by Dr. Boyce Watkins
You can imagine how surprised and affected I was while watching the emotionally-sturdy, highly-intelligent Melissa Harris-Perry break down in tears during a recent on-air apology on MSNBC. The apology came after a week of controversy following what I would call “Black-Baby-Gate,” an incident during which Melissa and a group of poorly chosen guests decided to poke fun at Mitt Romney’s black adopted grandson, Kieran.
I’ve spoken my piece regarding how I feel about that what Harris Perry did, but I honestly didn’t think that it would come to this. Since the incident occurred, Harris-Perry has been threatened with being fired, and it looks like she might actually be done. When black people are on television groveling and in tears, you know that there have been some uncomfortable conversations behind-the-scenes.
Here are a few direct and immediate thoughts I had about the “Black-Baby-gate” incident and Harris Perry’s tearful apology:
1) What she did was in poor taste, but she knows this. The joke was bad and if she were a white male, she’d be allowed to apologize and go on with her life.
2) Her apology was sincere, she deserves credit for that. Similar to Russell Simmons’ apology for that strange Harriet Tubman Sexx Tape(I told Russell personally that I stand by him, but not the tape), I can give both of them credit for apologizing sincerely and without conditions. However, we all know that being sorry for something doesn’t exclude you from being punished. At the same time, there are typically differences in what people might perceive to be an appropriate punishment.
3) Melissa shouldn’t be fired for what she did. Even her biggest critics know this. But this isn’t the first time that someone has created an artificial controversy to take down a prominent African American commentator. The same thing happened to Roland Martin and Marc Lamont Hill, both of whom were fired from CNN and Fox, respectively, due to what some might call “Spontaneous political combustion.” This is where a forest fire breaks out after what would normally seem to be a tiny, insignificant statement or action. It happens to black people all the time, kind of like when Michael Jackson’s Jheri curl caught in fire during that Pepsi commercial and he just kept on dancing. OK, that was a bad joke….but there’s no one who can fire me, which is why I am glad that I work for myself.
4) It was sad to see the once strong and proud scholar breaking down like a school girl in front of millions of white people, using tears as a weapon to gain sympathy. I’ve known Melissa for years, and I doubt that she was half as heart broken as she appeared to be. My opinion is that if you’re woman enough to fight the battles, you need to be woman enough to accept the consequences. If you’re going to cry Melissa, cry with your husband or your best friend. Crying on national television only lets people know that you truly feel that your livelihood is being threatened.
4) It’s ironic that Harris-Perry wasn’t nearly as bold today as she was when she publicly castrated Dr. Cornel West a few years ago on behalf of the same liberal Democratic friends who are offering her up as a sacrificial lamb right now. Maybe she can call her bosses in the White House, or have the good Rev. Al Sharpton jump to her defense? Naw, Sharpton is a sharp man (pun intended) and he knows not to board a sinking ship when he sees one. But here’s a newsflash to Melissa: Remember Dr. West, the man you wanted to irresponsibly reduce to a seemingly irrelevant and petty scholar that no one should pay attention to? He’s one of the few black public figures in the liberal space who would have the courage to come to your defense. He wouldn’t throw your career down the drain as a peace offering to pack of bigoted Republicans.
5) I’m saddened that Harris Perry, like many other black television commentators (i.e. Don Lemon) are allowed to say whatever dastardly thing they want about black people, especially men, but are publicly flogged when they engage in a similar act of disrespect toward prominent white people. MSNBC had no problem when Melissa was promoting excessive baby-mamaism by acting as if it’s OK and normal for a woman to have five kids with three different men (those who love the black community know that we are trying to rebuild our families, not glorify their destruction). They also said nothing when she hosted a segment telling a young black female college student that she was empowering herself by being an exotic dancer and twerking for the obscene and disrespectful rapper Juicy J. As a father, these were the segments that brought tears to my eyes and reminded me that the liberal establishment cares almost nothing for the African American community.
6) Melissa’s predicament reminds you of what happens when we are overly dependent on people of other races to provide us with platforms, power and opportunity. As quickly as they gave it to you, they can also take it away. Since President Obama was elected, Melissa has been used as a tool of the Democratic establishment to control the African American vote. The problem with being a tool is that once your use has expired, you’re going to be thrown out with the trash. Again, I don’t think MHP deserves to be fired for this incident, but the fact is that when you play this political game with those who don’t respect black people, you’re going to get your feelings hurt.
7) Sorry to say this, but Melissa is a professor, not a real journalist. So, these mistakes are likely due to MSNBC’s misguided strategy of grabbing every photogenic professor, bootleg pastor and struggling comedian off the street and asking them to inform the public on important political issues. The strategy only amplifies the massive mistake the network made by constraining its brand to be focused almost solely on politics. As a result, MSNBC is being hammered in the ratings and their deceitful nemesis, Fox News, is flying high as the #1 cable news network in the country.
Newsflash to MSNBC: If you’re looking to put black people in the air, call the National Association of Black Journalists and have them recommend someone who knows what they’re doing. Ed Gordon or Kirsten West-Savali would never have made this mistake. Don’t just grab onto black people because they are cronies with people in the White House, we know propaganda when we see it.
Let’s see what the brass at MSNBC do with Melissa. It’ll be interesting to see how hard they fight to protect her. Truth is, I doubt that they are going to fight very hard, but maybe they’ll give us a surprise.
You can watch the segment below:
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