Melissa Harris-Perry Goes Racial on MSNBC: I Will Not Be Network's ‘Mammy’

Ex-MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry on Monday appeared on The View to level a racially charged attack against her former employer. Harris-Perry angrily declared that she would not be a “mammy” for the liberal cable channel. Regarding a leaked e-mail she sent to the crew of her show, Harris-Perry explained, “I'm an African-American politics scholar. So, when I say mammy, I mean something very particular." 

She added, “The history of mammy is that mammy is the black woman who cares more about the master's family than about her own.” Explaining the explosive comparison to the slavery era, the ex-host continued, “What I'm saying is I don't care more about MSNBC's reputation than I do about [my show’s] family, about the thing that we built, about our viewing audience and about our team.” 

Harris-Perry went weeks without her weekend show appearing on the network. This led to the e-mail and the eventual split. She stated that her absence on MSNBC would mean a lack of diversity at the network: 

MELISSA HARRIS PERRY: Did I think it was racialized? Not in the sense of like, “they're coming after Melissa for being black.” Do I think it has racial implications? 100 percent. Here's how I know it. Our show had the most diverse guests on cable news, period. It's just an empirical reality. Taking this show off the air, even if you put me, individually, back on as a host meant that the folks who sat at our table, whether they were transgender women of color, Latino Republicans, they just weren't going to be there anymore because we were the folks who put them on air each and every week. 

Harris-Perry often jumps to racism as an explanation. In 2013, she insisted that “ObamaCare” is a racist word. To see her top ten quotes, go here. 

A partial transcript is below: 

The View
3/14/16
11:40

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: So now, this is what we've heard, that the show --- you're show had been preempted several weeks when you were asked to return you said no. And then you sent an e-mail criticizing MSNBC which went public. How —  what —  what went down? I would rather hear it from you. 

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: The easiest way to describe this is if you think about a relationship. So, have you ever been dating somebody and presumably you guys are still dating, but not really. Like, he hasn't called. Y'all haven't not been out in months. And all the places where you used to go together, actually he's out there with somebody else and you're like, “I am pretty sure we are not dating anymore.” So that's kind of what happened with the show. Like, the show had basically been cancelled. All of our branding was gone.

The thing that said Melissa Harris-Perry was gone. Our music was gone and our editorial content was gone. Then I was gone as a host. So, during the hours of 10:00 to noon, I wasn't there anymore. Even though I was in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, I wasn't asked to be on air during that time. Other people were. And then some other folks at other places started to notice. They called, they asked MS about it and then at that point MS decided to me back on the air but just me. Not our show. So our show was a particular kind of thing. It was a table of people with different viewpoints and ideas. What they wanted me to do was to show up and read the news. And so what I declined to do was that. I didn't decline to com back and do my show. I declined to come back and — 

JOY BEHAR: And do  show they wanted you to do. You didn't want to do that. So, this is what you wrote. Quote: “Our show was taken, without comment or discussion or notice in the midst of an election . I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head.” So, is the implication that there is some racism there? 

HARRIS-PERRY: So, you got to remember, this was an e-mail I wrote internally to my team. I didn't have any intention or have any expectation that that would ever be public. So part of it is me writing shorthand to me team. I'm an African-American politics scholar. So, when I say mammy I mean something very particular. The history of mammy is that mammy is the black woman who cares more about the master's family than about her own. And so, what I'm saying is I don't care more about MSNBC's reputation than I do about the Nerdland family, about the thing that we built, about our viewing audience and about our team. And so, I didn't want to be used as kind of cover. Did I think it was racialized? Not in the sense of like, “they're coming after Melissa for being black.” Do I think it has racial implications? 100 percent. Here's how I know it. Our show had the most diverse guests on cable news, period. It's just an empirical reality. Taking this show off the air, even if you put me, individually, back on as a host meant that the folks who sat at our table, whether they were transgender women of color, Latino Republicans, they just weren't going to be there anymore because we were the folks who put them on air each and every week. 

PAULA FARIS: They took about six of you off the air. I know they were surprised by the e-mail. They denied that they were cancelling your show. We reached out to them for a comment and this is the statement they said. "We're proud of the diverse backgrounds of MSNBC's journalists, hosts and analysts. MSNBC identified Melissa as a unique voice four years ago, gave her a platform and stuck with her, and it would have continued had she not sent a destructive e-mail. It was not being cancelled . It was not being altered. We're surprised and sad about how this ended, but we wish her the best." So, why didn't you meet with them and express those concerns? 

HARRIS-PERRY: I tried regularly. In fact, this is kind of my difficulties, the, kind of, boyfriend thing. I'd been trying since November to meet with them. It got to the point where again lines of communication had really broken down. It was very painful for me to be standing there, literally standing there in New Hampshire watching every other person on the network, including people who didn't have shows, be used as voices and I was standing there and wasn't used. It was tough. And so I was asking repeatedly whether or not there was going to be a place for me. 

HARRIS-PERRY: Contractually, don't they have the right to alter programming? 

100%. Just like the boyfriend has a right to break up with you. They just got to tell you. 

FARIS: Communication. 

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. All I was asking is, look, this is your car, you can drive it any direction you want. But what I wanted was after four years of working together and they're right, we spent four years doing great things together, things that I actually feel very proud of. They did, they gave me a lot of latitude. Man, I'm a little college professor from Wake Forest in north Carolina. They were like, here, take four hours on the weekends. What a privilege.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org site.