SHEWROTE: Dear Melissa Harris-Perry
SHEWROTE: Dear Melissa Harris-Perry
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Before Women’s History Month started I came up with an idea to write letters to women who have influenced me in some way. However, like most spring semesters life took over and I didn’t get around to it. I thought about pushing it back until next year, but why do I need a month to celebrate these women? So, just like my #BlackHistory365 book project, I’ll be periodically writing letters to women who’ve impacted me. The series is entitled, SHEWROTE and will focus on the shereos in my life. You can expect letters and/or essays dedicated to everyone from family members, close friends, teachers, students and celebrities I’ve never met.
Since Melissa Harris-Perry’s departure from MSNBC was the original inspiration for the series, I decided to start with my letter to her.
It’s me, Danielle. (See what I did there?) Over the last four years, I’ve followed your work. It all started one random Saturday morning in 2012 shortly after I became a mother. My husband was flipping through the channels and we came across your show, The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC. You were talking about Trayvon Martin and we stopped to check it out. We made a note to watch the show the next morning. Before I knew it this became our Saturday and Sunday morning ritual.
You’re a mother, so you know how exhausted we were and also how disconnected you can end up being from your friends and the world during those early days. Well, your show became a lifeline for us. You helped us stay up to date, but also gave us something to talk about beyond how many times the kid pooped and if I needed to call a lactation consultant.
Beyond current events, your presence on television was inspiring for this new mother who also happened to be a PhD student. I watched your show and saw so many scholars who looked like me discussing their research, but also their children. I had recently began thinking about my comprehensive exams and deciding how far I wanted to go with my research in feminism. By the time the fall rolled around, I told my committee that I needed to include Black feminism and not just as an afterthought. No, it needed to be part of my primary focus. I still wasn’t sure what my dissertation would discuss, but I knew Black feminism was the center of it.
In addition to my graduate studies, I was also writing on my personal website, Mamademics. I was struggling to find my voice and what I wanted to cover, but the more I watched your show the clearer it became that I needed to just talk about what was happening. I started small with a short post about my fear of raising a brown boy in America after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. And then Michael Brown and Ferguson happened and I lost. I was tired of politely asking people to pay attention. So, this post happened and the response blew me away. Before I knew it, I was writing an entire series on the importance of Raising an Advocate.
I started to joke with my husband that my goal was to be a guest on your show. It was a joke initially, but then it became a serious motivator. Whenever I didn’t want to write something or I was struggling with my dissertation ideas my husband would remind me of this goal. He didn’t even fuss at me for buying your books even though I wasn’t supposed to purchase any more. I had to make Raising an Advocate a reality so that I could be your foot soldier of the week.
I was also different in the classroom with my students. I started pushing them to research the ways that popular culture shapes social movements. We were having lively discussions about current events, but also about how different Prohibition would’ve been if social media was a thing. I talked about your show so much that many of them started sending me clips when they came across them on the web. They also knew not to email me between 10 am and 12 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. When I walked into my local Barnes and Noble during Black History Month this year and saw a dismissal display, I spoke up. When they tried to shut me down, I kept talking. I even enlisted my students help.
In early 2016, when your presence became less frequent on MSNBC, I was saddened. Then the show was canceled, and I was absolutely devastated. Where was I going to turn to every week for reminders that I am not alone? What other show can I watch and consistently see women scholars of color tackling the hard issues and people actually listening to them? Nerdland was my safe space and all of a sudden it didn’t exist anymore.
Even though I was sad, I was also incredibly proud of the way you left. On your own terms without playing nice, you said the hell with respectability politics and unabashedly burned that bridge. You were no longer on national television, but you were still teaching all of us to demand what we deserve. Your departure was a reminder to know our worth and to never let anyone forget it.
Much like your show, your departure inspired me to give zero fucks. This past month, I presented at my first national conference in six years and I was myself. I was the “me” that I would’ve been if I were able to a guest on your show.
In the four years of watching your show, my son went from nursing in my arms to sitting beside us while we watched. He went from soft cries on Saturday mornings when I tried to sleep in to telling me to wake up because daddy said “Mewissa Hawwis Pewwy is coming on.” He went from just staring at the television to shouting “jail not bail,” a line from one of his favorite books, when you showed the Baltimore riots. Your show gave me the courage to expose him early and often to our history and not just the oppressive parts, but the ways we fought back, so he will know to always fight back.
Thank you for the four wonderful years you gave us. Thank you for introducing me to scholars I didn’t realize I needed to know. Thank you for intersecting your identities on television without fear. Thank you for inspiring me to include my son in my scholarship. More importantly, thank you for this affirmation – “I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobblehead.”
P.S. Congratulations on your new position as editor-at large with Elle.com. Your first post has inspired me to learn more about the women who aided Anita Hill and maybe I can squeeze that into the next writing class I teach.
Shoutout to my girl Danyelle from The Unfit Christian for the dope series title. Make sure you check her out 🙂