Melissa Harris-Perry New MSNBC Show…

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( Today it was announced that Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry is going to have a new show on MSNBC.  Melissa is far sharper and more polished than I could ever be, so I knew it was only a matter of time before the network moved her into the fold.  I am admittedly not a fan of Perry, since I took offense to her unsolicited attacks on Cornel West a few months ago.  But thinking about Melissa Harris-Perry’s presence on nightly cable news led me to consider some reasons why the hire is perfect for both she and MSNBC:

1) Perry the black Rachel Maddow: Melissa might be black, but she fits very nicely within the white liberal establishment.  She gets fired up about the issues that people on the left tend to love:  Global warming, gay rights, women’s rights and the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Melissa Harris-Perry is the kind of person who rallied against the execution of Troy Davis, not because Davis was black, but because both she and Amnesty  International saw this as an opportunity to ban the death penalty.  She is clearly a liberal who happens to be a black woman, not a black woman who happens to be a liberal.

An important point that many liberal universities and media outlets have yet to understand is that there is a difference between actual diversity and cosmetic diversity.  Hiring a person with black skin who thinks the exact same way you do is not an act of diversity.

2) She’s very, very smart:  I’ve debated with Melissa Harris-Perry and Al Sharpton at the same time over the Obama Administration’s lack of attention to the African American community.   During this somewhat heated discussion, I ended up feeling like a judge trying to argue against two attorneys seeking to exonerate their client (the Obama Administration) at all costs.   Nearly every shortcoming of the administration was excused and every ideological road led right back to how wonderful the Democrats have been for the African American community.  If only I could find a way to get on the Democratic payroll.

3) She’s one of the greatest Obama cheerleaders in America:  As we gear up for the 2012 presidential elections, everyone is positioning their weapons on both the right and the left.  Fox News is building it’s media bunker to boost the Republican candidate, and MSNBC is trying to protect the power of President Obama.  We should all prepare ourselves for a slew of half-truths, peculiar spin and political fairy tales that will play to every sensitivity and vulnerability of the black community short of showing pictures of President Obama eating barbecue at Freaknik.  Adding Harris-Perry to the MSNBC lineup makes sense, since she is nothing less than the perfect political soldier.

4) The whole light-skinned black liberal thing works in her favor:  The emergence of Barack Obama has opened the door for quite a few light-skinned, non-threatening, black superstars of both politics and media:  Cory Booker, Harold Ford, Don Lemon on CNN and a few others have been able to benefit from this wave.  Melissa Harris-Perry is a perfect fit as the (in the words of cousin Pookie) “light-skinded-ded,” red-bone, highly educated liberal that white folks tend to love.  Nothing militant will come out of her mouth, unless she’s angry about a new immigration law or some civil liberties violation in the National Defense Authorization Act.  Not to say that there’s anything wrong with the “light-skinned liberal negro” phenomenon (I’m not all that dark myself), but I wonder how successful these folks might be if they looked like they were siblings of Wesley Snipes.

5) She helps MSNBC with that whole lack of diversity flack:  Black journalists have long complained about what Al Sharpton referred to as “All white, all night,” in which most of major cable news outlets didn’t have any hosts of color on their nightly branded shows.   The best way to shut down that criticism is to hire Al Sharpton himself, which is exactly what MSNBC did.  But one challenge is that neither Sharpton, nor Melissa Harris-Perry is a professionally-trained journalist, so there are still quite a few talented black journalists who are seething over the fact that MSNBC went after scholars and activists, rather than seasoned journalists themselves.

Reality check for black journalists:  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  Most major media decisions are based on money and politics.  Sharpton is able to deliver ratings, and he has so many connections he should be called the Human Facebook.  Both Sharpton and Perry bring liberal perspectives to the news the way a pastor brings Jesus to a congregation.  True journalists who seek this antiquated concept called “objectivity” are typically not given the time of day.

Media has become like a political basketball game where there are few referees, and nearly everyone is forced to put on a uniform.  Even I admittedly wear a uniform for Team Black America.  So, the reality is that if you are the right person, saying the right things, at the right time, you always fit nicely into someone’s political agenda.   That’s what success in modern media is all about.

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. For more information, please visit