History will be made Saturday morning when Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of political science at Tulane University, hosts a morning political talk show on MSNBC. Asked what her show will be about Harris-Perry told The Amsterdam News, “Although it’s not a show about race-look, I’m a professor of African-American politics, so we’re going to be talking about race. I’m a feminist, so we’re going to be talking about gender. I’m a parent, so we’re going to be talking about kids and young people. I live in the South, so we’re going to talk about politics beyond the D.C.-to-New-York corridor. It’s a political show but it definitely has a point of view.”
Those are points of view absent from the Sunday morning talking heads shows where Black women are non-existent. I welcome Harris-Perry and wish her well. But there’s no news that someone can’t find a way to receive it as bad. Enter Cornel “the ‘Fro” West and his Mini-Me, Boyce Watkins.
In an interview, West unloaded on Harris-Perry, his former colleague at Princeton. “I have a love for the sister, but she is a liar, and I hate lying,’ says West. . . . She’s become the momentary darling of the liberals, but I pray for her because she’s in over her head. She’s a fake and a fraud. I was so surprised how treacherous the sister was.’
Yet before West heated up a clothes hanger to whip on Harris-Perry with, Watkins had scribbled his own bit of character assassination with a piece, “5 Reasons Melissa Harris-Perry is Perfect for MSNBC.”
If I end up sounding like a hater, it’s because I probably am. White people, as a collective, have never like (sic) me very much and advocating for black folks has never been an easy way to pay the bills. Also, my gripe with Melissa is the same I’d have with any black person who allows herself to be propped up by the Democrats to do their dirty work against Cornel West as he spoke on behalf of black, brown and poor people. Harris never proved that Dr. West was wrong – she only sought to discredit him and dismantle his voice. In that regard, she was no different from a slave using the master’s gun to kill the leader of the negro rebellion.
She is clearly a liberal who happens to be a black woman, not a black woman who happens to be a liberal…The whole light-skinned black liberal thing works in her favor: I should start by noting that I’m a bit light-skinned myself and nearly all of my relatives are of the “high-yella” variety (I was adopted). So, this is not meant to offend anyone with light skin.
In one breath, Watkins says he doesn’t mean to offend light-skinned Blacks. Can you guess what he follows that caution with? If you guessed offending light-skinned Blacks, you win!
But, the emergence of Barack Obama has opened the door for quite a few light-skinned, non-threatening, black superstars of both politics and media: Cory Booker, Harold Ford, Don Lemon on CNN and a few others have been able to benefit from this wave. Harris-Perry is a perfect fit as the (in the words of cousin Pookie) “light-skinded-ded,” red-bone, highly educated liberal that white folks tend to love. Nothing militant will come out of her mouth, unless she’s angry about a new immigration law or some civil liberties violation in the National Defense Authorization Act. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with the “light-skinned liberal analyst” phenomenon, but I wonder how successful these folks might be if they looked like they were siblings of Wesley Snipes – darker skinned commentators and pundits deserve opportunities as well, and I argue that they are being put to the side (can you think of one dark-skinned person in prime time media? Me neither).
The cherry on top of Watkins talking out of both sides of his mouth comes with a slap at Harris-Perry for doing the exact same thing he does.
Black journalists have long complained about what Al Sharpton referred to as “All white, all night,” in which most of the major cable news outlets didn’t have any hosts of color on their nightly branded shows. The best way to shut down that criticism is to hire Al Sharpton himself, which is exactly what MSNBC did. But one challenge is that neither Sharpton, nor Harris-Perry, is a professionally-trained journalist, so there are still quite a few talented black journalists who are seething over the fact that MSNBC went after black scholars and activists, rather than seasoned media professionals.
For the record, I am not a real journalist either. I am one of those scholar/activists who’s been able to benefit from the bias of which I am speaking (I have more media appearances than nearly all of my journalist friends).
Nobody made more of an issue about Sharpton landing the MSNBC gig than I did, but Watkins has twisted the legitimate concerns of “real journalists” who would like to see Blacks who do this thing for a living a shot at these television gigs as well as Black scholars and activists.
