- Writes for The Nation magazine
- Host of television news program on MSNBC
- Professor of political science at Tulane University
- Writes and speaks extensively about race-related issues
- Views America as nation rife with white racism
- Considers Al Sharpton to be the “peerless” standard-bearer of the modern civil-rights establishment
- Holds black conservatives in deep contempt
Born October 2, 1973 in Richmond, Virginia, Melissa Harris-Perry holds a B.A. in English from Wake Forest University and a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Having previously served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton's Center for African American Studies, Harris-Perry is currently a Professor of Political Science at Tulane University. She is also a columnist for The Nation magazine and has hosted her own weekend program on MSNBC since February 18, 2012. She is affiliated with the Century Foundation, the Fair Housing Alliance, the Human Rights Campaign, People For the American Way, Planned Parenthood, and a number of other organizations and institutions. And she speaks extensively to colleges, organizations and businesses across the United States and abroad.
Harris-Perry, who is African-American, writes and speaks extensively about race-related issues. In 2011 she authored Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, a book which argues that “persistent harmful stereotypes—invisible to many but painfully familiar to black women—profoundly shape black women's politics, contribute to policies that treat them unfairly, and make it difficult for black women to assert their rights in the political arena.”
By Harris-Perry's telling, Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) had a disproportionate impact on “poor people, old people, and people of color”—not only because of “a lack of investment in particularly poor and black communities” during the years prior to the storm, but also because of additional government neglect in the storm's aftermath.
Viewing America as a nation rife with white racism, Harris-Perry contends that many conservatives romanticize the Confederacy because “black people knew their place” there. An “anti-federal government perspective,” she adds, has grown increasingly widespread among conservatives who—filled with “racism and anti-immigrationism and white supremacy”—have embraced “a kind of … Confederacy-rising-again narrative.”
In July 2013 Harris-Perry lamented that President Barack Obama—though he was “always hopeful, always optimistic”—repeatedly had been the object of this persistent strain of American bigotry. On another occasion, she asserted that a photograph showing Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer sternly rebuking the President for his opposition to a recently enacted Arizona immigration law reminded her of “all of the ugliness, all of the nastiness” conveyed by a famous 1957 photo of a white Arkansas woman screaming at a young black girl who was entering a theretofore segregated high school during the Jim Crow era.
Harris-Perry views Al Sharpton as the “peerless” standard-bearer of the modern civil-rights establishment, and holds black conservatives in deep contempt. In May 2013, for example, she derided the “disgusting” conservative views of Virginia lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson, an African American whose affiliation with the Republican Party—“a radical, right-wing base that's devoid of diversity”—made her “feel icky all over.”
Similarly, Harris-Perry derides Tea Party conservatives as small-minded individuals who “don't care” if they “hur[t] people” with an “ideological rigidity” that seeks to render “government ... so ineffective, so incapable of doing anything that it can't even help people who need the most help.”
Emphasizing that “imperialism,” “genocide,” and “slavery” have played major roles in American history, Harris-Perry laments that “the land on which [the Founders] formed this Union was stolen”; “the hands with which they built this nation were enslaved”; “the women who birthed the citizens of the nation are second-class”; and the U.S. government once “snatched American Indian children from their families and ‘re-educated’ them by forbidding them to speak their language and practice their traditions.”
In November 2011, as the Occupy Wall Street movement—which championed the so-called "99 percent" who were being exploited by the wealthy "1 percent"—shifted into high gear, Harris-Perry characterized the 17th-century Pilgrims as “illegal immigrants from Europe” who, with an elitist mindset, viewed Native Americans as “dirty, no good, worthless, basically 99 percenters.” “And all of that is now playing out in a different way,” she explained, “as we see the 99 percent pushing back against this idea that the elites are the only one[s] that deserve to have a Thanksgiving dinner.”
Lamenting that Americans, because of their “private notion of children,” “have never invested as much in public education as [they] should have,” Harris-Perry advocates a “collective” mentality to “break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to their communities.” Moreover, she believes that it is government's responsibility to ensure that people's “right to health care, and to education, and to decent housing and to quality food at all times” is fulfilled.
