The Blackest Questions

Inspiring Black Women in Academia, Politics & Beyond

Episode 24

Award-winning journalist, host, author, and educator Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, has the tables turned on her on The Blackest Questions. She talks about her close and profound relationship with the late Maya Angelou and the roles of Black women throughout politics and history. 


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black podcast network Black Culture Amplified. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi and welcome to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guests five of the Blackest Questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s how this works. We have five rounds of questions about us. Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black fist and they’ll hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. And after the five questions, there’ll be a Black bonus round at the end just for fun. And I like to call it Black Lightning. So our guest for this episode is writer, professor, radio host and political commentator, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou presidential chair and professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs in the Department of Women and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Wake Forest University. She’s the founder and president of the Anna Julia Cooper Center and a longtime columnist and contributor to the Nation. She’s also the host of The Takeaway on Public Radio. And from 2012 to 2016, you may remember, she hosted the television show Melissa Harris-Perry Show on Weekend Mornings on MSNBC and was awarded the Hillman Prize for broadcast Journalism. She pens regular columns for Essence and the Nation and served as editor at large for and Zora, a medium publication for Women of Color. I am so honored to welcome Melissa to the Blackest Questions. Thank you so much for joining me. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:01:45] There is no way I understood what this was. I should have definitely not and said yes to this, but this is going to be fun. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:54] You know, because you’ve been a mentor and a friend for so long. And, you know, part of my political science foundation is because of you. But, you know, we like to do interesting things. That’s what I learned from you. And so when theGrio approached me and said, you know, there are a lot of podcasts out there. There are a lot of good podcasts out there. Let’s try and add to the bunch. But this is a little bit of a game show. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:02:17] No way I understood that. But okay, here we are. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:20] Here we are. And we’re going to have fun because my argument is that Black history is American history, and there’s so much about our history that we don’t know, but other folks don’t know. So this is an opportunity for us to have some fun, ask some questions and educate the public while we’re learning a little bit more about my fabulous guest, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry. And I wanted you to tell me a little bit more, though, about the Anna Julia Cooper Center, because I think a lot of folks know who Maya Angelou is and you’re the Maya Angelou chair at Wake Forest. But a lot of people don’t know who Anna Julia Cooper is. So could you walk us through who she was? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:02:58] I think the easiest way to describe who Anna Julia Cooper is, who she was, is she is the girl, W.E.B. Du Bois. She’s the woman W.E.B. Du Bois. That’s not quite right. There’s lots of ways that’s wrong. But I do think it kind of helps people to situate sort of who she is. I think the key things to know about Anna Julia Cooper is that she was writing, thinking, speaking and contributing to the Black public sphere during the same time that we often think of as like the Booker T Washington W.E.B. Du Bois debate. And when we talk about that so-called debate as though it’s just between these two, to be fair, two truly great male thinkers, we often leave out people like Ida B. Wells and Anna Julia Cooper. Anna Julia Cooper was an educator. She was born into the system of slavery here in North Carolina, where I live, but then grew up into of a period of immediate post emancipation. She became an educator and taught at the M Street School in D.C. So we claim her a little bit in North Carolina. D.C. definitely claims her. When I say that she was the Du Bois, she believed that so-called ordinary young Black folk who others thought weren’t capable of intellectual, philosophical, theoretical, scholarly engagement, she believed that they were, and she educated them towards that. But like many women who are great, she was actually pushed out of her role of leadership and took the moment of being pushed out of leadership, she actually went over to Paris and wrote a dissertation in French at the Sorbonne. Become one of the first Black women to receive and earn a Ph.D. She ultimately ended up coming back to D.C. and the M Street School. But, you know, the center down here in North Carolina was originally affiliated with Wake Forest University. Like Anna Julia Cooper I was pushed out of campus at one point under our previous provost, but we continue to exist as a Independence center that convenes and brings together and amplifies, particularly girls and women of color in the academy. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:17] Absolutely. I know quite a few people have passed through the Anna Julia Cooper Center. And so this is the long legacy of you supporting and uplifting Black women, present company included. Okay. So I’m super excited to have you here. Are we ready to play the Blackest Questions? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:05:34] I guess so.  

Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:37] Don’t be nervous. Okay. Question number one. And they start off somewhat easy and they get a little more difficult. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:05:42] Okay. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:42] Question number one, known for this famous quote, quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Who said this quote?

