A Deeper Dive into Melissa Harris-Perry’s “Apology,” by Hughey Newsome

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry seeks forgiveness.

On a recent program, she participated in discussion poking fun at Mitt Romney’s Christmas card, which featured him holding his new, adopted African-American grandchild. The race of the newest Romney was the key focus of the jokes.

Days later, and after a firestorm of criticism, Harris-Perry tweeted an apology for the insensitive remarks. A tearful on-air apology followed.

Fine, but the problem is that Harris-Perry didn’t apologize for the worst offense.

Melissa Harris-Perry’s career is rooted in discussing, writing about and advocating for African-American issues. Someone claiming such expertise should not only have known better, but realized at the time that such comments are offensive. Instead, she participated in the offense.

Just as a Newtown, Connecticut parent shouldn’t be expected to abide a tasteless joke about Sandy Hook, an authentic advocate for African-American issues should not tolerate, much less moderate, a discussion essentially demeaning mixed-race adoption. While not as tragic as Sandy Hook, the discrepancy of adoption rates for black foster children deserves more coverage than making light of a successful adoption by the family of a prominent Republican.

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures, about one in 100 black children in America’s foster care system awaits adoption — more than double the rate for white children. Additionally, the average foster care stay for black kids is 29 months, versus 18.3 months for white youth. These discrepancies are wide, but reportedly improving.

While Harris-Perry could use her soapbox to laud the Romney family for their decision, she chose otherwise.

Harris-Perry’s lack of judgment is secondary to a disturbing pattern she and so many other liberal commentators exhibit.

Liberal pundits have seemingly exchanged altruistic concerns for hyper-partisanship. In this case, Harris-Perry later apologized for using “poor judgment” in targeting an adopted black child to attack a private citizen with whom she disagrees politically.

But Harris-Perry also recently compared the term “ObamaCare,” a term still embraced by some supporters of the President’s health care takeover, to other “code words” meant to stoke racist animosity. The use of the names of presidents to create idiomatic terms — “Hooverville” and “Reaganomics,” to name two — takes place throughout history. Rather than understand this, she introduced race into the discussion.

Denouncing the term ObamaCare as racist and defending President Obama, who is likely very popular with her viewers, might increase ratings. But I do not see altruism in comparing the pain my grandparents and great-grandparents went through to typical critiques of a program Obama heartily embraces. I do not see how prostituting the pain of the past to protect the President helps our inner cities or our needy.

Along the same line of callousness, Harris-Perry compared incarcerating suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay to slavery. President Obama is the commander-in-chief and can, but has not, closed the prison. Does that make him a slaveholder? That criticism has yet to be made, and her support of Obama likely has something to do with it.

Challenges facing the African-American community are real and should not be exploited. Unfortunately, Harris-Perry’s words indicate a pattern.

Prostituting those challenges, an apparent lack of altruistic concern and the protection of the certain politicians (especially those who claim concern but fail to act effectively), along with exploiting the “wow” factor to prop poor ratings, is troubling and offensive.

This is thick on MSNBC. Whether it’s Harris-Perry’s favorite race joke panel discussion from last February, Toure’s use of the “n-word” or Chris Matthews’ assertion that he “forgot President Obama was black” in praising a speech, MSNBC’s commentators indicate that authentic concern doesn’t drive their advocacy.

In fact, Harris-Perry even hashtagged her own Twitter apology!

Perhaps ratings or partisanship explains the behavior. Even if so, her manipulation of issues facing African-Americans is still reprehensible.

It’s sad when commentators use their airtime to lodge partisan attacks, focus on gaffes by non-liberals, dismiss all opposing arguments (legitimate and otherwise) as being represented by those gaffes and thereby restrict a constructive debate.

This behavior cannot help to improve the lives of African-Americans. Viewers should realize this.

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Hughey Newsome, a business consultant in the D.C. area, is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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