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a white male, felt that he’d been introduced to some black women’s literature

he’d never read and to some stereotypes and ideas that he’d previously never

engaged with. By contrast, some black women I’ve talked to about the book

weren’t surprised by what they read. They found that it resonated with

their experiences and perhaps contributed to their vocabulary and gave them

some new ways of thinking about the political meaning of those experiences.  



Sister Citizen Melissa Harris-Perry

Interviewed by Kam Williams


Born in Seattle, Washington on October 2, 1973, but raised in Charlottesville and Chester, Virginia, Melissa V. Harris-Perry is a professor of political science at Tulane University where she is the founding director of the project on gender, race, and politics in the South. Her previous book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, won the 2005 W. E. B. Du Bois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

Besides being a columnist for The Nation Magazine, Dr. Harris-Perry frequently appears as a guest or fill-in host on MSNBC on The Thomas Roberts Show, Up with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. She is also a regular commentator for many print and radio sources both around the U.S. and abroad.

Melissa lives in New Orleans with her husband, James Perry, and her daughter, Parker. Here, she reflects on her life and career and on American culture and politics while discussing her new book, Sister Citizen.

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Kam Williams: Hi Melissa, thanks for the interview.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely, Kam! How are you?

Kam Williams: I’m fine. You know, I was walking across Princeton’s campus at dusk one evening this past spring, and just by coincidence I came upon you speaking at an outdoor event. Had I known at the time that you were leaving for Tulane, I’d have stuck around to meet you.

Melissa Harris-Perry That probably was for “Take Back the Night.”

Kam Williams: I have a slew of questions from readers, so let me jump right into them. Jerry Doran says: You’re the prettiest and smartest political pundit on television today. He would like to know if there’s any way he and his wife could take you to dinner in Stony Brook out on Long Island.  

Melissa Harris-Perry [Laughs] Sorry, Jerry, but it’d be pretty hard for me to make it out there.   

Kam Williams: Jerry would also like to know when you’re going to get your own prime time TV show.

Melissa Harris-Perry At the moment, there definitely aren’t any plans for a prime-time show. I really love sitting in for both Rachel [Maddow] and for Lawrence [O’Donnell], and I will do that again to support their having a little time off during holidays and over the summer. But my experience guest-hosting meant going in around noon and not leaving until about 10 PM. That’s quite time-consuming, especially since my whole life takes place between noon and 10.  

Kam Williams: San Francisco attorney Randy Knox, says he’s friends with your sister Elizabeth.

Melissa Harris-Perry: She’s the best! I’m the youngest of five, and Beth’s the sister closest to me in age. She’s the one I grew up in the house with, and therefore shared all the sibling rivalry and sisterly joys with. She has two gorgeous children and has lived in the Bay Area since she went to law school.

Kam Williams: Randy, who moved to San Francisco from New Orleans, would like to know how you like The Big Easy, and if you’ve ever been to a place called The Bunch Club. 

Melissa Harris-Perry: I’ve never been to The Bunch Club. Not yet. I absolutely adore New Orleans. I’d been living here a few months out of every year since Hurricane Katrina. Being here full-time now is just a real pleasure. I love it! 

Kam Williams: Does your husband have any plans to run for mayor or any other political office again?  

Melissa Harris-Perry: Not at the moment. There is a race or two that he’s considering, but he hasn’t decided yet.

Kam Williams: What interested you in writing Sister Citizen?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I had started the project before Hurricane Katrina, but the real turning point for me was the race and gender politics that emerged on the national stage after the levee failure. That was, for me, a consolidating moment in my attempt to understand the experience of contemporary black women trying to be American citizens.

Kam Williams: What message do you hope readers will take away from the book?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I suspect different audiences will take away different things from the book. For instance, my editor at Yale University Press, who is a white male, felt that he’d been introduced to some black women’s literature he’d never read and to some stereotypes and ideas that he’d previously never engaged with. By contrast, some black women I’ve talked to about the book weren’t surprised by what they read. They found that it resonated with their experiences and perhaps contributed to their vocabulary and gave them some new ways of thinking about the political meaning of those experiences.  

Kam Williams: Judyth Piazza asks: What was the most important lesson you learned from this project?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I learned two lessons: one from the research, one from the writing. From the research, this idea that you just have to be strong if you’re a black woman. And in the process of writing, I learned that you can’t write a book in the margins of your life. I’d forgotten how much uninterrupted time it takes to write chapters, and how you have to push everything else aside and really focus.  