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:05:55] Was that Dr. Angelou? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:56] It absolutely was born April 4th, 1928. Marguerite Ann Johnson, known to the world as Maya Angelou, was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. A poet, dancer, singer, activist and scholar. Maya Angelou was a world famous author. She’s best known for her unique and pioneering autobiographical writing style. She’s perhaps most best known for a bestselling, award winning autobiographical book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I think a lot of us read that middle school and high school about her upbringing in the South, and this book is a testament to the need for the resilience in the face of discrimination and never hesitant to speak her mind like someone else I know. Angelou passionately defended the rights women, young people and the ignored. She ever effortlessly traversed the worlds of literature and activism, becoming a confidante to the original civil rights leaders, their successors and current and future generations. Maya Angelou died May 28th, 2014, at the age of 86. So we know that you are the Maya Angelou presidential chair at Wake Forest in the Department of Politics and International Affairs. How did that come to be? And tell us a little bit more about your relationship with Maya Angelou and this and this chair? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:07:09] Yeah, it’s how I knew it was her. I was like, I’m pretty sure that was her because the like, “Do Better” sounds like a very Dr. Angela thing to say. Come on now, do better. But also a little bit of grace and forgiveness that, you know, you don’t do better until you know better. Dr. Angelou was a professor here at Wake Forest University from the late 1980s until she passed in 2014. I came through Wake Forest as an undergraduate student. I was a student here from 1990 to 1994. I took courses with Dr. Angelou and was actually her student assistant. I was her student assistant, it’s a bit of a bizarro story about how that all happened. Basically, I was pledging my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, in the spring of 1992. Just walking around on campus, maybe not wearing sufficient clothing. We won’t talk about why. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:03] Youth is for the young. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:08:04] You know, I was wearing a t shirt in, you know, December and January, got bronchitis, had a treatment that ended up causing a systemic allergic reaction and went to drop all my classes. So here I am, like 17 years old, and I am standing flat footed telling Maya Angelou that I’m dropping her class. And the appropriate response to that should have been like, “Bye bye, little Melissa Harris.” But instead, her response to me was, “Aren’t you a scholarship student? How are you going to keep your scholarship if you drop your classes?” And she invited me to come that summer to go to summer school and to work for her. So I was working for her that summer and then into the fall, which for folks who know fall of 1992 is when Bill Clinton won the U.S. presidency, which is whatever. But what’s important to know is that then in January of 1993, Maya Angelou gave the inaugural poem on the Pulse of Morning. And I was the person answering her fan mail at the time. So I had this opportunity to experience her world changing power through her words. So when I came back, I accepted an offer to come back to Wake Forest as a faculty member. I graduated in 94. Went off did my other academic life, and then I made a decision to come back and I was slated to start July 1st 19 excuse me, July 1st, 2014. And Dr. Angelou died in May of 2014. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:36] Did it feel like a true passing of the baton? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:09:39] You know, I was so angry at first because a lot of why I wanted to come back was I was at this stage of my career, I was about halfway through, I didn’t know at the time, but halfway through hosting MHP show, I felt a little lost. I really felt like I needed my mentor again. I was coming back because she felt so full of life and I thought, this is a good time to come back and experience that. And instead, in true Dr. Angelou style, she stepped aside and was like, “No, girl, you have to figure this out for yourself.” So it did and it didn’t. I am definitely not Maya Angelou in so many ways, she was much more gracious than I am. Cursed a lot less in public space. But but, you know, she did give me all the tools I needed and it was right to come back at that time. And so the joy is that I carry her name in my title. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:28] Well, I think, you know, it’s interesting that you say tools, because when I think of you in political science and you’ve been such a mentor to me and so many others, I think that is, you know, and I had a dinner the other night with another mentor and friend of both of ours, Jane Junn. You know, I think it’s one of those those pieces where it is I try and be a mentor. What you can give people are the tools and what they decide to build with it. You just have to kind of let them go and be out there and do it and let them stumble sometimes and, you know, hit their thumb in and other times just see what beautiful monuments they can they can build. When you’re when you’re sort of in these kind of cloudy phases. What Maya Angelou book or poem do you pick up for inspiration or a little bit of a flashlight in the storm? