A Shameful Attack on an Intelligent Black Woman: Salon Goes Too Far on Melissa-Harris Perry

In my review of Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry, I noted how much I appreciated Harris-Perry’s coverage of misrecognition of the “strong black woman.” It seems that Gene Lyons and the editors of Salon could stand to read Dr. Harris-Perry’s book.

In a piece entitled Obama’s bridge too far, Lyons launches an out-of-the-blue attack on Harris-Perry, using language to suggest that she is a race traitor, a Jezebel, and a kind of reverse-Klansman. Shame on Salon for publishing the piece. My hope is that the inevitable backlash will open some more eyes to the intolerable misrecognition of black women in American society, and to the function of shame around black women in the political sphere.

It is almost laughable how Lyons follows Harris-Perry’s script for the shaming of black women in public life to a T. Rather than attacking her argument alone on its face, he suggests Harris-Perry doesn’t belong in politics–that she is “whining,” a PhD “trained to find racist symbols in the passing clouds,” and hyper-focused on race to the point that she can’t be taken seriously. Lyons dangerously frames race as a topic that is not matter for serious discussion, reminding the reader of conservative pleas to “colorblindness” in 2008.

“Furthermore, unless you’re black, you can’t possibly understand. Yada, yada, yada. This unfortunate obsession increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought.” Black solidarity becomes an object of derision, a reverse racism in a colorblind (read, white-by-default) world. Harris-Perry’s legitimate substantive critiques of Obama, her nuanced way of looking at his administration, are ignored.

I find it particularly funny that Lyons calls Harris-Perry “a left-wing Michele Bachmann, an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune by saying silly things on cable TV,” in light of Harris-Perry’s comments at a recent Center for American Progress book discussion. She pointed out (to paraphrase) that despite derision, mocking, and the fact that nothing positive is ever said by the majority about it, black women continue to do amazing, beautiful, remarkable, creative things with their hair. There’s a parallel here–Lyons tries to shame Harris-Perry about her attractive looks, as if being attractive and intelligent were a mortal sin for a black woman, automatically reducing her words to silliness on a Bachmann scale, but I bet you anything Harris-Perry is going to go on being vocal about politics and being a snappy dresser despite Lyons’ attempts to shame her.

We cannot accept identity-based attacks like this in a supposedly progressive publication. As a long-time reader, I demand an apology from Salon–and suggest that its editors crack open a copy of Sister Citizen post haste.

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About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on September 29, 2011, in race and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That article is a hot mess. I’ll take “missing the point” for $2000, Alex. He just fundamentally doesn’t understand that (a) the dynamics of power and oppression make what Dr. Harris-Perry says fundamentally different from Bachmann and the KKK (and I mean, seriously!?) and (b) race matters in this election, regardless of whether we’re talking about it–so we might as well talk about it and really understand it. YEESH.

  2. She calls liberals whose support for Obama is waning, “racist” and you’re concerned that they’re labeling her?

    If she writes a dumb article, why do I have to read her book to know how smart she really is? Just have her retract the dumb parts of her article is enough for me.

    Obama’s been a disappointment from a watered-down industry-friendly health package that didn’t lower costs, to Wall Street giveaways, to not stopping mortgage scams, to continuing the non-sensical Mideast wars on terror to allowing drilling in the Gulf just before the months long BP oil gush, to extending tax cuts for the rich, to allowing/pushing attacks on Medicare that push up the age 2 years.

    You don’t have to be racist to be heavily disgusted with all that.

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