Kam Williams: Lee Bailey asks: Do you enjoy being a guest news anchor for Rachel Maddow, and do you plan to pursue anchoring your own show?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Sitting in for Rachel and Lawrence is beyond fun. It is one of the most exciting and challenging things I’ve done in a very long time. Part of what I love about it is that the host has already assembled a fantastic staff for me, developed credibility and built an audience. So, I just have to walk in, bring my ideas and work my butt off for a few days. It’s really the best of both worlds. As far as anchoring my own show, I won’t say I wouldn’t do it, but I can’t imagine how that would affect my ability to parent my child. 

Kam Williams: Lee also asks: Why the negative response to The Help?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, Gosh! I could spend all day answering this one. The intensity of my negative response was in part related to having just published Sister Citizen. So, I had been thinking a lot about the stereotypes and the images of black women. Both the book and the film are, for me, terribly problematic, because they’re very, very dishonest, romanticized versions of one of the most important aspects of African-American women’s working lives, namely, being domestic servants. For most of American history since slavery, that’s the type of work that we’ve done.

My grandmother was a domestic worker. The Help claimed to be told from the perspective of the African-American maids, but it isn’t. I could go on in considerable depth about it, but let me address the two most dishonest aspects. The first is the fact that although the author tried to illustrate the tension between white women and their maids, she ignores the black women’s relationships with two other very important groups in the household: the white men and the white children. She refuses to imagine that they could have felt anything other than pure love, attachment, affection and fidelity towards the kids they were hired to care for. It is such a bizarre, romantic notion that they didn’t have mixed feelings about spending so much time caring for children of privilege while their own offspring went neglected because they were in these white households.

Clearly, the book was written from the perspective of a person who had been raised by one of these loving black maids and who therefore couldn’t imagine anything but affection on the part of the caretaker. The second dishonest aspect of the book was how it ignored the violence by white men against blacks. One scene in the movie that just made me want to rip my hair out was when, in response to the Medgar Evers assassination, all the maids finally decide to talk to Miss Skeeter. That is made up! That is not what happened!

The truth is that when Medgar Evers was murdered, the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi organized themselves and went out into the streets en masse, thereby not only putting their jobs in jeopardy but risking violent reprisals on the part of the police and the white community. The Help ignores that brave, real-life effort in favor of a fantasy suggesting that what they needed was to share their stories with a white woman in secret. A careful author would’ve done her research and then incorporated what actually transpired, because accounts about these maids’ bravery are readily available. The danger that I fear now is that The Help will become the historical record because of its popularity, and that people who see the movie will come to believe that that’s really what happened.

Kam Williams: Yeah, like how the misleading images in Gone with the Wind came to replace the truth about The South during slavery.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Exactly! That’s precisely what happened with both Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation. Popular films are so powerful and compelling that it’s often easier to accept their versions of history than the much more complicated true stories. That’s why the most distressing aspect for me about The Help has been the number of African-American women I’ve encountered who didn’t know how dishonest the story was. I just don’t want us, in our own politics, to fall into the trap of reproducing it.    

Kam Williams: Do you then have a problem with Viola Davis for agreeing to play the lead character? 

Melissa Harris-Perry: I have no criticism of Viola Davis, just as I have none of Hattie McDaniel’s performance in Gone with the Wind. In fact, I find them both to have done exceptional work with the roles that they were given. Honestly, I understand that, as Hollywood actresses, they need to work. I also appreciate how Viola had tamped down her character to speak in a much more recognizable, black Southern woman’s voice than the caricature which Kathryn Stockett presented in the book. So, I’m not criticizing Viola Davis, but rather I’m disappointed that this is the version of black womanhood that American audiences are so jazzed-up and excited to consume. There’s nothing like a redemptive mammy. [Sarcastically]

Kam Williams: Lisa Loving asks: Did you get any backlash over your live tweeting about The Help?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, yeah! But I need to point out that I wasn’t just losing my mind, but that I had been assigned by my job to tweet live in the theater. That was one of those rare occasions where my snarky, more animated side came out. And I’ve learned over time that that is always the self that gets the most criticism.

