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Profile: Melissa Harris-Perry
a.k.a. Melissa Harris-Lacewell
Melissa Harris-Perry was a participant or observer in the following events:
Melissa Harris-Lacewell. [Source: Melissa Harris-Lacewell]Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton, attempts to explain the increasingly overt and virulent racism being promulgated by some conservative lawmakers, talk show hosts, and anti-health care protesters (see February 1, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 4, 2008, August 19, 2008, November 18, 2008, February 24-26, 2009, April 7-8, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 25, 2009, and July 28, 2009). “[A]s a political scientist, you always want to start with the assumption that a political party, whatever choices it’s making are trying to seek office,” she says. She says one must assume that the racist rhetoric “is somehow a strategy of the right or strategy of an element of the GOP to somehow gain office either in the mid-term elections or more long term for the presidential race.” However, that is not the entirety of the reasons behind the rhetoric: “[T]he other part, I think, that I have maybe not been thinking about as carefully is that when we think about the history of race in America, sometimes we have to put aside the notion of strategy and just embrace the reality that race in this country has often brought out irrational anger, fear, anxiety, emotionalism. So it is possible that this is not actually a GOP or a conservative strategy but is instead really kind of an emotional tantrum on the part of some members of the conservative wing who really just are floundering as they look at a world that is changing so dramatically around questions of race.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow expands on Harris-Lacewell’s point, saying: “I was with you on it being an irrational tantrum until I started to see the same very specific tactic used in very different venues about very different subjects, this idea of the person who is not white being the problem racist, being used against [Supreme Court nominee Sonia] Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 5, 2009, and June 12, 2009)… being used against the president now, inexplicably, unrelated to any policy issue but just as a free floating critique of the president. And it does make me wonder about this as an overt political strategy.” Harris-Lacewell replies: “President Obama paused in the middle of the primary race to speak in Philadelphia about the question of race in America. And he set up sort of two possibilities, black anger rooted in a history of African-American inequality and white resentment rooted in a sense of kind of a loss of racial privilege. Now, I think in many ways it’s a very accurate assessment of sort of the ways that blacks and whites, not completely and not perfectly, but often perceive things quite differently. So I spent the month in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this. Everybody in the country was mad but African-Americans saw the failures of the federal government around Katrina as a race issue. White Americans who were still angry about the failures of the government saw it primarily as a bureaucratic issue rather than a race issue. So here, you have these two groups with very different perspectives. Now, that made all the difference in being able to make policy. So I think that they’re hoping that these differences in how blacks and whites often see the world can be a perfect kind of wedge to use on health care, to use on education, to use on a wide variety of issues that, in fact, really—if we don’t fix health care, it is bad for all Americans. But if we can somehow kind of suggest that the president is just trying to do things that are good for black people and bad for white people, then it opens up that kind of possibility of anxiety, distrust, and different perceptions.” [MSNBC, 7/30/2009]
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