear you talking about failing ourselves by thinking that sadness is itself weakness, i'm thinking, it also fails us in the realm of public policy .

    >> oh, absolutely.

    >> if we cannot be tender to our own children, how can we be tender to someone else 's child who needs public assistance . if we become disciplinarians in our law making .

    >> well, you know, we're talking about the problems with black girls , the problem with black girls , the problem with brown children. what about the native children on the reservation? here's the issue. as adults, as lawmakers, as policy makers, really where and our compassionate self as people, do we hold our children. they don't vote, they don't pay taxes. they don't contribute to the voice of public policy . and children, today, are what. are they commodities, are they tax deductions ? are they burdens? are they just things that we have hanging around. because we can't keep looking at what's wrong with the children. they are the fruit. we have to say, what's going on with the tree.

    >> okay. i want to listen to sybrina fulton . i feel like she's calling us to do exactly the thing that you have just said. i want to listen to trayvon martin's mother, sybrina fulton , at the national urban league this week.

    >> what is my message to you? my message to you is, please use my story, please use my tragedy, please use my broken heart to say to yourself, we cannot let this happen to anybody else's child.

    >> she's extraordinary, how she holds the sadness and the grief and the strength at the same time. and then tells us, take it. go use it.

    >> but we didn't do it with michael stewart , we didn't do it with sean bell . we didn't do it with the jenna six. and my concern is, is not my prayer -- my prayer is for something higher. but my concern that we'll get all whipped up, six months from now, we'll be on to something else, because our children really don't matter. and particularly, the lives of black and brown boys really don't matter. if you recall, years ago, maybe ten years ago, the upheaval was the pregnant girl. the pregnant teenager. and everybody was saying, well, what about the boys? what about the boys? it was like we didn't even have teenage boys until we started killing them and until they started killing each other. now it's, what about the boys, what about the boys? well, what about our children? what is wrong with the tree that the fruit should be so rotten? and that the fruit should be so discarded. this is what we have to do. lawmakers, policy makers. i mean, our educational system in this country is a disgrace. and we have to say it. and we have to stop acting like it doesn't matter. you know, the hate crimes against our children.

    >> yep. stay with me, because i want to stay on exactly this topic. and i want to bring it a little bit back to this question of sort of the girls reproducing as the big problem, because we're starting to hear that narrative again. quick break. we'll be back after this.


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