A few months after the forum between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry, one of the above aforementioned also made comments in regard to Harris-Perry’s popular status. Ta Nehisi Coates stated in his “The Smartest Nerd In The Room” piece for The Atlantic(January 6, 2014):
“There is a sense that Romney’s grandchild should be off-limits to mockery. That strikes me as fair. It also doesn’t strike me that mocking was what Harris-Perry was doing. The problem was making any kind of light of a fraught subject—a black child being reared by a family whose essential beliefs were directly shaped by white supremacy, whose patriarch sought to lead a movement which derives most its energy from white supremacy. That’s a weighty subtext. But there is no one more worthy, and more capable, of holding that conversation than America’s most foremost public intellectual—Melissa Harris-Perry.
There may well be intellectuals with more insight. And there are surely public figures with a greater audience. But there is no one who communicates the work of thinking to more people with more rigor and effect than Harris-Perry. Her show brings a broad audience into a classroom without using dead academic language and tortured abstractions. And she does this while awarding humanity on a national stage to a group unaccustomed to such luxury—black women.”
Before we move further, it should be noted that after the forum between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry, Harris-Perry made comments regarding Mitt Romney’s adopted child. The GOP immediately responded with comments pertaining to the termination of Harris-Perry by MSNBC. Ta Nehisi Coates, as stated, is also a worker for MSNBC, he was hired by The Atlantic, from his volunteer work with MSNBC owned Grio.com, and still makes guest appearances on MSNBC’s The Melissa Harris-Perry Show.
In light of the aforementioned, I must consider his statements to be a defense and a plea. A defense of not only a prized and highly celebrated public intellectual that just happens to be a close colleague, but also a plea. His statements work to market and remind MSNBC why they hired Melissa Harris-Perry. It is a defense of the brand that brings his work and her work to a larger public via the MSNBC cable network, while also being a plea to that same brand that, hey, Melissa Harris-Perry is able to tap into markets that not many can: a Black, formally educated, and WOMAN audience. In the same ways that I treat bell hooks as an aphrodisiac, I also note the emotional appeal of Melissa Harris-Perry.
It should also be noted here that Ta Nehisi Coates is not the champion of Black Women’s rights and images that the piece the above quote was excerpted from might suggest. His thoughts on the works and deeds of Harriet Tubman are far from appealing and bring to question his overall views on US Blacks and Women, and are very reflective of the thinking presented in Russell Simmon’s executively produced “Harriet Tubman Rape Tape”. He does not hold sacred the legends of US Blacks, nor US Black Women in the same way he wishes his audience to hold Melissa Harris-Perry. And why should he? Harriet Tubman only freed slaves, a bit of history that Coates seems to take issue with, she did not give him a job or put in on his monthly rent .
To be fair, although I have just lightweight accused the man of one of the more atrocious forms of opportunism, I do applaud the mastery with which he uses the written word to instigate racial, gender, and hell, even religious anxieties. I do not believe in the ideas held by the phrase, ”the race card”, but if I did, this might be the perfect opportunity to use it and for once it be used accurately.