"Thots & Thoughts" is a column in which musings on dating, sex, race, religion, and politics all come together—from a bird's-eye view.
It didn’t dawn on me until someone else told me: My first appearance on Melissa Harris-Perry was the show’s premature finale. Before MSNBC host and Wake Forest University professor Melissa Harris-Perry announced in an email to her staff that she would not be returning to her show due to disputes over airtime and editorial control, I did hear that the segment I appeared in, about Beyoncé’s new video for her song “Formation” was a hotly contested issue between producers and network execs. As we’ve since learned, MHP had been out of contact with MSNBC’s president, Phil Griffin, for over a year, and in recent weeks, her show has been repeatedly preempted. The segment about Beyoncé is pretty typical of the show itself, and yet, the network wanted coverage only pertaining to the election. That’s frustrating for multiple reasons.
For one, there is never not a good time to talk about Beyoncé. Moreover, if Beyoncé is offering imagery that speaks directly to some of this country’s greatest lingering challenges with respect to race and racism, why not discuss it? CNN certainly felt compelled to ask Hillary Clinton about the reaction from select police officers to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance—why would it be off limits on MSNBC, on a show hosted by a Black woman who has consistently spoken up about racism in America?
MSNBC touts itself as “The Place for Politics,” but if the network fails to explore the politics behind a major cultural event from the biggest pop star on the planet, it’s doing a disservice to its tagline and audience. I agree with Harris-Perry that the show “deserved a proper burial.” Likewise, she is correct to say that her eponymous show “didn’t deserved to be disappeared” and that the disappearance does have “racial implications.” CNN Money reports that a new MSNBC from Alex Wagner, who is Burmese-American, is now not happening.
Through Melissa Harris-Perry, everyone got to be authentic.
Funny enough, after the “Formation” segment wrapped, I told Harris-Perry how nice it was to finally meet her outside of Twitter and email. I told her, “I love you forever for mentioning SWV’s ‘Downtown’ on your show.” What I wish I had added was that it was a reminder to me, someone who aspires to such a platform, that it was inspiring to watch someone succeed as their authentic Black-ass self in that space.
It wasn’t my first time on MSNBC. Nearly five years prior, I appeared on the network during the daytime to discuss a piece I wrote about the KKK and its attempt at “rebranding.” I blinked like Mary J. Blige (no shade) the entire time—not so much out of nerves, but more because I felt that I was assimilating to a style of cable news that didn’t really reflect me. That’s what made #Nerdland such an integral space on cable news.
Through Melissa Harris-Perry, everyone got to be authentic. I saw Black people as varied as the community I encountered on the campus of Howard University. I saw trans men and women like the ones I met back in my days in Houston, or now, in NYC. I saw women who looked like my former professors, my best friends, and the people I grew up with. And everyone was treated the same. No one’s point of view was more valued than the other.
There was no other show like it and my fear now is that many of the people who sat at Harris-Perry’s table will not receive invitations to anyone else’s. News media is primarily white and male, and of the few people who register as “other” who get inside that space, it is typically dependent on 1) how close you are in attitude to mainstream (re: white) outlets, and 2) how quickly you can assimilate to that demo’s media culture.
Where do the rest go?
That said, for some longtime viewers of the show, there has been some reluctance to totally rally behind MHP in light of her show’s abrupt end.
She deserved better and she made that known—a lesson I hope many of us take with us as we grow in our own respective careers.
Now, I do understand some people’s lingering frustration with Melissa Harris-Perry over her interactions with and overall sympathetic treatment of Rachel Dolezal. It was jarring to see Harris-Perry laugh with someone many saw as a con. I, too, felt a way about it. Dolezal is nothing more, to me, than a fake-ass Freddie Brooks, and her wide-ranging media attention speaks more to the perks of white womanhood than it does to whatever questions of race she thought she was introducing. People wanted Harris-Perry to rally with actual Black women, the ones who cannot opt out of the racism and misogynoir they face daily by removing a weave and canceled a tanning session.
I get the backlash, but that doesn’t negate the impact she’s had on cable news. It’s a blemish on her record to some, though I don’t find it an offense that warrants denying everything else that she’s accomplished. Especially now that MSNBC has served such a harsh reminder that our presence can be removed so quickly and easily.
Thankfully, Melissa Harris-Perry did not go quietly into the night. She shared the letter she penned to her staff, spoke out in the press, and responded to claims that she was “unpredictable and challenging” from her former bosses via Twitter. She deserved better and she made that known—a lesson I hope many of us take with us as we grow in our own respective careers. I’m not certain of what comes next for her, but I would like to publicly say, “Thank you, Melissa.” And the next time I see you, please sing some SWV with me.