Kam Williams: Leah Fletcher would like to know whether you see a link between the state of contemporary black men and Jim Crow segregation.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, for both black men and black women. We are barely removed from Jim Crow. My father attended segregated public schools, and he’s not an old man. Slavery is becoming more distant, but Jim Crow is not. There are so many effects, but I’d say that the single most important residual impact of Jim Crow is the continuing reality of residential segregation in most American cities and towns. And that impacts everything from educational and employment opportunities to real estate values to access to transportation to the quality of one’s environment. Housing affects everything, and we continue to live in very, very segregated communities. 

Kam Williams: Teresa Emerson asks: When did we black women get so far off the mark with our public image? With all we've accomplished, why is self-esteem still such a problem in our communities?

Melissa Harris-Perry:In 1619 [when the first slaves were brought to America]. There has never been a moment when African-American women were fundamentally celebrated as model citizens. Even at this point in history when we have a black First Lady, we see the power of these negative stereotypes about black women in that the dishonest mythology continues to thrive.   

Kam Williams: Teresa also asks: Do you feel the pervasiveness of mainstream media, movies, TV reality shows, etcetera have tainted this generation's view of black woman/black man relationships? How do we effectively change that when bombarded with such crazy images?

Melissa Harris-Perry: That’s a really tough question. I stayed away from domestic, personal relationships in the book. I decided to focus on the public and the political, and to leave that ground to psychologists and sociologists.

Kam Williams: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: How might female gender stereotyping in other ethnic groups also become a ‘convenient’ way for patriarchies to treat women as objects rather than subjects?

Melissa Harris-Perry: The only thing in The Help that irritated and offended me more than how it portrayed black women was how white women were portrayed. Look, I grew up in, went to school in, and now live in the American South, and southern white women are interesting, complex and quirky, even the ones with racial anxieties. Stereotypes work to help divide women from recognizing their common interests. Think of how hard it would be to create a gender-based movement across racial lines as long as one group believes that it has to be strong while seeing the other group as passive and weak. We could also go into the stereotypes of the saucy, mercurial Latina and the docile, easily-dominated Asian woman.  

Kam Williams: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: There are people who want to identify themselves as biracial because they feel that they have to acknowledge both cultural identities. What made you decide to identify yourself as black?

Melissa Harris-Perry:This is the weirdest question that I am consistently asked. When I grew up in Virginia in the Seventies, there was no such thing as biracial. I understand that in 2011 you can opt to self-identify as biracial, although others might still identify you differently. Having a white parent undoubtedly makes for a different childhood experience than having two black parents. However, I think the idea that you’re somehow rejecting whiteness if you don’t identify yourself as biracial is odd because everybody engages in whiteness. If you live in America, you’re doing whiteness all the time, even if you have no white people in your family. So, I don’t know what people mean when they ask me whether I’m embracing my whiteness. Whiteness is ubiquitous. That being said, I believe that in 21st Century America it’s perfectly legitimate for children with a black parent and a white parent to identify themselves as biracial, if that’s their preference.    

Kam Williams: I recently reviewed a very thought-provoking documentary called Biracial, Not Black, Damn It! in which they interviewed dozens of mixed people who don’t want to be seen as just black.   

Melissa Harris-Perry: All I have to say is: Good luck with that in America! [LOL]

Kam Williams: I remember thinking it was odd when I was in college, when this brother tried to befriend me by saying, “We mulattoes have to stick together.” I told him we could be friends, but both my parents were black and I grew up in a black community, so I didn’t have any identity crisis.

Melissa Harris-Perry: I never had one either, not at 7, 17, 27 or now. 

Kam Williams: Patricia also says: We all know about the famous test done my Dr. Kenneth Clark in 1954 for the Brown vs. Board of Education case.  In 2006, the filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the doll study and documented it in a film entitled A Girl Like Me. Despite the many changes in some parts of society, Davis got the same results as Dr. Clark did a half-century earlier. Recently, I heard about a five-year old African girl who put her black doll in the garbage. What do you think needs to be done to put an end to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes which continue to affect black females?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I’m raising an African-American child who has both black and white dolls. Something I was struck by was how she’s renamed two of them Malia and Sasha when Barack Obama became President. As a parent, I have an appreciation that there are counteracting, positive images for this generation of little girls growing up with Malia and Sasha in the White House as the First Daughters.

Kam Williams: Finally, Patricia says: You started the research for your book circa ten years ago. What was the turning point which made you decide that you had to write about the very important subject regarding the image of Black women?

