Dr. Boyce: 5 Reasons Melissa Harris-Perry Is Perfect for MSNBC
by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World.
Today it was announced that Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry is going to have a new show on MSNBC. Melissa is far sharper and more polished than I could ever be, so I knew it was only a matter of time before the network moved her into the fold. I am admittedly not a fan of Perry, since I took offense to her unsolicited attacks on Cornel West a few months ago. But thinking about Harris-Perry’s presence on nightly cable news led me to consider some reasons why the hire is perfect for both she and MSNBC.
If I end up sounding like a hater, it’s because I probably am. White people, as a collective, have never like me very much and advocating for black folks has never been an easy way to pay the bills. Also, my gripe with Melissa is the same I’d have with any black person who allows herself to be propped up by the Democrats to do their dirty work against Cornel West as he spoke on behalf of black, brown and poor people. Harris never proved that Dr. West was wrong – she only sought to discredit him and dismantle his voice. In that regard, she was no different from a slave using the master’s gun to kill the leader of the negro rebellion.
In this case, the truth might sting everyone involved, including me. But quite frankly, I don’t give a damn – here are the reasons why Professor Harris-Perry and MSNBC are a match made in elitist liberal heaven:
1) Perry is the black Rachel Maddow: Melissa might be black, but she fits very nicely within the white liberal establishment. She gets fired up about the issues that people on the left tend to love: Global warming, gay rights, women’s rights and the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Melissa is the kind of person who rallied against the execution of Troy Davis, not because Davis was black, but because both she and Amnesty International saw this as an opportunity to ban the death penalty. She is clearly a liberal who happens to be a black woman, not a black woman who happens to be a liberal.
An important point that many liberal universities and media outlets have yet to appreciate is that there is a difference between actual diversity and cosmetic diversity. Hiring a person with black skin who thinks the exact same way you do is not exactly an act of diversity.
2) She’s very, very smart: I’ve debated with Melissa and Al Sharpton at the same time over the Obama Administration’s negligence toward the African American community. During this somewhat heated discussion, I ended up feeling like a judge trying to argue against two attorneys seeking to exonerate their client (the Obama Administration) at all costs. Nearly every shortcoming of the administration was excused and every ideological road led right back to how wonderful the Democrats have been for black folks.
Almost no one can disagree that the Republicans are worse for black people than the Democrats. But this political choice is like asking a man to choose between eating rotten eggs and horse manure. Standing up for the Democrats while black people die and suffer is as unethical as letting your mother starve while you shop at Bloomingdales. The black liberal elite cheer for President Obama because he provides them with career opportunities and the chance to be on TV. But poor black folks continue to suffer, and the few brave voices like that of Dr. West are undermined by anyone seeking a chance to get access to the White House. It’s time for those days to come to an end and someone has got to start telling the truth.
3) MSNBC tends to aim for Consistent Obama Cheerleaders: As we gear up for the 2012 presidential election, everyone is positioning their weapons on both the right and the left. Fox News is building it’s media bunker to boost the Republican candidate, and MSNBC is trying to protect the power of President Obama. We should all prepare ourselves for a slew of half-truths, peculiar spin and political fairy tales that will play to every sensitivity and vulnerability of the black community. You might even see a picture of President Obama eating barbecue at a black church picnic while playing the saxophone. Adding Harris-Perry to the MSNBC lineup makes sense, because she is the perfect political soldier.
I am not one to say that black folks should consider defecting from the Democratic Party (we can’t quite go support the people who think that we are all on welfare), but I am one to say that we must be watchful of those who’ve been positioned as political attack dogs to keep the black voter base in line. Black people should be thinking for themselves, and not have their minds controlled by those who’ve made it their mission in life to put out every political fire that occurs when someone in Washington has dropped the ball on the black agenda. Not to say that Melissa is one of the attack dogs, but I encourage anyone to take a look at what she’s written and said about the Obama Administration to evaluate her track record.
4) The whole light-skinned black liberal thing works in her favor: I should start by noting that I’m a bit light-skinned myself and nearly all of my relatives are of the “high-yella” variety (I was adopted). So, this is not meant to offend anyone with light skin.
But, the emergence of Barack Obama has opened the door for quite a few light-skinned, non-threatening, black superstars of both politics and media: Cory Booker, Harold Ford, Don Lemon on CNN and a few others have been able to benefit from this wave. Harris-Perry is a perfect fit as the (in the words of cousin Pookie) “light-skinded-ded,” red-bone, highly educated liberal that white folks tend to love. Nothing militant will come out of her mouth, unless she’s angry about a new immigration law or some civil liberties violation in the National Defense Authorization Act. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with the “light-skinned liberal analyst” phenomenon, but I wonder how successful these folks might be if they looked like they were siblings of Wesley Snipes – darker skinned commentators and pundits deserve opportunities as well, and I argue that they are being put to the side (can you think of one dark-skinned person in prime time media? Me neither).
5) Harris-Perry helps MSNBC with the whole ‘lack of diversity’ flack: Black journalists have long complained about what Al Sharpton referred to as “All white, all night,” in which most of the major cable news outlets didn’t have any hosts of color on their nightly branded shows. The best way to shut down that criticism is to hire Al Sharpton himself, which is exactly what MSNBC did. But one challenge is that neither Sharpton, nor Harris-Perry, is a professionally-trained journalist, so there are still quite a few talented black journalists who are seething over the fact that MSNBC went after black scholars and activists, rather than seasoned media professionals.
For the record, I am not a real journalist either. I am one of those scholar/activists who’s been able to benefit from the bias of which I am speaking (I have more media appearances than nearly all of my journalist friends). But even I can see what happens to a society when we move away from objective journalism and start focusing solely on entertainment media. Few outlets seek to provide truth anymore, and it’s creating the kind of divergent, extremist society that may end up crumbling at its political core.
Reality check for black journalists: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Most major media decisions are based on money and politics. Sharpton is able to deliver ratings, and he has so many connections he should be called the Human Facebook. Both Sharpton and Perry bring liberal perspectives to the news the way a pastor brings Jesus to a congregation. True journalists who seek this antiquated concept called “objectivity” are typically not given the time of day.
Media has become like a political basketball game where there are few referees, and nearly everyone is forced to put on a uniform. Even I admittedly wear a uniform for Team Black America. So, the truth is that if you are the right person, saying the right things, at the right time, you always fit nicely into someone’s political agenda. But rather than seeking to find our ways onto the biggest, shiniest plantation with little freedom of thought, I argue that independent African American media, wealth building and sustainable political coalitions are the only way for black voices to truly be heard in America. Black people and black media must find and maintain their own political voice.