Suspicion and the Cornel West – Melissa Harris-Perry controversy


To quote Tami Winfrey Harris:.  “It’s not that liberals have labeled Harris-Perry HNIC; it is that men like West thought that position was exclusively theirs.”[Racialicious]

I was over the moon (so to speak) when Melissa Harris-Perry announced her upcoming show on MSNBC.  Whenever she subbed for Rachel Maddow my attention span increased, (perhaps those guest host gigs were auditions). But I also felt a tug of suspicion so I do agree with Dr. Boyce Watkins (quoted here)  on this point only:

In the Black community, leading Democrats have learned the dictator lesson well: If we hijack a few figureheads in the Black community and convince them to always speak in support of our agenda, we don’t actually have to do very much for Black people themselves.

Dr. Watkins would do well to drop the word Democrats from that statement. If you scan the political spectrum you will see that Republicans are guilty as well.  What white liberals and conservatives have in common is that they seek people of color (PoC) who won’t rock the boat of white privilege and supremacy too much; a mild tempest is fine, especially when directed at opponents, but they will unleash hell if a storm breaks out and hits too close to home. Here’s an example from Melissa Harris-Perry’s blog at The Nation:

Some members of the white liberal political community are appalled and angry that I suggested racial bias maybe responsible for the President’s declining support among white Americans [The Epistemology of Race Talk  @ The Nation]

The “discursive strategies that are meant to discredit our perspectives,” that Melissa Harris-Perry defined in her article, are practiced [regurgitated?] by white folks and their white identifying friends, across the political spectrum and are as follows:(the commentary is mine):

  1. Prove It (*side eye*)
  2. I have black friends (my personal favorite)
  3. Who made you an expert (the dumbest of all)

From Conservative land:

Back in 2008, Rush Limbaugh accused Colin Powell of supporting then candidate Barack Obama because he is black and now predicts that Powell, will vote for President Obama in 2012 because “melanin is thicker than water.

Support for Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential candidacy plummeted after conservatives learned of his predilection for alleged sexually harassment  of white women (that alleged affair with a white woman didn’t help either). Shortly afterwards, support for Dr. Newton Leroy Gingrich, serial philanderer, soared.

What I am saying to the Internet Nation is that Melissa Harris-Perry and Rev. Al Sharpton earned their places at MSNBC and like all PoC, they labor under the oppressive system of white supremacy which causes suspicion to arise when the white establishment, chooses one of us. This has nothing to do with “mythical blackness.” This is about the reality that underpins the lives of PoC  as illustrated in this gif:

White opinions

A precious reminder of how many white folks (and their white identifying friends) believe that  they are the  de jure experts on EVERYTHING, especially racism; please disabuse yourselves of  THAT notion. Thanks tumblr.

For the sake of clarity: I agree with Tami Winfrey Harris that men like West thought that position was exclusively theirs: patriarchy reared its ugly head. How dare a woman and a young one at that, rise above him. Professional differences and even professional jealousy is one thing but white supremacy adds another dimension to disagreements: bewilderment (how come they never choose me), name calling (HEAD NIGGER IN CHARGE – did you have to go there Dr. Watkins? LIAR -was that necessary Dr. West? ) and suspicion. I couldn’t even enjoy Melissa Harris-Perry’s announcement without that tinge of suspicion, wondering (as I did with Obama), why she is embraced by the white liberal establishment. That tiny voice of suspicion rattling around in my head –  it is something I learned along the way to protect myself from disappointment that white supremacy always brings: to protect myself from being fooled again.

Here’s something to think about from tumlbr blogger Struggling to be Heard about a class discussion of the documentary, The Color of Fear:

Why is it that most of the comments these students are saying are they felt the white man was being ganged up on? They sympathized with the racist shithead in the video, not mentioning once that they felt any kind of pain or sympathy or empathy for any of the men of color in the video. They also mentioned how racism isn’t just a white problem as stated in the video, it’s all our problem. I also heard the lovely, what those men of color are mad at is class and upperclass things, not race. The usual smorgesboard of fuckery and whitesplaining. Now, it’s not that I’m surprised. It’s just that it’s so sick how so many of these kids can watch that video and really all they can say is they feel bad for the white man.

The point is that sympathizing with white supremacy while denying the experiences of PoC is a daily occurrence across the political spectrum and that spectrum is represented in college classes as well as places of employment, the media and in personal relationships across the nation. And that reality is a basis for the suspicion, that nagging voice questioning why the white establishment elevates any PoC.

Speaking Freely Dr West pulls no punches when it comes to advocacy for impoverished Americans (p. 14)
Cornel West v. Barack Obama [Melissa Harris-Perry]


2 responses

  1. What’s the difference between suspicion and compromise and are people confused by the two? Is compromise a bad thing when it moves us forward?

    As long as it doesn’t compromise our integrity, but that is a personal decision.

    Who are we to judge?

    Especially Cornel when most of his criticism seems so personal.

    Good post. 🙂