A strong proponent of “reproductive rights,” Harris-Perry has derided “the very idea” that a fertilized egg “would constitute a person” worthy of “some set of constitutional rights” as a “faith claim” that is “not associated with science.” In July 2013, she lauded Texas State Senator Wendy Davis for filibustering a bill that sought to ban all abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Moreover, Harris-Perry characterized Texas Governor Rick Perry, who supported the bill, as an “evil arch-enemy” of women's rights. Moreover, she portrayed Perry as a hypocrite whose platitudes about “the sanctity of every life” were incongruous with the fact that Texas had executed more death-row prisoners than any other U.S. state.
An advocate of same-sex marriage, Harris-Perry believes that “it is time to begin forcefully articulating that, in fact, maybe we do want to change marriage.” “The real goal,” she elaborated, “is to achieve a more inclusive recognition of the authentic and enduring ways that we connect ourselves to one another, without needing the words ‘husband,’ ‘wife’ or even ‘spouse.’”
Harris-Perry is a devoted backer of the healthcare reform legislation passed by Democrats in March 2010. She claims that “GOP resistance” to such reform over the years led to “under-investment” that made “everyone vulnerable … [especially] poor people, the elderly and people of color.” Further, she maintains that the term “Obamacare” was originally “conceived by a group of wealthy white men who needed a way to put themselves above and apart from a black man.” Favoring the ideal of a government-run healthcare system that covers virtually every conceivable medical procedure, Harris-Perry once praised Fidel Castro's niece, Mariela Castro, for having “lobbied the Cuban government to cover sex reassignment surgery under the national health plan.”
Committed to promoting leftist agendas and worldviews by a variety of methods, Harris-Perry has called for “re-imagining the Bible as a tool of progressive social change”—i.e., using and reinterpreting sacred scripture to justify political ends.
Giving voice to her faith in government (rather than the free market) as the institution most capable of stimulating economic growth, Harris-Perry in May 2013 said that the economy of northern Virginia was “actually really good” because “so many federal government workers” were employed in that area, and, “of course, government can create jobs.”
On December 31, 2013, Harris-Perry and her two television guests, actress Pia Glenn and comedian Dean Obeidallah, mocked a Christmas family photo that showed former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holding his newly adopted black grandson, Kieran. Specifically, Harris-Perry and her guests used the occasion to imply that Romney, as a member of a supposedly racist political party, was using the child as a token black in an effort to disingenuously cast himself as a champion of diversity. “My goal,” said Harris-Perry sarcastically, “is that in 2040, the biggest thing of the year will be the marriage between Kieran Romney and North West [the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian]. Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?”
While speaking at a January 2014 forum at the University of Michigan, Perry stated that white people commonly are, and always will be, unable to understand why certain things are racist. “I know that [for example] this moment is racist because it trips my racial trigger, because it makes me feel nauseous,” she said. “I’m not generally angry, but you just made me mad.”
On August 16, 2014, Harris-Perry addressed the violent riots that had been raging in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the killing there a week earlier -- by a white police officer -- of an unarmed 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown in circumstances that were not yet clear. Citing the infamous Supreme Court decision from 1857 when Dred Scott, a slave living in St. Louis, unsuccessfully sued for his (and his family's) freedom, Harris-Perry suggested that black men in America were still being treated as badly as in the days before emancipation. She said:
"Ferguson is just outside St. Louis, Missouri, the place where ... Dred Scott sued for his freedom on the grounds that he and his wife had for three years, had for many years lived in a free state. This case eventually went to the Supreme Court and in 1857 Chief Justice Roger Tanney declared Scott had no right to sue because as a black man he was never intended to be an American. Speaking on the clause of the declaration of independence, Tanney wrote, quote, 'it is too clear for dispute the enslaved African race were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.' and he went on to say a black men had no rights, which the white man was bound to respect."
Harris-Perry then repeated: "No rights which the white man was bound to respect. No rights which the white man was bound to respect. No rights which the white man was bound to respect."
In April 2015, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that the Internal Revenue Service had placed a tax lien on Perry and her husband, for approximately $70,000 in delinquent taxes.