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:11:14] I think it depends. You know, I’ve read many, many pieces of her work sort of multiple times. But I’ll say it in a funny way. It’s less her writing, which I always discover something new when I go back to it, especially Caged Bird. Like as as powerful as there are these sort of particular moments in Caged Bird. Like, I’ll forget others. So right now I’ve been spending a lot of time in Caged Bird in the section where she is living with her grandmother, who, you know, I read it and read it and read it. But the idea that Annie Henderson actually owned that land in in Arkansas in Stamps, I had not fully connected to. But now I’m doing work around land and farming and agriculture, Black women. So every time I come back to her, I find something new. But what I’ll say is it’s more that as her student, she taught us in a way that I think of almost as like an Anglo catechism. There were things that she repeated over and over again, and I think any Wake Forest student who took her classes in the nineties is probably right up until her passing will tell you this. But one of the I think there are two I come back to often. One is that courage is the most important virtue because without courage you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can be kind, but you can’t be consistently kind. You can be honest, but you can’t be consistently honest. So any virtue, any good that you want to do in the world will require your courage in order to do it consistently. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:12:36] So I often remind myself that doing the scary thing is necessary to practice the the courage muscle. And the other one is and this one can be hard, especially in this environment, just to say to us, and this is drawing on other Western and Eastern philosophers that I am human and therefore nothing human can be alien to me. And I think for me, the the the power of this in particular was, you know, you’ll hear often now if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. And she would tell us exactly the opposite. She was like, if any human did it, like the great sort of contribution of Black folks was that we often did things we’d never seen before, right? And that sitting around waiting for a role model is that that whatever greatness there is, you are capable of that greatness. But the warning is also whatever horror there is, whatever evil, whatever cruelty, you are also capable of that. So this is a woman who. Who was raped as a child. Like as a baby girl. Right. As like an 8 year old. And she says there are no monsters. There are only humans. And so all of us have within us the power of greatness and of horror. And it’s a question of what you nurture and lean into because you are human and therefore nothing human can be alien to you. So you’re not allowed to call people animals, you’re not allowed to call people monsters. Everyone is human. And so you got to check in on yourself. Am I leaning into the part of me that is monstrous or great? And so I come back to that a lot. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:16] Hmm. Well, I mean, I think about that, You know, when we write about and discussed U.S. chattel slavery and those people weren’t extraordinary. They were behaving as American citizens in some of the horrific things that they did. And and some of the courageous people, Black and white, who helped emancipate us in so many different ways were just human beings. And they weren’t superheroes either. And just acting on your first part, which is the courage to do what is right, even in the face of extreme odds. Oh, I love speaking to you. We’re going to take just a quick break. And when we come back, I’m going to finish my conversation with Melissa Harris-Perry as we play the Blackest Questions? Okay, we’re back. Melissa, are you ready for question number two? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:15:12] Okay. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:13] You’re killing the game so far, so let’s do it. Which American City campus saw the origins of an African-American studies program originally called the Black Studies Department and is now known as the Africana Studies Department. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:15:27] Was that UC Irvine? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:29] Close. San Francisco College, which is now known as San Francisco State University. So you’re on the right coast. And it’s the first Black Studies department was started at San Francisco State College in 1968. Nathan Hare, professor at San Francisco State University, founded the first Black Studies program, which a year later became a full fledged department. Nathan Hare was widely regarded as the father of Black Studies. He was born in slick Oklahoma on April 9th, 1933, at African-American Studies, also known as Black Studies, is an entire multidisciplinary field that analyzes and treats the past and present culture, achievements, characteristics and issues of the people of African descent in North America, the Diaspora and Africa. So you were on the right coast. And but as we think about, you know, the Bay Area and all the contributions, I sometimes, you know, I got to admit, Melissa, I’m a Northeastern girl. And so I think sometimes even, you know, the South, I can get a little wonky and, you know, have amnesia of the greatness that is in the South. But I will say I definitely have blinders when it comes to the contributions of our brothers and sisters west of the Rockies. I got to say it, and I’m trying to work on it. