Culture
Melissa Harris-Perry, Melissa Harris Perry, MSNBC
Melissa Harris-Perry Removing Herself From Air Is Important

Every week for four years, Melissa Harris-Perry has broadcasted the weekend morning show known as the Melissa Harris-Perry Show (MHP Show). With a premier dating back to February 18, 2012, MHP Show has recently touched on important topics as the unnecessary wave of criticism for Cam Newton and if feminism should play a role in the 2016 elections. These past several years have lent Perry a distinguished brand of one that focuses on African American issues and politics through an authentic voice. Perry, who earned a PhD in political science from Duke has also served professorship roles at Princeton, University of Chicago and now her alma-mater Wake Forest. But despite an impressive name she’s built for herself, Perry has found herself in a position of choosing between staying true to her mission, or selling out at the expense of her viewers. Earlier today, Melissa Harris Perry committed to the former.  Staying true to her mission. Perry called it quits after MSNBC decided it was more important to use her face as a diversity goal on-air than to continue to allow her creative control over a show she has worked so hard to build. Perry’s father was the first Dean of African American Student Affairs at the University of Virginia, and her mother taught as a professor at a community college, while earning her PhD and eventually going on to advocate for health care and reproductive care. Perry isn’t new to this game. She’s been slammed by politicians for speaking her voice and most recently harassed by racists during the Iowa Caucuses. But one thing her PhD could never teach her about is how to overcome her daily obstacles as a woman of color and navigating as one of the top journalists in the world is GRIT.

Earlier today, Jamil Smith, Senior National Correspondent for MTV News was asked by Dr. Harris-Perry to share a note she wrote to her colleagues. Perry’s dismissal not only happened just a day before the South Carolina Democratic Primary, but also two days before #OscarsSoWhite and just three days before the conclusion of Black History Month. Perry’s story is very reminiscent of the one Mary Jane Paul plays in Being Mary Jane, except there’s no retake. With no commercial breaks or do overs in her unscripted reality, Melissa Harris-Perry is committed to getting it right. Despite the odds against her. Perry’s daunting adversaries are certainly not new to you or I, but they will continue to happen unless those who are gifted with privilege are rescinded from abusing it remissly. Read Melissa Harris-Perry’s firm, yet heartfelt letter below.

Dearest Nerds,

As you know by now, my name appears on the weekend schedule for MSNBC programming from South Carolina this Saturday and Sunday. I appreciate that many of you responded to this development with relief and enthusiasm. To know that you have missed working with me even a fraction of how much I’ve missed working with all of you is deeply moving. However, as of this morning, I do not have any intention of hosting this weekend. Because this is a decision that affects all of you, I wanted to take a moment to explain my reasoning.

Some unknown decision-maker, presumably Andy Lack or Phil Griffin, has added my name to this spreadsheet, but nothing has changed in the posture of the MSNBC leadership team toward me or toward our show. Putting me on air seems to be a decision being made solely to save face because there is a growing chorus of questions from our viewers about my notable absence from MSNBC coverage. Social media has noted the dramatic change in editorial tone and racial composition of MSNBC’s on-air coverage. In addition, Dylan Byers of CNN has made repeated inquiries with MSNBC’s leadership and with me about the show and what appears to be its cancellation. I have not responded to reporters or social media inquiries. However, I am not willing to appear on air in order to quell concerns about the disappearance of our show and our voice.

Here is the reality: our show was taken — without comment or discussion or notice — in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.

The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.

Undoubtedly, television nurtures the egos of those of us who find ourselves in front of bright lights and big cameras. I am sure ego is informing my own pain in this moment, but there is a level of professional decency, respect, and communication that has been denied this show for years. And the utter insulting absurdity of the past few weeks exceeds anything I can countenance.

I have stayed in the same hotels where MSNBC has been broadcasting in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina, yet I have been shut out from coverage. I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation’s top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars. I have hosted a weekly program on this network for four years and contributed to election coverage on this network for nearly eight years, but no one on the third floor has even returned an email, called me, or initiated or responded to any communication of any kind from me for nearly a month. It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating.

While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better. I know who I am. I know why MHP 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. I am deeply sorry for the ways that this decision makes life harder for all of you. You mean more to me than you can imagine.

Yours always,

Melissa