Watkins doesn’t like Harris-Perry, he’s not happy for her and he even goes so far as to question her Blackness and commitment to Black people because she prefers Obama to West. It just comes off as that small-minded, crabs in a barrel mentality that keeps us busy squabbling over small stuff that isn’t worth squat.
Call me a cynic, but this “I won’t do cable TV ’cause I want to keep it real” rap is more than a little self-serving. There are too many Black folks who are doing cable TV and they aren’t running away from their Blackness by doing so. Watkins spew out a hit piece that is mean, petty, and it smacks of simple envy. If MSNBC offered Watkins a show he’d run over West to get it.
On his Facebook page, Watkins denied everything in response to my challenging him about Harris-Perry.
Brother, I can give you the real deal on the “smell test” – my goal is not to be objective about Melissa or to politely say “congratulations” to someone I think is bad for black America.
I make it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that I am not appreciative of Melissa’s views. Her attacks on Cornel were uncalled for and unvalidated – I was very angry at the way she allowed white folks to prop her up on a platform so she could do the dirty work for the Democrats who were upset that Cornel was out speaking on behalf of poor, black and brown folks.
To answer any questions that might be asked about my remarks…no, I don’t want a f*cking job at MSNBC. I’ve been on all the networks numerous times and could have gotten quite a few gigs had I been a “good boy.” I’ve lost millions for speaking what I believe to be the truth and my only goal is to seek independence of thought and commerce for black America. In far too many cases, major black voices are controlled by white-owned media outlets and corporations – That’s why I put all my money and time into yourblackworld.com, which allows me to get my message to the public without having to ask for a white man’s permission. I don’t hate white folks, but the truth is that their agenda is almost always different from your own and they always view us as second-class citizens.
Someone who is “bad for Black America?” What is about Melissa Harris-Perry that is “bad for Black America?” What’s really bad for Black America are Black academics talking smack like winos on the corner.
Harris-Perry took issue with West when he whined to a WHITE guy (Chris Hedges) how hurt he was that he didn’t get a personal invitation to Obama’s inauguration.
West came off like a jilted girlfriend, not a preeminent Black intellectual. It was pompous, it was small and it was arrogant as hell. Cornel West wasn’t speaking out for poor, Black and brown folks. He was ticked off that “the dear brother” who brought his bags to his hotel room had a ticket to the Inauguration and he didn’t.
There is a cost for working in the mainstream (just ask Roland Martin), but I’m not buying the line only those out of it care about, protect the interests of, and love Black people. No one is required to watch MHP on MSNBC. Just don’t say you’re “happy” for her when you have made it crystal clear you are anything but.
Going after Harris-Perry for being “light-skinned” is as petty at it gets. By the Boyce Watkins standard, only folks as dark as Wesley Snipes (or Clarence Thomas!) can legitimately criticize other Blacks because they are “dark enough to decide who is really part of the club.
The weakest attack to make against someone is to cast doubts upon the content of the character based upon the color of their skin. Black academics love a good disagreement, but when the intellectual quality of the argument doesn’t rise to the level of a beef between second-rate rappers, that’s pathetic.
West and Watkins are too smart brothers. They should be smart enough to expend their brain power on a real problem facing Black folks. Harris-Perry getting a TV show isn’t one of them. Then again, maybe there’s another reason for Watkins and West’s “bros before hos” smackdown of MHP. Maybe it’s nothing more than sexism. Plain and simple, they are simply asserting their male prerogative to put an uppity sista in her place.
Sometimes its most obvious reasons that are the least considered.
The next time West and Smiley plan a road trip for self-serving publicity, they should pack a booster seat in the back and bring Boyce Watkins along for the ride.
- Al Sharpton defends Melissa Harris Perry from Cornel West attacks (thegrio.com)
- Intelligentsia Beef: Cornel West Calls Melissa Harris-Perry A Fake and a Fraud (clutchmagonline.com)
- Black Intellectuals Go At it Again (theroot.com)
- Melissa Harris-Perry becomes only black female to host a political talk show in cable news (thegrio.com)