In her first TV interview since she ended her relationship with MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry told The View about their ugly break-up.
Then, in late February, the network decided to put Harris-Perry back on the air, but she said they no longer wanted what made her show unique. “What they wanted me to do was to just show up and read the news,” she said. That’s what prompted her to write that now-infamous email to her staff.
In her email to co-workers, which initially leaked in part and ended up being posting in full on Medium, Harris-Perry wrote, “I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobble head.”
Asked by Joy Behar if there were indeed racial implications to those words, Harris-Perry, an African-American politics scholar from Wake Forest, said she had very specific intentions with a word like “mammy.”
Historically, she explained, a “mammy” cared more about her master’s family than her own. “I don’t care more about MSNBC’s reputation than I do about the Nerdland family,” Harris-Perry said, using her show’s affectionate hashtag nickname. “I didn’t want to be used as cover.”
“Did I think it was racialized?” she asked of the network’s actions. “Not in the sense of, ‘They’re coming after Melissa for being black.’ Do I think it has racial implications? 100 percent.”
As Harris-Perry laid out, her show had the most racially-diverse guests of any show on cable news. According to a two-year-old study by left-leaning media watchdog groupMedia Matters, Melissa Harris-Perry was the only Sunday show with a majority people of color guest list. While non-white guests made up 55 percent of her guests, a show likeMeet The Press had just 22 percent. And while just 25 percent of Harris-Perry’s panels were white men, that number spikes to 67 percent on a show like Face The Nation.
Using Harris-Perry’s analogy, Whoopi Goldberg challenged her guest to explain why she didn’t wait for MSNBC to “break up” with her before she made her email public. “Why not wait until you know exactly what they’re doing?” Goldberg asked.
Once the excerpt from her email leaked, Harris-Perry said she felt she had no choice but to make its full context known. “I figured that it probably meant that it was over,” she said of her job, “but I wasn’t sure.” Ultimately, she declined severance pay in exchange for the legal right to speak publicly against the network.
After spending most of the segment throwing her former employer under the bus, Harris-Perry ended on a surprisingly optimistic note. Perhaps in response to the backlash Harris-Perry sparked, MSNBC has started putting more people of color on the air. If the end of her show means that “more black and brown faces show back up” then she said the whole thing will have been “worth it.”