Melissa Harris-Perry Silences Dissenting Voice During Panel Discussion on Race Relations

On the latest edition of her Sunday morning show, host Melissa Harris-Perry and her panel discussed Harris-Perry's grand theory that the media were engaging in a giant game of misdirection following the Zimmerman trial's outcome. The liberal Tulane professor naturally wants the liberal media to focus on topics that further a liberal/progressive agenda, like repealing Stand Your Ground laws, while the argument of liberal CNN anchor Don Lemon that there needs to be some soul-searching in the black community about gangsta culture among young black teens was dismissed as irrelevant.

Most panelists, like University of Pennsylvania professor and TheNation.com blogger panelist Salamishah Tillet echoed Harris-Perry’s statement and claimed that conservatives were responsible for purposefully moving the conversation away from the preferred liberal talking points. For his part, however, fellow panelist Dr. Steve Perry, principal of the renowned Capital Preparatory Magnet School offered a dissenting viewpoint, for which he was marginalized and silenced.

Perry [no known relation to Harris-Perry] argued that as a reaction to the country's political center of gravity shifting to the right there came a subsequent “shift to the left” among many political thinkers that “has us only thinking about the white man who kills the black kids as opposed to the black kids who kill the black kids.” Perry wanted to hold responsible the “individuals who live in the communities,” the people who know African-Americans who are killing one another, [and] African-Americans who are selling drugs to one another.” He believed that when discussing race “we have to hold all parties accountable.”

Perry then expressed his distaste for black leaders who “are always in a hurry to march towards something but not get us any further.”

When Tillet opposed Perry's viewpoint, Perry asked her how those civil rights leaders and protests were alleviating the murder rate in her hometown of Philadelphia, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country.

Once again this line of questioning engendered dissent from the rest of the panel. Interestingly, after the commercial break, Perry was not given the opportunity to speak for the remainder of the almost 7 minutes of discussion. It remains to be seen if he will see if he is invited back as a guest in the future.

In the interests of good television and a vigorous discussion, Harris-Perry should have Perry back on. The educator was born into poverty and was able to earn a full scholarship academic scholarship to college. He now holds a Ph.D. and heads one of the most academically rigorous high schools in the country. This high school, the Capital Preparatory Magnet School, with mostly underprivileged and minority students, has seen 100 percent of its graduates be accepted to college. The guy clearly knows a thing or two about reaching impressionable, at-risk inner-city black youths and motivating them to success.

It is upsetting that MSNBC and Harris-Perry would try to silence a panelist who was only trying to introduce a measure of realism and moderation into the conversation. Instead of taking an extreme position on the issue of race in America, Perry simply tried to espouse his belief that everyone involved needs to take some responsibility for their part in the issue.

For reference, the panel conversation is provided below:

MSNBC

Melissa Harris-Perry

August 4, 2013

11:17 a.m. Eastern

STEVE PERRY: I live in a space where I am more concerned about the fact if you're a black child you are more likely to go to a failed school than whether then whether or not your clothes fit the right way, and that's where the conversation doesn't go. We don’t want to have the longer conversations about making the fundamental changes to the community both inside and out to ensure that our community has access to the greatest resources at the greatest country on earth. 

SALAMISHAH TILLET: I want to jump in. I want to talk about the moment that the conversation got misdirected or redirected, whose political interest this new narrative serves. I don't want to mention the person who interjected. 

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: Feel free. 

TILLET: O'Reilly helped shift the conversation away from racial profiling and all the kind of marches and movements around the country, around stop and frisk, stand your ground. All these different things – there's a mobilizing happening, right. And then O'Reilly makes this really series of problematic racially charged incited comments, and now other people have joined and condoned what he said. So I think that when we have misdirection, it's a strategy that’s deployed by our opposition, by conservatives, other people, African-American elites oftentimes cosign. That's a problem the way we're going. 

PERRY: There are two shifts. There’s a shift to the right and then there’s a shift to the left. The shift to the left has us only thinking about the white man who kills the black kids as opposed to the black kids who kill the black kids.

[Convoluted explosion of dissent]

HARRIS-PERRY: I think it's absolutely not true we weren't thinking about that. In fact, that was one of the pieces of this misdirection that pissed me off the most was this idea that if our children are killed by other black people we don't care, that we shrug it off, that we don't cover it. I think about… Part of what happened, for example, in the context of the mobilization around Zimmerman was that the already all these communities in New Orleans, in Chicago that were mobilized around the violence, the urban violence, so they could then pick this up. But they were already pre-existing mobilization.

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: The question that they mounted to get President Obama to acknowledge the violence in their communities and bring him to Chicago. We can't just overlook that and diminish it as if they didn't do that work and didn’t care about the people dying in their communities every single day.

PERRY: I'm not talking about a political conversation. I'm talking about the individuals in the communities, those of us who live and work in the communities.

HARRIS-PERRY: That’s what the Black Youth Project is.

PERRY: Those of us who know African-Americans who are killing one another, African-Americans who are selling drugs to one another, and when we have the conversation we have to hold all parties accountable. And those who call themselves civil rights leaders who are always in a hurry to march towards something but not get us any further.

TILLET: That’s assuming that people don’t have a nuanced understanding of racial dynamics in this country. That’s assuming that activists who are on the ground don't understand the intra and interracial politics that they coexist and that they harm African-Americans

PERRY: How have they improved the situations? 

TILLET: What do you mean how have they improved the situations?

PERRY: Gladly, you're in Philadelphia. You have one of the highest murder rates in the country. How has this conversation stopped that? How has it improved…?

HARRIS-PERRY: Ok ok, well see but - Whoa whoa whoa.

[Another explosion of dissent]

PERRY: I want there to be something more than just conversation. 

HARRIS-PERRY: But but but they are. These kids, the Dream Defenders, who are sitting in the governor's office are not there to be on TV; they are there to get this conversation – excuse me not to get this conversation going but to get legislation passed. The Black Youth Project asked the president and the first lady to come to Chicago and to address the violence in those communities. So what are we doing on TV, we're making a TV show.

PERRY: This is not a legislative conversation though. 

HARRIS-PERRY: No but see that’s just it. Yes it is.