I’ve been repeatedly asked by numerous people to write about the Melissa Harris Perry vs. MSNBC situation. It’s taken me a long time because at first, I didn’t know how much I could really say about it. How complicated can I make HOO-FUCKING-RAY!
I felt an immediate whoo-sah, when I heard Ms. Perry Harris quit. It felt similar to walking in your front door, unsnapping your bra, freeing yourself from something that has been forcing parts of you in uncomfortable positions, poking and confining you. I felt more free somehow.
Perry Harris said and did what tons of people, of all races and professions want to do —tell the big bad wolf to go fuck himself. Damn, it had to feel good.
Specifically, I think scores of Black people can relate to the experience of companies that state an interest in having a diverse staff; but learn later (if you weren’t aware) that your “Blackness” is desired as a number, a checked box. Yes, your “Blackness” is desirable as long as it is Black “our way” (Be happy. Don’t complain. Don’t dress, talk or act too differently. Most importantly, pretend that everything with Black people has been and is perfect in America because that truth is more comfortable for me).
The Black people who are successful in mainstream news media typically offend and speak contrary to the way the majority of Black people think: Stacey Dash and Raven Symone for example. Or they are big, doofy, grinning, big-eyed Buckwheats, who act dumber than they are, shuck and jive and go for the easy laughs: Steve Harvey, Al Roker (pre-2012), Michael Strahan. Lester Holt, the one exception of the male media, is robotic—void of opinion or controversy.
Melissa was different from the start. Simply by wearing braids, she announced that she was not trying to assimilate; that she was going to be her true self.
So it wasn’t a complete surprise when she quit. She stated, “I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobble head.” We got it when she said, “They wanted us to cover politics in the narrowest sense.” In other words, they wanted a Black woman who would cover the topics the way that was most appealing to the mainstream audience and not in a way that would be from the viewpoint of a Black woman.
Trust me, I have had people who want me to write things or give speeches from my point of view, but then were clearly uncomfortable with what my point of view was as a Black woman. I recently had a White friend ask me to speak about how I have successfully lived as one of the only Black families in a county that is 97% White. She certainly didn’t mean any harm, and I understand that this is the story that people want to hear. But, I couldn’t give her that story. It isn’t the truth.
Melissa, I think, wanted to tell the truth. Isn’t that what journalist seek and try to deliver? Her truth, her perspective on what stories were most important is of course going to be different than the White executives with whom she clashed. Purportedly, that’s why you hire a diverse staff. But, most non-Black people—even the allegedly most liberal—don’t’ want to hear anything that will make them feel poorly about who they are and how the world is. So, probably without recognizing it, they attempt to sensor the diverse voices that they in theory wanted.
Melissa Perry Harris is what we call a grown ass woman. She was too settled in her truth to have it rewritten, ignored or hidden.
I relate to her deeply. It wasn’t until recently, after I allowed so many others to do, I defined what being Black is to me; what being a woman is to me. I’m settled in myself. I’ve taken permanent residence in my whole being and no part of me is for rent.
Honestly, I try to expose how I feel, experience, and perceive things, as a Black woman to create genuine understanding, give insight and prompt discussion. But I am aware that the things I say will make others uncomfortable; that I will get accused of being angry or difficult. But, I nervously press the “publish” button each time because of the Melissa Perry Harrises of the world.
She’s one of my sheroes and not because she is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, an award-winning author, who earned her doctorate from Duke University. No, I love her cause she is a Bad Ass. I dig anyone who has the guts to say, “no” when it’s so much easier to say “yes.” I am inspired when David takes on Goliath.
From reading many of the comments following articles about her resignation, my opinion differs from many other Black people. Most commentators seemed to feel that Melissa should have been content to even have such a high position at a major network. She, they voiced, should have been humble, happy, compliant, and needed to stop whining.
My mother probably would have said something similar. Many of my friends and friend’s parents would agree with those sentiments. Years ago, when I decided to start my business and leave my teaching position, I will never forget one of my family members saying to me, “Have you lost your mind? You never quit a job with benefits.” Similarly, I will never forget when my dear friend told her grandmother that she was going to divorce her husband because he had cheated on her and conceived a child with another woman. Her grandmother said, “Child, that man loves you and has a good job. You best stay and work it out with him. You only gonna get you another man who gonna cheat. They all cheat.”
It makes me wonder, “Do we, as Black people, feel so lucky or blessed to have anything; that it feels too indulgent, too spoiled, too risky to want or demand more? Unconsciously, do we feel as if we don’t deserve better? Are we still scared to speak up or even fully show up? Do we stay in unfulfilling relationships and jobs because we believe deep down that it’s the best we can get? If so, what Melissa Harris Perry did was not just brave; but possibly revolutionary.
She didn’t just say “no” to being silenced; she simultaneously said “yes” to being herself. She said, “my voice and the true voice of my people deserves to be heard. Hell yes, I am deserving.” And by saying that, perhaps she opened the doors for all of us to believe that we are deserving too.