Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On MHP and Accountability

In case you've been living under a rock and not paying attention to Black girl nerd news, Melissa Harris Perry is no longer on weekend cable news with her MSNBC show, the Melissa Harris Perry Show. After a four year tenure galvanizing diverse audiences and representing diverse voices in mainstream media with segments on every thing from politics to pop culture, activism and other current events, Harris-Perry left MSNBC with a no-fucks-given bang. (I'll leave it up to you to catch up on the details here, here, and here.)

Well today, my favorite podcast hosts Heben and Tracy published an in-depth interview with MHP. Apparently, she reached out over the weekend specifically to spill the tea with them. (Shout out to Black women with platform and power sharing that space with the next generation.)

This interview is a MUST LISTEN. At about 37 minutes in, MHP's dialogue with Heben and Tracy resonated with me so deeply that it brought me to tears. As she breaks down her inflammatory  language in the email that went out to her staff, the one that first alerted the public all was not okay in #nerdland, she says:
When I’m talking about being a mammy, that’s a very specific thing that I am talking about. To me what a mammy is – what historically a mammy is conceived to be – the mammy is the worker in the household who cares more about her master’s family than about her own. She is the one who leaves her family behind in order to make sure that his family is dealt with; that his wife and kids and household are clean and in perfect order. That all things are right there, and is not worried about her own. What I understood Andy Lacks and Phil Griffin and leadership at MSNBC to be asking me to do was to appear on air, in my time slot, and therefore confuse Nerdland watchers so that they thought that we still had a show. Even though I could no longer bring them the content, which we have seen in the response to our cancellation, they were telling me was important. I don’t think I am what people thought was so important. I think, you know, most local anchors are pretty brown girls. What I understand people to be saying was important about MHP show was what we were doing. And what I was being told to do was leave my family behind, to leave MHP show, to leave Nerdland, and to appear on air to make Andy Lacks’ house look in order. That I was not willing to do, and I’m still not willing to do it. (emphasis mine)
What MHP is talking about here is accountability; accountability as a black woman who has been invited to sit at the proverbial table. She understands who her communities are and is unwilling to sacrifice creating space for and amplifying the voices of those who are not represented in white mainstream media. She knows that she is not the center, but rather the conduit through which so much more is made possible. This is what responsible gate-keeping looks like.  This moment cemented MHP to me as a contemporary patron saint for all those people of color who become the token in a white institution; for those of us who are offered a seat at the table and the semblance of some power. She is a patron saint because she isn't afraid to turn the table over, to walk away, to figure out another way.

She is also talking about black women's labor and being unwilling to sacrifice herself at the hands and expense of the master. What she is describing here -- her refusal to play mammy -- is revolutionary. I hear the undertones of Audre Lorde between her words.

As I listened to this moment, I think my tears came from identifying with being the token so many times in my life. Those tears were also from identifying with being offered a seat at tables while living particularly at the intersection of being a black woman, artist and advocate. I try my best to remain accountable, check in, amplify the voices of, offer opportunity to, create space for my families -- and many times that is a difficult thing. I feel blessed to witness a shining example of accountability when the stakes are high, and very public.

If it ever came down to it, may I be able to do the same.



dawnne46 said...

I'm not so sure I get what's so upsetting about this. Why doesn't she OWN her show? This is 2016. Why does she care about a seat at their table? There's so many other media avenues available, she doesn't need them. Did she really think they cared? Its just business. Yes she should have walked and I don't see that as a hard thing. I'm just saying.

Sydnie Mosley said...

It's not upsetting. Not on my part, anyway. I got emotional not because the situation was upsetting, but because I resonate with being offered seats at the table at white institutions and feeling a responsibility to the communities that helped me get there/who I represent. I also don't think she cared about her seat at the table, or rather keeping her seat, especially because she did walk away, quickly and easily. But that's not always an easy decision. A LOT of people stay places for the semblance of clout, power, monet, fame or what have you. A LOT of people don't actually care about the people they represent even though it might even be written in their job description to be a representative. AND I also feel like this incident is important because I have not witnessed many high profile/public instances where people walk away from opportunities because it doesn't align with their values.

Kendra Ross said...

And in alignment with what Sydnie said, you do not see many high profile/public instances where people walk away from opportunities because it doesn't align with their values AND turns away severance pay by not signing a disclosure agreement INTENTIONALLY so they can actually talk about their experience in a holistic manner. In instances like this you often get the information from "inside sources." How empowering is it to have someone actually voice their grievances not just for the sake of maintaining their own status and reputation, but for the sake of inclusion in media in general. Are we upset, yes, it is the consistent upset we as POC feel by encounters with white institutions, not something new. But I am extremely proud of how MHP is handling the situation and feel some recognition is DUE!

Rachel DeGuzman said...

Being at the table is important as long as it offers an opportunity to move things forward, but unfortunately it often reaches a point in progressive movements (that exist in traditionally regressive places/spaces) when it is more effective and important to walk away – with your intention clear and your head held high. This is never done easily. It is personally painful and I am sure even more painful when it is as public as it was with MHP. The acts against her and what and whom she represented were overt and profound. I have the utmost respect for her and know that the same courage, vision and astuteness that helped her build Nerdland will help her find the next space in which to convene and give voice to the people and issues that she helped to elevate in the past.


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