Melissa Harris-Perry:As I mentioned before, it was what unfolded after Hurricane Katrina.

Kam Williams: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: To what do you attribute some black women's denial of their hair, with weaves, extensions, relaxers and wigs? Is there any remedy for this denial?

Melissa Harris-Perry: That’s rough! I don’t know if it’s a denial of our hair. I wear twists that are extensions. I’m doing that because I’m growing out my natural hair, and I can’t really do that on TV without some sort of intervention. I’ve worn a perm during much of my adulthood. Look, I simply do not judge African-American women’s grooming choices. I don’t think that a white woman is in denial when she dyes her hair blonde. And I actually think we are the most varied in terms of the choices we make about our hair. Some of it may be political or psychological, but an awful lot of it is just aesthetic, how we like to view ourselves when we look in the mirror.

Kam Williams: Irene continues: As a black woman I have seen white women look at black women in blonde wigs and other white woman wanna be styles and smile. Do you think black women rejecting their hair and other aspects of blackness affects the power dynamic between white women and black women? Does this affect the power dynamic between white men and black women, between black women and black men, and ultimately of black women with themselves?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I can understand how someone might read wearing a blonde wig as a desire to be white, but I suspect that the same shaming smirk can happen if you wear a big afro or any number of other hairstyles. I find that non-black women will engage me in conversation about my hair, if I wear it in anything but the most nondescript perm. From childhood forward, our hair is one of the most critical, defining aspects of our embodied selves as black women: how we get it done… how we have to focus on it… the questions we have to answer about it... and so forth. In the book, I talk about how this desire for whiteness can impact us psychologically. So, I don’t want in any way to suggest that that sort of shaming, a desire for whiteness and white beauty doesn’t exist. But I do think that we have to be careful not to assume that getting a perm or wearing a blonde wig is a desire for whiteness. It may or may not be. Listen, I live in a poor black neighborhood where women wear blue hair, green hair, and all kinds of stuff. So, I simply see it as a different set of choices.   

Kam Williams: Rudy Lewis says: Melissa, you are spot on when it comes to white feminism. But your responses to Cornel West's attacks on U.S. economic policies with respect to the poor and the middle classes and your support of the Libyan War make me uncomfortable. Have these views been placed in concrete? 

Melissa Harris-Perry: I am a supporter of much of the Arab Spring, as a matter of indigenous self-determination. So, I see the United States’ role in Libya as an appropriately restrained one in providing some international support for the work of those trying to bring democratic change against a regime that has undoubtedly been dictatorial, particularly in the past twenty years. I know some people side with Cornel West and disagree with my support of the Obama Administration, but I think that’s part of the robust conversation of Democratic politics.

Kam Williams: Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: Do you think President Obama is doing enough for African-American communities throughout the U.S., or have major issues like wars, the oil spill, and The Great Recession been too much for one administration during one term? What more do you think he could be doing right now?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I think the most critical needs of the African-American communities aren’t being addressed primarily because of decisions being made by Republican Congressional leaders. The efforts to kill the President’s healthcare, jobs and stimulus packages have all been at the behest of the Republican leadership.

Kam Williams: Film director Kevin Williams says: Some polls indicate that President Obama's support is waning in the African-American community given the state of the economy and black unemployment rate. Do you foresee the Republican Party increasing its efforts to get the black vote in 2012, and making any inroads in that regard?

Melissa Harris-Perry: No, the Republicans don’t need black folks to vote Republican, they just need them to not vote.

Kam Williams: Kevin also would like to know why you left Princeton to teach at Tulane, which is where he got his Masters in 1993.

Melissa Harris-Perry:The number one reason was because I married a New Orleanian. Secondly, Tulane offered me a promotion to full professor as well as an opportunity to run my own program. 

Kam Williams: H. Lewis Smith had this reaction to your article entitled “Black Liberals, Double Standard”: Your point-of-view is reflective of many blacks who are aware of the racism, but are blind to black people's complicity in it all. The white man does not see us as his equal...period, and never will. Fine, I say. You don't have to like me...just respect me. And therein lies the problem, the lack of respect. Until we as a race can show we have what it takes to respect one another, none is ever going to be given to us as a group. Your thoughts?

