In September, Yale University Press is publishing Melissa Harris-Perry’s new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, titled after the author’s popular column for The Nation. The book examines the cultural influences that have shaped black women’s political role in America, not as a history of voting rights, but in their participation as citizens in our shared, politicized society. Recently, she accepted a position as professor of Political Science at Tulane, where she is also founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.
As a frequent MSNBC contributor, Harris-Perry has often addressed the issues surrounding both women and the African-American community. As guest host this week on the Rachel Maddow Show, she steps in for Maddow’s role and brings her informed opinions to the news. Here some of the highlights of Harris-Perry’s insightful commentary on the show this week and over the past year:
African Americans and Animal Rights: When asked to comment on Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fights, Harris-Perry begins by explaining the uncomfortable connection between African American issues and animal rights. She notes that “questions about the humanity of black people and the relative importance of the treatment of animals” have been intertwined since slavery. “Remember that in this country that in one of the ways that black people were enslaved” was when the white slave-owners convinced others “that black people were equated to animals.” During both slavery and the civil rights movement, “dogs were often used directly against black people” so there is “a weird kind of interconnection” between race and animals.
Weinergate: Harris-Perry admits, “My husband and I have been reduced to 11-year-olds making Weiner jokes.” She goes on to explain why the scandal can be considered legitimate news rather than gossips. For example, Barack Obama in part became a presidential candidate because “Jack Ryan was not a good steward of his public life,” even though his own “ick-factor” scandal was not illegal. She states “I do believe [the Weiner scandal] is fundamentally newsworthy,” because it affects the processes in government business.
Laws Affecting Women: As guest host, Harris-Perry discusses one of her current heroes, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, the “thin blue line” whose various vetoes on conservative bills have provided her constituents with a new perspective. You can cheer along with the author: “I veto this bill!” She says she loves Bev Perdue for the “the fact that she’s there and keeps fighting” and comments, “If you do stand up, then it is on the record what these new policies really mean…so you can give voters a choice.”
Ben Affleck vs. 9-year-old: After a clip from the movie The Town plays, guest host Harris-Perry admits that yes, that really was “Ben Affleck…rallying his gang of violent thieving thugs for another criminal adventure.” The reason the Rachel Maddow Show ran it? It “was also the inspirational movie for the Republican caucus” during discussions about the impending default crisis. MSNBC’s approved alternative, Harris-Perry explains, is a clip of an adorable nine-year-old boy earnestly reciting, “Great moments are born from great opportunities…Screw ‘em! It’s your turn!” from the movie Miracle On Ice.
Political Flips: Looking at the relative success of Speakers of the House in terms of the numbers of laws passed, Harris-Perry compares the difficulty of the job to Olympic sports like diving and gymnastics, noting that some laws passed by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were “The political equivalent of gymnast’s double back with a double twist. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.”
BONUS SEGMENT: Women and Violence: Barbadian pop singer Rihanna released a music video in which a woman takes revenge on a man’s abusing her by shooting and killing him. MSNBC’s Sound Off asked Harris-Perry to comment, and she decides that with the video, “Rihanna acknowledges [the] inequality” that women face in the modern world. She wonders how we might protect young girls from “violent or graphic” images in their culture while still remembering, “We do want to make space for women to tell all of their stories. It can’t all be a pretty princess story.”