I miss Melissa Harris-Perry.
I miss her eloquent commentary, her “Black Girl Magic” references, her wide, girlish smile and the panel of African-American intellectuals she gathered on her beautifully designed set each weekend for smart political, cultural and social discussion.
“What were you thinking about?” Mitchell posed. “You had a great, cushy job and a wonderful network that was right in simpatico with where you are ideologically. But you fumbled the ball, and I can’t help but think the only reason you fumbled the ball is because you were privileged. …
“You took advantage of a situation because you thought you were something more than an employee. And you weren’t. You’re simply an employee. It was not the Melissa Harris-Perry network, it’s MSNBC. You don’t own it. You don’t own the show. You own your name,” he said, stressing, “and you’re only an employee.”
I confess, I mumbled some of these points, just not out loud. (Can you do that without having to forfeit your “Black card”?)
Secretly, some of us gently suggested among ourselves that Harris-Perry could have handled it, well, better. (I mean, one of her Twitter posts featured a clip of Angela Bassett’s character from “Waiting to Exhale” when she lit her estranged husband’s car afire.)
Trouble in “Nerdland,” as it was dubbed by viewer and Twitter followers, started when MSNBC began pre-empting Harris-Perry’s show for election coverage “without comment or discussion or notice,” she complained in an email that was leaked to the public.
Harris-Perry reportedly wrote, “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 the MHP Show distinctive.”
“I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobblehead,” she reportedly wrote. “I am not owned by [network executives] Lack, Griffin or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back.”
Well, we all figured she wasn’t going to get it back once we read about that email. News reports said MSNBC sources expressed surprise at the tone, and network president Phil Griffin told a PBS reporter, “We had a four-year relationship with Melissa where we created this really terrific program that we loved and that brought different voices and was really part of the MSNBC sensibility.”
Some of us towed the line, and blamed the network for Harris-Perry’s absence. We pointed to MSNBC’s cancellation of Al Sharpton’s show and plans to scale back roles for the Hispanic Jose Diaz-Balart, the African-American Joy Reid, and partly Asian Alex Wagner (mother from Myanmar) as proof that the network was downsizing on diversity.
On sideeye.com, Mitchell argued that had Harris-Perry been a professor at a historically Black college or university (she teaches at Wake Forest University, a mostly white school in Winston-Salem, N.C.), she would have known she could not boycott her job, or plead her case to a sympathetic dean.
I can’t speak on that. But I can say that I wish BET or VH1 would craft a slick, news magazine show so intellectual viewers dubbed it “Nerdland.” But more than likely, they won’t. They’ll produce ordinary news shows or shows that entertain. There will probably never be another “Nerdland” like that.