Melissa Harris-Perry:I would agree that liking is secondary to fairness and equality, but recognition is tied to resource distribution. So, it actually does matter what people think about you.

Kam Williams: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

Melissa Harris-Perry:No, I think I already reveal way too much.

Kam Williams: Then do you have a good, probing question I could ask other celebrities?

Melissa Harris-Perry: How about: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

Kam Williams: Thanks, that’ll be my Melissa Harris-Perry question. Now, the Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

Melissa Harris-Perry: All the time. 

Kam Williams:: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

Melissa Harris-Perry:Yes.

Kam Williams: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

Melissa Harris-Perry: [Giggles] This morning with my husband.

Kam Williams: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Reality-TV.

Kam Williams: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I’m reading three: A surprisingly good first novel called Girls in White Dresses. With my daughter, I just read a Marvin Redpost book called Why Are You Picking on Me? And Dorothy Roberts’ new book, Fatal Invention.

Kam Williams: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last music you listened to? 

Melissa Harris-Perry: [Chuckles] That’s part of the good laugh that I had with my husband this morning. I was playing Eric B. and Rakim really loud as I pulled into our driveway.

Kam Williams: What is your favorite dish to cook?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Macaroni and cheese.

Kam Williams: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

Melissa Harris-Perry: International travel.

Kam Williams: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I have no idea. Sorry.

Kam Williams: Dante Lee, author of Black Business Secrets, asks: “What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?"

Melissa Harris-Perry: I’m horrible with money. I make bad business decisions every hour of the day. My best professional decision was taking my first job at the University of Chicago.

Kam Williams: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I just had a birthday, so I’d say I see my age.

Kam Williams: Happy birthday! If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

Melissa Harris-Perry: I would want to know that my daughter is going to enjoy a long, happy and healthy life.

Kam Williams: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Sunday mornings before church, when I’m home with my husband and daughter, and we’re kind of doing our Sunday morning routine.  

Kam Williams: The Toure question: Who is the person who led you to become the person you are today?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Undoubtedly, the biggest influence on my life is my mom, followed pretty closely by my dad. 

Kam Williams: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Riding around the neighborhood in a plastic molded seat on the back of my mom’s bike at about the age of 2.  

Kam Williams: The Judyth Piazza questions: How do you define success? And, what key quality do you believe all successful people share? 

Melissa Harris-Perry: For me, success is when I’m making a contribution and fully engaging all of my talents. In terms of the key quality, it’s being willing to continue to believe in yourself even when other people don’t, and being able to fail and to come back.

Kam Williams: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Melissa Harris-Perry:Woo! Drink lots of water, and nap. I’ve made some really big messes along the way, whether on the academic side or on the media side. It hasn’t been a straight path. But a lot of those mess-ups have led to opportunities, so I guess I’d say be fearless, and keep bottled water with you, so you don’t dehydrate.   

Kam Williams: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

Melissa Harris-Perry: Fondly, by my family.

Kam Williams: Thanks again for the time, Melissa, and best of luck with the book, MSNBC and teaching at Tulane this year.

Melissa Harris-Perry:Thanks so much Kam. It’s been fun!

Melissa Victoria Harris was born 1973 in Seattle and grew up in the Virginia cities of Charlottesville and Chester, where she attended Thomas Dale High School. She was the youngest of five children of a black father, William M. Harris Sr., the dean of Afro-American affairs at the University of Virginia, and a white mother, Diana Gray, who taught at a community college and worked for nonprofits that helped poor communities “I’ve never thought of myself as biracial,” Harris-Perry says. “I’m black.”—Wikipedia

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Cornel West v Barack Obama (Melissa Harris-Perry )  /  Obama Apologist Harris-Perry Says Support Prez

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Bill Moyers Interview of Melissa Harris Lacewell

Well, I think that hip-hop has the insurgent possibilities and capabilities. Now there's a little bit of a problem with hip-hop, and that is it's a commodity that's bought and sold. And any time you're a commodity that's bought and sold, you have at least one aspect of your culture that can sort of go in a profit motivation.

But I will say that hip-hop music like Gospel music, like Blues music, like jazz music is the voice of a generation. And it has within it the insurgent capacity, the capacity to say, "Look, I'm not happy here, this is not enough, I expect more, I'm worthy of more." And over and over again in hip-hop from the mid-1970's until today, there's a strain of it that is saying that. . . .

