With the Loss of Melissa Harris-Perry's Show, We Lose Important Representation

Melissa Harris-Perry brought professor-level political discussion to MSNBC.

Normally on weekend mornings, I serve breakfast to my family while carrying my laptop computer from the kitchen counter to our table, so I can queue up the MSNBC stream of Melissa Harris-Perry’s show. Even our 12-year-old daughter takes a break from her YouTube-and- Netflix viewing to eat pancakes and listen to Harris-Perry’s in-depth and funny conversations about racism, feminism, and sexuality. You can find countless articles bemoaning the intrusion of television into family life, but this TV show has been something my family could share together.

Raising a child with a feminist consciousness is difficult in our society. My daughter endures my political commentary with an eye-roll, sighing when she hears another “lecture” coming on. Plopping Melissa Harris-Perry down next to the maple syrup has been my way of infusing my daughter’s worldview with an intersectional feminist analysis of current news without me saying a word. Not that I sit there silently either. I chime in and ask her opinion on segments during commercial breaks. Those are the moments when I realize that despite not always wanting to hear my feminist lectures, she is still listening. I try to not make a big deal out of hearing her thoughts on that week’s headlines. But on the inside, I rejoice over the fact that she’s skilled at seeing and voicing both sides of a debate.

And that is why it truly pisses me off that MSNBC destroyed the Melissa Harris Perry show during an election year. On Friday, Harris-Perry sent a letter to her staff saying that she was refusing to host the show on Saturday because MSNBC frequently bumped her for election coverage. Too often, she wrote, MSNBC was sidelining her and killing her show by attrition. She wrote:  

“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… 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.”

Two days later, MSNBC officially cancelled her show.

The cancellation of her show is especially tragic in an election year that makes me nostalgic for George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”—the GOP contenders seem to be trying to out racist each other to the nomination. Meanwhile, both Democratic candidates are having a hard time energizing voters of color. This is a year when we need Melissa Harris-Perry the most, to help the country have a richer conversation about how both parties are flawed when it comes to issues of race, gender, and homophobia. Since her show debuted in 2012, Harris-Perry has stood out—in a good way—from the rest of TV. A 2014 analysis of talk show guests found that Harris-Perry’s show was the only one to have more people of color on as experts than white people:

In fact, an analysis the next year revealed that her show was the only one to have a majority of guests not be white men.

Seeing that kind of representation has been hugely important. While women are underrepresented as analysts across media, Harris-Perry is one of the most prominent Black female public intellectuals in America. Don’t underestimate the impact her show has had in shaping cultural conversations on topics ranging from Ferguson to the Super Bowl. The loss of her show will be felt by everyone. It’ll be felt most acutely in homes like mine, where Melissa Harris-Perry has allowed for my family to engage in conversations that we might not otherwise have. Melissa Harris-Perry provides a vehicle for families to discuss tricky topics like sex, drugs, and racism. The loss of her show leaves a void—during this important election year, there are issues that will go undiscussed at breakfast tables across the country.

by Veronica Arreola
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Professional feminist, former Bitch Media board member, mom, and writer. Creator of #365FeministSelfie.

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