The New School hosted an amazing conversation this afternoon between MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and acclaimed writer bell hooks.
You really won't spend an hour this weekend doing anything better than watching their whole discussion.
We'll have more in-depth writing about this conversation next week, but for now, here are some highlights from the conversation on specific pop culture topics:
On cable news:
bell hooks: “Melissa represents a generational shift. She has this whole national voice. One of the things we want to talk about is: Has there been a meaningful concrete change in how we feel about black women's voice? Many of you have probably seen the show where she is talking to the economist. I was so impressed, it was like a love moment. Melissa really boldly put out there what we know to be real and true. I was so stunned to hear from people, 'Oh, she really lost it.' I kept thinking, if this was Charlie Rose or any number of white men who would boldly speak their truths—she didn't raise her voice, there was (for me) no sense of aggression. She was turned into the “angry black woman” not the “insightful, brilliant black woman who just threw down in such a way that it created a sense of awe.” That gave me pause: Has there been a shift or are we still pushing against a certain characterization of the black female voice?”
Melissa Harris-Perry: “I'm not sure how I wound up with a television show. Clearly it's part of a set of very odd circumstances that are part of this moment historically where we have an African-American man as president and the most popular commentary on that president being a queer woman who is out and butch (when they don't overly make her up). There's a shift that occurs around representation and that shift occurs at the same time when there's a profit motivation to get an audience. I don't want to miss that. There's no moment in cable news where people are not making any kind of decision based on believing there is audience and income out there.”
On Michelle Obama:
Melissa Harris-Perry: “First Lady Obama is navigating multiple spaces. And in some ways, [her voice] has retained its bigness and its value and in some ways it has diminished. Most importantly, for me, there was an active, purposeful and—she has said it to us—desire to remove from public space the idea of the black woman who emasculates her husband. She very actively moved back from the partnership model of her relationship—not just a partnership, but an active critique of her husband. So when Senator Obama is running in 2007 and 2008, she has a variety of punchlines, including, 'Barack is stinky in the morning and he leaves his socks around.' She had another line about feeling like a single parent for much of their relationship because he was working downstate. She was the primary breadwinner, plus she was taking on all the parenting. That narrative went away as soon as they got through the primaries. As soon as they got through South Carolina and it was clear that Obama could win the Democratic nomination, Michelle Obama 'the wife' became the much more traditional political wife who, in a sort of doe-eyed way, supports her husband.”
On Beasts of the Southern Wild:
bell hooks: “I just can't take another image of an abused black child being represented as entertaining… I'm hurting because we can't get past the construction of black children as little mini-adults whose innocence we don't have to protect, who we can consider cute if they're being slapped around by an alcoholic father.”
Melissa Harris-Perry: “The abuse not only of the character, but of Quevanzhané Wallis by both white and black audiences in the immediate aftermath of that movie. I really, really disliked that film. I sat in a theater in New Orleans and watched it and came home and read your piece… it was one of those movies that you were supposed to like, that you were supposed to say nice things about. It was supposed to be arty and fun and you were supposed to be deep and 'get it' and your willingness to say, 'Nope, the abuse of a young black girl's body is not deep. It's appalling.'”
On 12 Years a Slave:
bell hooks: “I really hated it. I said, 'Eh, sentimental clap-trap.' It actually negated the black female voice. I felt like she was only given voice in so much as she gave expression to the black male feeling. The black male does not have to take responsibility for his own emotional universe—Patsy takes that cross. So it's like, okay, not only are you suffering, but you've got to take on you the added burden of articulating this black man's pain to him.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How much of that, though, is because it is the reading of his autobiography, his slave narrative? He does create Patsy that was in his text and so the film reproduces the thing that he, as black patriarch even in the context of slavery, does to her?
bell hooks: Yeah, honey, but if the filmmaker can create for us that scene of Mrs. Shaw that is not in the book, why can't he—one of the things I stand on all the time is that film does not exist for the purpose of giving us reality. If my life is shit, I don't want to go pay $10 or $12 to see it displayed. What I want for us all the time is a pushing of the imagination… I'm tired of the naked, raped, beaten black woman body. I want to see an image of black femaleness that alters our universe in some way.
On Lean In:
bell hooks: “When you are committed, you often have to do thing you don't want to. I am not interested in Lean In, okay? But I wrote a piece about it because I was disturbed by its overall impact. Because I wasn't particularly interested, writing the piece was torturous. I was unhappy… I had my colleague saying, 'bell, you agonized over this, you did it, let me put it on the Internet for you.' That has been my story in writing from the beginning. I have to say some things, but I'm not always someone who wants to say them. I want someone else to jump up and say them—and take the heat.”
Photos via MSNBC and Wikipedia.