So there's a couple of reasons why Imus could not have been quoting hip-hop. First—it wasn't as though hip-hop taught America how to degrade women or particularly how to degrade black women. America had figured that out long, long, long before hip-hop. Secondly, although hip-hop often uses the word "ho," it rarely ever calls someone a "nappy-headed ho." So we talked a lot about "ho." But we haven't talked much about "nappy-headed." And "nappy-headed" is a way of saying you, black woman, in your natural, physical state in, who you are—are unacceptable, ugly, valueless. Now, that's not hip-hop.

Actually hip-hop tends to dress up black women in long, straight wigs, much more likely than it is to go to this place which is a very old place around, slavery, around Jim Crow that says, "Your physical self is an unacceptable, sort of orientation of blackness. I can see that you're black from across the room, and that's unacceptable to me."—Melissa Harris Lacewell

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At MSNBC a Professor as TV Host—Brian Stelter—12 February 2012—Week seven of Melissa Harris-Perry’s introductory course in African-American studies at Tulane University includes a lecture about “the hollow prize”—a theory that African-Americans tend to be elected as mayor only after a city has tipped into economic decline.

One day last summer, when Ms. Harris-Perry was filling in for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, she recast the class lecture as a television segment, invoking Detroit; her adopted home, New Orleans; President Obama; and tax policy. “I’ve given that lecture a million times—a million times,” Ms. Harris-Perry said in a recent interview. “But I do it once on Rachel’s show, and it was everywhere the next day. It was up on Web sites, people were e-mailing me—that, for me, was a really clear indication of how powerful television is.” Now, MSNBC is about to introduce a progressive talk show called “Melissa Harris-Perry” on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ms. Harris-Perry will be the only tenured professor in the United States—and one of a very small number of African-American women—who serves as a cable news host. Is this a sign of the rise of the academic on TV? Though cable news is still stereotyped by some as a 24-7 screaming match, there are now pockets of intellectual stimulation that did not exist a decade ago.— NYTimes

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Speaking Freely Cornel West Takes Aim and Fires—Jamal Eric Watson—9 February 2012—West says that the attacks by his former colleague, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, in The Nation and on cable news were strictly personal. Harris-Perry left Princeton last year and is now a professor at Tulane University. She also hosts a weekend show on MSNBC. In 2006, West was responsible for bringing her to Princeton from the University of Chicago after the two met at a conference. She held a joint appointment between the Center for African American Studies and the Department of Politics and arrived with tenure.

But West says that, shortly after she arrived, she no longer wanted to teach in the Center for African American Studies and later turned on him and Glaude, the chairman of the department, calling them “hypocritical leftists.” “I have a love for the sister, but she is a liar, and I hate lying,” says West, adding that Harris-Perry later said on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” that West attacked Obama’s White mother in the interview with “I don’t talk about people’s mamas. She’s reinforcing all of the vicious perceptions of me as a racist, and she knows better than that.”—DiverseEducation

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The Race and Gender Debate—Well, not only was I in New Hampshire, I was also in Illinois. I taught at the University of Chicago for years before coming to Princeton. So Barack Obama was my state senator. He was my US senator. So every time I hear people say he doesn’t have much experience, I find it extremely irritating, because it means that somehow representing me in my government meant very little experience. So I actually was there in Chicago and in Illinois when Senator Obama took those stands against the war, and I can tell you, it was not an easy thing to do. So I’m appreciative of having been represented by someone like him who had those kinds of positions.

I mean, what happened in New Hampshire, clearly Barack Obama brought in the percentage in the polls that he was expected to bring in. But a whole new group of voters showed up to vote for Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t look as though Barack Obama’s poll voters actually abandoned him. It looked as though they actually came and sincerely voted their interest, which I think is a great sign for the capacity of this campaign to move forward. But there was a whole new group of voters, mostly women of Hillary Clinton’s own generation, white women of Hillary Clinton’s own generation, who did show up at the polls and vote—cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. And that’s what put her over the top.

And I do believe that much of that had to do with this intersection of race and gender, the ways in which Hillary Clinton became discernible, understandable and recognizable to these voters in her moment of anxiety and stress, in a way that Barack Obama, as an African American man, remains alien to many white women. In other words, it’s just very difficult for them to see themselves in him. But again, 36% of that vote who claimed that they were going to vote for Barack did in fact show up and do so. So I think it’s good news for the Obama campaign, although it does continue to indicate the ways in which white women’s particular race and gender position can be of major benefit to them when running against an African American man. . . .

