The Silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry
Melissa Harris-Perry is a respected and renowned political commentator in the United States, who had a regular slot on MSNBC on weekend mornings, in which political and social events were dissected and analysed. She is a black woman with a doctorate in political science, and currently teaches at Wake Forrest University having previously taught at Princeton, Tulane and Chicago Universities. She is overqualified, some might say, to educate and facilitate discussion in the upcoming United States elections for candidates to stand as President is next year’s election.
She was taken off air as the competition between candidates for both the Democratic and Republican parties heated up. MSNBC continues to cover the elections, but an educated, respected, extremely popular, more-than-qualified commentator with a wide following was removed from the screens.
This is the most overtly racist act of a network that I can think of, above and beyond the obvious bias of Fox which we have all come to expect and many of us, perhaps naively, laugh at. They know her worth, her reputation, her unflinching reporting and that she is not afraid to confront issues uncomfortable to those sitting in privileged seats.
The silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry is not funny. It is dangerous and divisive and oppresses a voice that is essential in the political quagmire that is United States politics at the moment. When Black Lives Matters is central to the political process, when black men, women and children, both cisgender and disproportionately transgender identifying, are being murdered in the streets even by the lawgivers who purportedly are there to protect them, the silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry seems to be a complicit acceptance of this status quo and a determination of the media to maintain the murder rate.
When I shared the story on Facebook, I was shocked to be told by one of my friends that I was the only white woman who had shared the news. I now see it has been reported in the UK media but still it seems to be silent on the sharing front. I understand this, because it happened in the United States and it is probably because I am in so many political activism groups and discuss politics a lot, that many of my UK allies will not have seen it. But once they have, why not share? Why not speak out? Why does it always seem to be those who are black who have to be sharing the news?
In my opinion, being an ally means being supportive, stepping back and listening, analysing my own experience and my own behaviour in order to modify it, but it does not mean expecting those who are oppressed to do the heavy lifting themselves. There are loads of white women out there writing about feminism, inequality, intersectionality, but where are the shares of practical experience and highlighting of incidents such as these?
We are complicit in the silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry if we do not speak out about it. We are silencing her as much as the network which took her off air and will only put her back on if she does not insist on the editorial control she had beforehand. Without her voice, black voices whisper. Our complicity in this maintains the ‘angry black woman’ narrative that diminishes the lives and the truths we don’t want to hear because it may unsettle us, it may shake us from our comfortable lives of white privilege.
They have silenced one of the most powerful political black female voices in the United States at the moment. She is an independent voice, not tied to political parties, and that makes her even more dangerous. This is shameful. By silencing Melissa Harris-Perry, they silence millions of women, millions of black people, and if allies don’t speak out, we are giving our silent approval of this act.
And what is worse than this, in the United Kingdom we don’t even have a Melissa Harris-Perry to be silenced.