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:16:42] I don’t really I don’t really miss the Black folks from California except like three of them. Like like one of my favorite humans on the entire planet is Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. And Alicia is so many things I normally don’t truck with. Like, I really don’t usually mess with Capricorns. I usually don’t really, like, hang out with people from, you know, from the Bay. I’m just not really for those people, not that I’m against them, but I’m just like, culturally, we just don’t vibe. But I love that woman profoundly. So, you know, every once in a while. But, you know, the reason I know that the reason I’m embarrassed to have missed which California campus it was, is because I teach Martha Biondi’s Black Revolution on campus. I still teach that in my Black Lives Matter class. And and so I do I feel like I should call Martha than say I’m sorry because I teach her book and yet somehow screwed up my California campus. But I’m really a Southerner. Like, I know you’re Northeast girl. Me, I’m a Southerner. So if you ask me where some happened, I’m like, North Carolina. Birmingham,. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:49] Right. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:17:51] Occasionally I will acknowledge that something happened in Atlanta, but I try not to think about it too much. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:56] Yeah, well, you know, and when I thought about let’s just say, because I want to get to your lesson plan in a second, but when you know, when I thought about see someone like Kamala Harris coming from, you know, California as a Democratic Party, we haven’t seen candidates for the presidency and vice presidency come from west of the Rockies. So even that idea of Democratic leadership coming from the West Coast because, you know, Republicans have had Nixon, they’ve had Reagan. But, you know, we as a party don’t really mess with West Coast folks in our leadership anyway. I know she spent some time on the East Coast, but I do think I just feel like Black people on the West Coast and I know our listeners can make wait what? But I feel like Black people on the West Coast just feel like different Black people. They feel like they’re from a different country than than Black Americans on the East Coast because East Coast and Southerners have so many shared relatives and experiences. You know, there’s so many people from New York who had to go down south every summer. You know, I had my my people are from Florida, originally from Tennessee. So, you know, I feel this shared connection between the Northeast and the South. When I think about West Coast Black folks, I’m like, oh, those are like distant, distant cousins from like Mars. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:19:08] I ain’t gonna say too much on the vice president. I’m not just let that one. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:11] We’re going to keep a trucking? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:19:12]  I’m keep, keep moving I’m around this I can’t cause. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:17] Yeah that’s that’s a that’s a different podcast episode. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:19:20] Different podcast episode. But, but I will say the President Obama was actually from Hawaii and that as much as he talked the narrative of being a skinny kid from the South Side, he was not a skinny kid from the Southside. Michelle Obama is a. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:34]  Skinny kid from Southside. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:19:36] But Barack Obama is actually from the west west, like whale west. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:39] You are not from continental U.S. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:19:40] Like middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:41] You’re not from the continental U.S. You are not from the 48 contiguous. So here we are. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:19:47] That’s right. So he’s west. West. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:49] Yes. I mean, as I work on this book project, you know, about Barbara Jordan and Fannie Lou Hamer and Stacey Abrams, you know, and thinking about Black women in the U.S. South, you know, it is not lost on me that the Black president that we’ve had is from Hawaii and the Black vice president is from California. Neither one of them are Black Americans. You know, both of them have one parent who is not African-American or who is not Black. And neither one of them have African-American parents who are descendants of us, chattel slavery, all these things, you know, and that by no means my supporting ADOS and, you know, they’re sort of anti Black immigrant shenanigans. However, I will say that there is something about Black American identity that I’m really interested in, as is in Black ethnics. But I am interested in kind of, you know, the original sin of America and how we still grapple with it in the 21st century. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:20:38] And look, I will say it’s funny. As you started talking, I was like, oh, actually there is a whole crew of Black West Coast folks who I do adore and they all hold office in Congress. So like everybody love Auntie Maxine Waters and I mean, obviously our girl, the first woman to hold the mayoralty in the city of Los Angeles, is just bringing it all. Barbara Lee is like life and joy and light and goodness. So I probably overstated. I think maybe what I realize I just said when I was talking about not messing with Black folks from the West Coast, is that not really a West Coast rap girl like I. I think that’s it is like for me, Dre and Snoop, and there’s like, okay, whatever. But I don’t  love love them now. I mean. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:25] But then there’s Kendrick. I was and I will say. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:21:28] I’m not a Kendrick girl, but I do like Too Short. But I’m old. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:31] And I still think Snoop’s first album was one of the greatest. It’s in my top ten. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:21:35] And I like Snoop now. I like I like the version and I like grown up version of Snoop. 

