Melissa Harris-Perry’s Resignation Teaches Us America Isn’t So Progressive, After All
Melissa Harris-Perry’s recent resignation from her show on MSNBC highlights one hard-to-swallow truth about America’s “establishment” media: It still does not understand or care about what is important to black people.
The New York Times reportedthat Harris-Perry and the network had a difference of opinion for what should be covered on her show that was known for highlighting issues of inequality and racism, which ultimately lead to the anchor being dropped from the network. From the Times:
When she said wanted to discuss Beyoncé’s new video, ‘Formation,’ and how it addresses race, she said she was encouraged to focus on the election instead. She wound up discussing the video anyway but as she did, footage of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie rallies in New Hampshire appeared in a box, an indication that the network’s priorities were shifting.
While some may attempt to dismiss Beyonce’s Super Bowl appearance as mere entertainment, it was obviously an extremely politically charged performance that co-signed the activist’s mantra #BlackLivesMatter in a country where countless people of color are still being murdered by police and incarcerated at unforgivable rates for non-violent offenses. The day after the performance, news broadcasts and websites were buzzing with conversation, some even going so far as to label it “racist” and “anti-police”, while calling for a boycott of the artist.
When a performer with a huge national platform decides to take a political stance during one of the most highly anticipated events in America, that message becomes not only incredibly potent but highly impactful. By affirming that #BlackLivesMatter, Beyoncé challenged the country to finally agree. Sadly, the political lines drawn that divide the nation on whether or not they actually do remains stubbornly intact.
This reluctance to tackle and confront issues of race and inequality are only further underscored by the events surrounding Melissa Harris-Perry’s sudden departure from MSNBC. While the network believed that elections coverage was of the utmost importance, for POC there is a lack of trust in American “democracy” and its ability to address their specific needs. The fact that some of the candidates —Hillary Clinton in particular —were even responsible by association for legislature that made mass incarceration possible and others are openly and vehemently pandering to racists with depressingly-backwards ideology makes this mistrust completely understandable. On numerous occasions, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has confronted both Democratic frontrunners to demand that they not only support the movement but also specifically address the concerns of the black community that is often pandered to during elections but left out to dry when a candidate makes it to the White House.
After all, while campaigning for the presidency, Bill Clinton claimed that conservatives were racist, but in his presidency he fully embraced Ronald Reagan’s tough on crime and anti-welfare policies that ultimately did much harm to the black community. So it should come as no surprise that the black community is weary of today’s political candidates, demonstrated by the fact that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has yet to actually endorse a candidate.
This hesitancy represents the reality that the black community does not feel adequately represented not only by the country’s governing forces, but to a large extent, also the democratic process in general. For this reason, when a performer like Beyoncé takes a stand and calls into question that lack of political representation, discussions about that stance are not only wholly warranted but excruciatingly necessary.
Yet, for MSNBC, that urgency was not understood. Time and time again the establishment media proves that it is out of touch with its black audience or simply does not care to be in touch with it in the first place. By covering Beyonce’s political performance, Melissa Harris-Perry stretched the bounds of America’s “political discussion” that seldom has room to accommodate the needs of the black community and obviously that attempt was not only unappreciated but met with open hostility and defiance to the point where the anchor no longer has a show which had a longstanding, successful history.
Black people, once again, have been shut out from politics– their positions made secondary or unimportant. For a network that has strong ties to the liberal and progressive community, garnering the most support from these specific demographics, it really speaks volumes that there isn’t even room for blackness or black politics in the “liberal sphere”.
The really big question, however, is whether or not this shut-out is out of intention and malice, or just plain ignorance. Do NBC executives simply not know how important #BlackLivesMatter is to black people? That it is the political movement of the black community– Black America’s forerunner and most prominent representative– who is demanding accountability and respect from a country that perpetually struggles to deliver either to its people of color?
For large networks like MSNBC, it is far easier to pretend to be liberal and progressive, than to actually deal with the reality associated with true progressivism. from backlash to lower ratings. Afterall, Fox News is the most highly rated news station in the country, a representation of the majority’s inclination towards conservatism, bigotry and even blatant racism at times.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the MSNBC has relegated many minorities working at the network to lesser roles and even dismissed others. According to a piece by Washington Post, the channel has been trying to shift away from liberal programing because of low ratings, which has cost many people of color their prominent positions. Among them, the post published a list that includes
“hosts like Al Sharpton, Alex Wagner and Joy Reid, and African American contributors and pundits such as Michael Eric Dyson , Touré , Karen Finney and Goldie Taylor. Three other African Americans who have appeared as panelists and pundits — Janet Mock, Dorian Warren and the Rev. Jacqui Lewis — now mostly appear on Shift by MSNBC, the network’s little-viewed digital channel.”
For black people, carving out a space for black lives to matter is the only truly liberal and progressive agenda. This is an agenda that Melissa Harris-Perry understood as a black woman when she decided to highlight the political messages in Beyonce’s performance. It’s the same agenda which much of white America still refuses to embrace.
Sadly, for standing in defiance of that refusal, Harris-Perry put her job at risk. She told the New York Times:
“While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better. I know who I am. I know why theM.H.P. Show is unique and valuable. I will not sell short myself or this show. I am not hungry for empty airtime. I care only about substantive, meaningful, and autonomous work. When we can do that, I will return — not a moment earlier.”
And she most certainly should not.