The cover photo from my Facebook profile is a screenshot of my appearance on Melissa Harris-Perry last August. I don’t get anxious much when meeting new people; at least not anymore. But I was anxious then. Partially because it was my first time on national television, and I hoped my dad and my aunts in Cincinnati would approve of my suit, posture, and hand placement. But mainly because of Melissa Harris-Perry’s status as an intellectual powerhouse — Ta-Nehisi Coates once called her “America’s foremost public intellectual” (a bold claim I happen to agree with). Basically, I didn’t want to get up there and look stupid. Also, although I was very familiar with her work and her writing and her show, I had no idea how she’d be in person. I didn’t know if I’d be meeting Miranda Priestly. (Adding another layer to this anxiety lasagna is how the show is structured. You don’t meet or even see her until 60 seconds before your segment will air.)
Fortunately, I didn’t embarrass myself. My segment — a discussion about Meek Mill and Drake that segued into a conversation about hip-hop and misogyny — was lively, quick, fun, and funny. That it worked so well was largely due to us (Penny Wrenn, Toni Blackmon, and Sean Malcolm were the other panelists) being ourselves. Well, as much as yourself as you can be with millions of people (and Kerry Washington) watching. And us being comfortable enough to argue and debate and joke was largely due to Melissa Harris-Perry’s direction and personality. As soon as we stepped on set, she was immediately welcoming and disarming, telling jokes and riffing on our replies like we were at a happy hour or game night and not an MSNBC studio. And that’s how it continued to feel, like I was having a conversation with one of my wittiest and quickest homegirls.
Even the pic we took together afterwards reflected this. I’m standing there doing my best “I’m in a suit and I was just on TV, so I’m a be serious” pose, and she’s mean-mugging. (If I would have known she was going to mean mug, I’d would have taken another pic. My mean-mug game isn’t a game. Unfortunately, I didn’t even look at the pic until I’d left the studio.)
Today it was revealed that Melissa Harris-Perry is removing herself from the air; a result of MSNBC jerking her schedule and her show around and providing her no reason for these decisions.
From her letter to her staff, emailed to Jamil Smith and published at Medium:
Here is the reality: our show was taken?—?without comment or discussion or notice?—?in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.
The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.
Of course, I do not know everything that has happened and is happening here. I’m sure more information will find its way public soon. But even when that happens, I will not know everything. What I do know, however, is that if you’re a person who claims to care about having a media that’s smart, shrewd, diverse, determined, accessible, relatable, and dependable — a media with the intellectual acuity to deconstruct the news and the integrity necessary for it to be trusted — you need to care about what’s happening to her and her show. And also — and I’m speaking specifically to the Black people reading this — you need to care because she is one of us. She is one of our best and brightest. A homegirl who just happens to be a Ph.D. A sista who just happens to be a star. An academic who just happens to be a staunch advocate for us. A Black woman from Virginia who just happens to be TV’s most popular nerd.
This is more than just “not cool.” It should be acknowledged and regarded as what it is. An insult to her and her work. Which, by proxy, is an insult to us.