[00:21:39] You like Grandpa Snoop. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:21:40] I like Grandpa Snoop, who’s like I’m about to live. I’m trying to live. I’m trying to live. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:45] Like, listen, I’m going to shill any product you want me to shield these hair ties and bonnets, I’ll do it. Dog food. Cat food. Let’s do it. Like he’s just like I’m out here. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:21:54] I appreciate Grandpa Snoop. I’m for him. Yeah. I realize that there actually, there is a there’s a tradition of Black political leaders, particularly congressional leaders from Cali, who I do have like serious, you know, love for. So Karen Bass, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters. They’d all be at the top. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:17] Well, I have all these other questions for you, but I do want to stick to Karen Bass for a second because I am I’m so excited. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:22:24] She did that. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:22:25] She did that. And you know, what’s interesting is and I do want to get your thoughts on this. So when she sworn in, in the four largest American cities, we will have Black leaders. Two Black women, two Black men. So we’ve got Mayor Adams in New York City. We will have Karen Bass in L.A., Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, and Sylvester Turner in Houston. All of whom are the second Black electeds in their respective cities. But I think they’re all going to represent very different Black leadership styles. And as someone who lives in New York with Eric Adams, who, you know, to be fair, it hasn’t even been a year, but he he slides across the ideological spectrum. He is very comfortable with conservative ideals. He’s very comfortable with moderates. And he’s also sometimes comfortable with progressive policy positions, depending on, you know, if it suits him at the time. So he’s he I sort of see him as one of those, you know, those ice skaters who in the Winter Olympics again. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:23:27] Oh, you said he, Shani Davis. He’s like. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:29] Yes, that’s who I thinking of. So I see him as a Shani Davis type. You know, with Lori Lightfoot, you know, she comes from I would say a lot of people kind of put her in that kind of like Kamala Harris bucket of female leadership, you know, a little draconian sometimes when it comes to past policies, practices and statements. Sylvester Turner seems a little different. I don’t really know as much about him. And Houston is the only southern of the four. And then Karen Bass, I think, you know, in her role as a member of Congress, it’s going to be very different than someone who’s a leader of a city, an executive of the city. We sort of haven’t seen that. She’s an amazing work on the continent of Africa and her leadership with the CBC. But you know as well who said it. You know, LBJ, my favorite president, always said, you know, when he was dealing with Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam and like the world was on fire and the United States was on fire, and he’s like, “Hey, it could be worse. I could be mayor.” Right. And we know that the job of a mayor is so hard and especially dealing with the white press in your city and your budget that’s tied to your state budget and the federal government, sometimes you’re dealing with the state house, that that isn’t very supportive. Even if they’re the same party. They don’t really like the major city in their states. They feel like we suck all the resources as New Yorkers or Chicagoans or folks from L.A. So what are you going to be looking at, not just with Karen Bass, but with these four Black leaders of these four major cities? Because I’m really still kind of grappling with the descriptive versus substantive representation that we’re about to see. You know, are we really going to see changes in these cities, even though we’ve got four Black leaders of the four largest cities in the country? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:25:10] Look, I mean, you’re a political scientist. You know what this week on the syllabus on Black mayors. You know, the first thing you read on your Black mayors week of your graduate syllabus in political science is you read the hollow prize theory, right? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:25:25] Just taught that this semester. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:25:26] Of course you did. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:27] But I didn’t. You know what, but as a side note, Melissa, I never read a single Black scholar on a syllabus my entire two and a half years of coursework in graduate school. I just want to put that out there. Not a single one. Not even Michael Dawson. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:25:40] What? 

[00:25:42] Yes, go ahead. I’m a self-taught Black scholar. This is why, when I say you’ve been a mentor. When I talk about people like Dorian Warren or Jane Junn or Mark, the late Mark Sawyer or Vince Hutchings. Yes, I’m I’m for our listeners out there, I’m shouting out different Black political scientists and Jane Junn, honorary Black political scientist. Not a single African American scholar. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:26:02] Jane know she’s honorary Black folk. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:03] Yes, she does. I tell her that all the time. 

[00:26:06] I love Jane. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:06] Because you’ve got enough women of color, especially Black women who you’ve helped in the academy. So, yeah, she she’s ours. We’re claiming her in the racial draft. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:26:16] I don’t know if the API community going let us know that. I know they’re going to fight me on this one, but she’s my first pick. 