On her program of August 1, 2015, Harris-Perry was vexed about a pair of recent incidents where: (a) Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from Illinois, hanged herself in a Texas jail cell; and (b) Samuel DuBose, a 43-year-old African American, was shot and killed by a white Cincinnati policeman in an altercation that began after the officer had pulled him over for driving a car without a front license plate. Regarding the DuBose case, which was captured on video by the officer's body camera, Harris-Perry said: “Part of what I see when I look at that video is we consistently think it is reasonable for armed officers to be afraid of ordinary unarmed citizens who happen to be in black bodies but we don’t seem to think it’s reasonable for unarmed, ordinary black citizens to be afraid of police officers who are armed and when we know what the cultural space is that we’re in now and can we make some room for the fear that so many of us feel in a moment like that?”
Moreover, Harris-Perry criticized Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley for having recently told a Netroots Nation audience (which included numerous Black Lives Matter activists), that “white lives matter” as well. Noting that O'Malley's comment elicited loud boos from the crowd, Harris-Perry said: “Well, Martin O’Malley, just no. The answer to ‘black lives matter’ is not ‘white lives matter.’ Just, that’s nope, wrong answer. Nope. So whatever you do, Democrats, Republicans, that’s not the right answer.”
During a segment of an August 2015 program marking the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Harris-Perry noted that the term "refugees" had been used to describe African-Americans in need of rescue in the aftermath of the disaster. The implication, she maintained, was that blacks were not really U.S. citizens. "I'll never forget just how difficult those images were of New Orleanians literally wrapped in American flags or waving American flags and being labeled not as Americans needing rescued, but as refugees," said the host. "They're literally showing, displaying their sacrifice as citizens and we still couldn’t see them as Americans."
In October 2015, Harris-Perry, discussing the popularity of openly socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. articulated her own theory to explain why America has historically resisted socialism. She suggested, among other things, the following:
- "[I]n this country, race and racial privilege has trumped class identity as a way of organizing our politics."
- "[C]apitalism operates on our preferences, which are exogynist, which are fixed outside the system, and if racial bias is part of those preferences because of history, right, because we have this long history, then doesn't it mean that the system must consistently have a corrective, right? So if, in fact, we just have a bias against certain kinds of bodies, don't we then have to come in and correct that bias, even in order to make a free market system operate?"
- "[N]obody needed affirmative action to teach bias against black and brown people. Like, that bias is pre-existing and then affirmative action comes, and then affirmative action gets used as discourse. But it`s not as though -- it's kind of like saying that, you know, like all of a sudden white folks decide to use the N-word because of hip-hop. No, no, no, it was -- they had already known how to use that word before!"
In one segment of Harris-Perry's program on December 12, 2015, Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour lamented the allegedly long list of "attacks on [Muslim] individuals and on mosques" that had been perpetrated by Americans who -- by misperceiving all Muslims as potential terrorists -- were themselves "engaging in terrorism against the innocent [Muslim] community that has nothing to do with [terorism]." Sarsour also scoffed at the notion of Muslim integration into American society: "We can't change who we are. This is how we look [with Muslim attire]. We can't integrate and assimilate.... We're gonna look like this when we walk out into the streets of our cities when we're traveling in this country." In response, Harris-Perry said: "And the idea that the fear in Muslim communities, in Sikh communities, in misperceived Muslim communities, should be on the table at a time when we keep talking about 'oh this is a time of fear so you have to just kind of forgive Americans for behaving badly,' rather than saying 'no no no, no, who is actually in a tangible way and ought to be afraid?'" In other words, the Muslim community in the U.S. "ought to be afraid" of Americans "engaging in terrorism," and not vice versa.
In February 2016, Harris-Perry was angered by MSNBC's decision to give breaking-news coverage precedence over its regular talk-format programs when necessary—a move that occasionally resulted in her show being bumped from its regular slot. In protest, Harris-Perry refused to appear on her program on Saturday, February 27, telling her co-workers in an email that MSNBC's scheduling changes were making her feel “worthless.” “I will not be used as a tool for their purposes,” she wrote. “I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by [NBC executives] or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back.” Upon learning of of Harris-Perry's remarks, MSNBC announced that it intended to part ways with the host. “It’s highly unlikely she will continue” at MSNBC, said network spokesman Mark Kornblau, noting that her email “is destructive to our relationship.”
For additional information on Melissa Harris-Perry, click here.