by Jeremy Young | 3/26/2008 12:15:00 PM
Since Barack Obama's called for "a national conversation on race," I figured I'd continue that conversation by addressing the awesome Melissa Harris-Lacewell's experience last week on "Real Time with Bill Maher." Melissa addresses the controversy here. Here's the gist of what happened, in her words:

When I challenged this assertion, [Democratic Rep. Barney] Frank said, “Excuse me for not saying that everything is terrible.” My response was, “Hey, I am a tenured professor at Princeton. I know that things are OK.”

For this, she has been "absolutely flooded" with hate mail. Seriously. Some of it can be found in the comments section of that thread. If you're curious about the context, you can watch the video here at about 6:30 in; it happened just about how Melissa described it.

Melissa's comment does not, I think, need much explanation. She's new to the talk-show format (and does brilliantly in more oratorical formats, such as NPR interviews and formal debates) and was rattled when a powerful sitting Congressman accused her of being a knee-jerk cynic. Anyone with half a brain would realize this before firing off hateful e-mails to her.

But the fact that people didn't raises important questions of its own. Loath as I am to attribute such reactions to race, I'm forced to agree with Melissa's own analysis:

I am convinced that many viewers are particularly irritated with me because they responded to me as “uppity”. Uppity black folks are those of us who don’t know our place and don’t defer sufficiently to our betters.

One viewer was so livid with my statement that he emailed the show’s producers and asserted “she is not tenured.” It was simply impossible for him to accept that it was true.

This feels like precisely the kind of racial misunderstanding that Obama reminded us continues to mark interracial discourse in America. I was angry. The viewers are resentful. Over all the noise we find it hard to hear each other.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is one of my heroes. At thirty-five years old, she is a tenured professor of political science at Princeton, a major media figure, and has a position with the Obama campaign. She is also one of the most intelligent and eloquent individuals I have ever had the pleasure to observe. To achieve all this as a black woman in today's society only serves to underscore how impressive she is. What simply astounds me is that anyone could be jealous of her success, either as an African-American or a high-level academic. Try as I might, I won't be anywhere near where as she is when I'm thirty-five, and I'd have a much easier time getting there than she has. The fact that anyone would look at her achievements and her shining self and react only with hate is just another of the terrible consequences of racism that Obama has so deftly brought to the fore of our national consciousness.



Links to this post:

Create a Link


Blogger Lisa Pease on 3/26/2008 1:58 PM:

Jeremy - have you seen her in person? Read books? What is your experience with her? She's new to me. I'd like to know more.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 3/26/2008 2:08 PM:

Sadly, I don't know her personally -- didn't mean to give the impression that I did. I first heard of her via this stunning debate in January, in which she wipes the floor with no less than Gloria Steinem (I was alerted to it by BrownFemiPower). Then I heard her on NPR last month -- they've hired her as a correspondent to cover Obama, with whom she apparently travels at different points -- I think she's a high-level volunteer. There are things she says that I don't agree with, and she's got a crush on the odious Maureen Dowd that's just creepy. But overall, I was and continued to be astounded by her brilliance. She's definitely someone to watch in the years ahead.


Blogger Lorraine on 4/25/2008 2:45 PM:

What is the deal with Mr. Frank, anyway? Word in the -T press is he's aligning himself with those who would disown us from the LGB- rights movement, as if we're some sort of a public relations liability. Then last weekend on the radio I heard a reference to alleged unspecified criticisms against Frank by Mr. A. Cockburn (is he really a Stalinist?) according to one Eric Alterman, in an interview with (Cockburn's neice?) Laura Flanders. The overall tone (from Alterman) of the interview was (in so many words) why don't you non-DLC Democrats just sit down, shut up and stop being a liability, and why would he "attack" someone as flamingly liberal as Barney Frank, of all people. If anyone has any idea what this guy is talking about, I'm curious as to what might be Cockburn's beef w. Frank? Again, what if anything is the deal w. Frank? Has anyone observed a pattern of pandering indicative of someone gearing up to run for statewide or "higher" office?


Blogger Jeremy Young on 4/25/2008 5:30 PM:

Lorraine, thanks for your comment. Maybe this video will clear things up.

As far as I can tell, this is a good argument on his part. He wasn't able to include transgender individuals in this bill because the other Democrats wouldn't vote for it. I think this has given him an undeserved rep at an anti-transgender Congressman, though I could be wrong. I would be incredibly shocked if Frank ever ran for higher office, ever.