TheGrio's 100: Melissa Harris-Perry, bringing race and politics to the forefront

Melissa Harris-Perry is a political science professor, public speaker, author and columnist with a focus on race, gender and politics. She is currently a professor at Tulane University, a founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South, and has previously served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton University.

Born to a black father — who was the dean of Afro-American studies at the University of Virginia — and a white mother, Harris-Perry has said she considers herself black, not biracial.

Harris-Perry is a highly sought after political commentator. Her regular television appearances on MSNBC and NBC have provided viewers with an insightful perspective on racial and religious issues, U.S. elections and gender concerns. Her success on television resulted in MSNBC creating a new, two-hour show for her, which will run on the weekends.

Her latest book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, was released last September.

Melissa Harris-Perry is making history … as a leading expert on race and politics and the intersection of the two. In addition to her media and public speaking appearances, Harris-Perry writes a column for The Nation magazine called “Sister Citizen.” In 2009, she became the youngest scholar to deliver the prestigious W.E.B. Du Bois lecture at Harvard University.

What’s next for Melissa?

After guest-hosting for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and appearing on MSNBC and NBC for years as a political contributor, Harris-Perry is getting her own weekend show on MSNBC. The show will begin on Feb. 4 and run from 10 a.m. to noon EST.

In her own words …

“Resource disparity work is real political work,” Harris-Perry said in a Book TV speech about her book Sister Citizen. “Running for office is real political work. Being on the school board is real political work. But it’s also real political work to just try to find one’s authentic sense of self in a social, political and historical environment that is going to keep giving you back negative images, and crooked ones.”

A little-known fact about race and politics …

Non-Hispanic whites and blacks had the highest percentage of voter turnout during the 2008 presidential elections, with 66 percent of whites and 65 percent of blacks casting ballots. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics each had a 4 percent increase in voter turnout that year compared to the 2004 presidential election, according to the U.S. Census.

For more information about Melissa Harris-Perry, click here.


theGrio: What’s next in this chapter of your life?

Melissa Harris-Perry: This is an extraordinarily busy and exciting time. In February 2012, I will begin hosting a weekend political show on MSNBC. I will continue teaching at Tulane University in New Orleans during the week. I suppose this means that a lot of frequent flyer miles are in my immediate future!

What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?

My Twitter followers have probably noticed my obsession with the New Orleans Saints, but people may not know that I have been a football fan all my life. I was even a cheerleader in middle school and high school, primarily so I could get the best view of the games.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary.” -Jessamyn West

Where do you get your inspiration?

My husband, James, is the most inspiring person in my life. His kindness, commitment, intellect and humor seem effortless, but I know it is the result of James constantly renewing his determination to serve his family and community. I have never known anyone quite like him.

Who are/were your mentors?

I have been blessed to receive support from many people along my path. Dr. Maya Angelou was my college advisor and hugely influential in my early twenties. In graduate school, I was surrounded by a terrific committee, headed by the world’s best dissertation advisor, Professor John Brehm. In my first years as a young faculty member, Professors Michael Dawson and Cathy Cohen provided me great support and advice. These days I have Reverend Al Sharpton, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell at MSNBC as helping guides through the media world.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s craving to achieve their dreams?

There is no success without failure.