Yeah, I—in fact, I’ve regularly said that I don’t think that naked racism explains this. He could not have gotten the kind of support that he got in New Hampshire. Again, what I’m suggesting—and this goes again to this question of complexity—is that our understanding and expectation of who white women are and how we respond to their suffering is quite different historically than how we respond to the suffering, anxiety, and stress of African American men and women. So the people who said they were going to vote for Barack Obama apparently voted for him, that 36%. But a whole new group felt motivated to come out and vote for Hillary Clinton, and that seems to be related to her particular sort of performance on the Monday before the election. And that does seem to me to be indicated in questions of race and gender, without saying that these people are naked racists.

I’m incredibly impressed by the voters of New Hampshire, who take very seriously the trust in which the rest of us as citizens put into them to make a decision, because so often we are disenfranchised from the process, because the early primary system allows just a few voters to make these critical choices. And over and over again, the people of New Hampshire were very serious in how they were trying to gather information and make decisions. I would not disparage them by claiming they are racist.

I would, however, say they’re part of the American historical system that responds to white women suffering in very particular ways, and it cannot see African American suffering in the same ways.—Melissa Harris-Lacewell

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The Race and Gender DebateI just feel that we have got to get clear about the fact that race and gender are not these clear dichotomies in which, you know, you’re a woman or you’re black. I’m sitting here in my black womanhood body, knowing that it is more complicated than that. African American men have been complicit in the oppression of African American women. White women have been complicit in the oppression of black men and black women. Those things are true.

And so, to pretend that we can somehow take them out of the conversation when a white woman runs against a black man, when she tears up at being sort of beat up by him, when her husband can come in and rally around her and suggest that we need to sort of support her because she’s having difficulties, while Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lynching threats on him and his family, these are—for a second-wave feminist with an understanding of the complexity of American race and gender to take this kind of position in the New York Times struck me as, again, the very worst of what that feminism can offer—in other words, division. . . .

You cannot both claim this sort of role as independent woman making a stand on questions of feminism and claim that your experience begins as First Lady of Arkansas.

You know, you simply have to stand on your own or not. There are dozens of white women in this country who I would be a huge supporter of for the American presidency. The president of my own university would be at the top of that list, but not someone who is making this claim towards being president as her right as a result of a relationship with a former president. I think that’s exactly what we don’t need in third-wave feminism.—Melissa Harris-Lacewell

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Hillary's Scarlett O'Hara Act—Black women voters are rejecting Hillary Clinton because her ascendance is not a liberating symbol. Her tears are not moving. Her voice does not resonate. Throughout history, privileged white women, attached at the hip to their husband's power and influence, have been complicit in black women's oppression.  Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary.

The loyal Mammy figure, who toiled in the homes of white people, nursing their babies and cleaning and cooking their food, is the most enduring and dishonest representation of black women. She is a uniquely American icon who first emerged as our young country was trying to put itself back together after the Civil War.  The romanticism about this period is a bizarre historical anomaly that underscores America's deep racism:

The defeated traitors of the Confederacy have been allowed to reinterpret the war's battles, fly the flag of secession over state houses, and raise monuments to those who fought to tear down the country.  Southern white secessionists were given the power to rewrite history even as America's newest citizens were relegated to forced agricultural peonage, grinding urban poverty and new forms segregation and racial terror. Mammy was a central figure in this mythmaking and she was perfect for the role. The Mammy myth allowed Americans in the North and South to ignore the brutality of slavery by claiming that black women were tied to white families through genuine bonds of affection. Melissa harris-Lacewell

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly

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Sonata Mulattica: Poems

By Rita Dove

This 12th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize recipient is her third book-length narrative poem: it follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson/ of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Dove tells Bridgetower's story, and some of Beethoven's and Haydn's, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower's frustrated genius: Music played for the soul is sheer pleasure;/ to play merely for pleasure is nothing/ but work. Dove does not always achieve such subtleties—those who loved her early work may think this book too long: few, though, will doubt the seriousness of her effort, her interest at once in the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race.—Publishers Weekly

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have "pawned their future to possessions" and those "condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth." The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, "loud as gospel to a believer's ears," and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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The Price of Civilization

Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . .

Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 19 October 2011




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