[00:26:22] Oh, man, I love Jane. Look, I’m a little gobsmacked because you’re younger than me, Chris. And the idea. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:26:28] That you. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:26:28] Came I mean, I came through at Duke University at a place I was the first Black woman to. To earn a Ph.D. in that political science department. And they have Black folks on the syllabus. So that is that is malpractice. But I but I will say, you know, when I when I took political science as a as a grad student at Duke, my faculty member with whom I took urban politics was Marion or who is African-American. He’s a scholar of urban politics. I remember reading Halo Prize. And just for folks who are not political scientists, the whole prize is a theory that when we first began to see African-American leadership in major cities, which actually began kind of in the in the Midwest, in Gary, Indiana, for example, and so not Chicago, but many other of these large Midwestern cities, and obviously, of course, Detroit, that these cities sort of threw up Black executive leadership at the same time that leading these cities was more of a hollow prize, which is to say, at the same time, in the in the 1970s, early 1980s, as the economic base of these cities was hollowing out because of white flight, which lowered the tax base and also because of the changing infrastructure around manufacturing, which meant that many of these cities like lost their major corporations. Right. So here you’re the mayor, but you’re the mayor of a city that has less. Right. And so what political scientists found was that Black mayors made that the primary difference they made was symbolic or descriptive in terms of representation. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:28:09] They did appoint more Black folks to appointed positions and that more Black folks chose to run for office. And more Black voters turned out in cities where there was Black political leadership. But when it came to a redistribution of municipal goods, that that didn’t really happen under Black mayors, that, if anything, maybe maybe fire departments became a little bit more responsive in Black communities, but that basically all of the things that constrained a white mayor, constrained even more so a Black mayor who had fewer resources. So I think for me, as I’m looking at this, I’m like, well, okay, this is the 1980s, right? Los Angeles isn’t a city hollowing out, right? The city was actually a pretty robust tax base and a city that has moved from manufacturing into a new sort of era. Same thing with Houston. And, you know, New York, for all of its challenges, ain’t a place where people aren’t paying taxes. I mean, that’s right. There’s a tax base. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:09] Our real estate situation is booming. That and the fact that we have so many universities that are essentially real estate agents that teach kids on the side, we’re we’re not. Going to fall anytime. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:29:19] Although, you know, the problem with that, though, I mean, I may now you just touch on like I spent all day on this is when when universities who are, of course, almost always nonprofits on land, they don’t pay taxes. No, they don’t. And so they actually do hollow out cities. So we can talk about universities and their the responsibility they have to the communities that they starve to death with their property ownership. That said, I will I will be watching to see the ways that that hollow prize either is or not, is not enacted. I’m sure there is a political scientist somewhere who’s going to write maybe less about the hollow prize and more about the big ass mess. Can you say ass on theGrio, right? So, you know, the big ass mayors are like, instead of thinking of Black mayors as having inherited cities that are hollow. Instead, they’ve inherited cities that are a mess and so who do you what do you get when something is a mess? You go get the domestic help. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:19] The cleanup woman. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:30:20] Right. The cleanup woman and the cleanup man. I think the really other really important difference in these cities, in Chicago, in New York, in L.A. and in Houston, is that Black ain’t the only nonwhite game in town and that the really critical questions, I think, are to call it the West Wing issue. Right. The idea that, like Jimmy Smits becomes the first president of color in the West Wing. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:46] Yes. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:30:47] You get a Latino president before you get a Black president in sort of Hollywood imagination. And so in a very similar way, I think and certainly for Karen Bass, this is going to be the question. And that is, yes, there’s a overarching white power structure. But the really big question of the Black-brown power structure, how a how a mayor manages that not only substantively, but also symbolically and what that’s going to mean for a broader Black politics as it engages a rising Brown politics in the U.S. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:20] Oh, brilliant. I can’t wait to have you back on once we have a little bit more time with Karen Bass as mayor and discuss. Okay. So we’re going to take a quick commercial break. You’re listening to the Blackest Questions. I’m here with Melissa Harris-Perry. Okay, We are back. Melissa, are you ready for question number three? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:31:42] I am. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:43] Okay. He’s going to be the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress. He recently became the first African-American in a top leadership role in U.S. Congress. Who is he? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:31:55] This would be Representative Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, New York. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:31:59] Brookyln is in the house. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:00] So Hakeem Sekou Jeffries is an American politician and attorney who serves as U.S. representative for New York’s eighth Congressional District since 2013. He’s a member of the Democratic Party, and he represents a district that covers parts of eastern Brooklyn and southwestern Queens in New York City. The House Democratic Caucus elected Representative Hakeem Jeffries to lead their caucus. He ran unopposed for the position of House Democratic leader, and he’ll be replacing Representative Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of California, who announced she would not run for the top leadership post after Democrats lost control of the House in the midterms, largely due to the failures in New York State, by the way. But Hakeem Jeffries noted how his confirmation landed on the birthday of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman ever elected to Congress. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:44] So, Melissa, you know Hakeem Jeffries, You know, I represent Brooklyn to the fullest. And I love Biggie. I was just at the Philharmonic listening to the music of Biggie Smalls. Hakeem Jeffries is a huge Biggie Smalls fan, keeping his legacy alive, which I thoroughly appreciate. But I got a little blowback from some of my dear friends and colleagues in New York when we were talking about the possibility of Hakeem Jeffries just a month ago. Because everyone’s excited. Everyone’s excited about Hakeem Jeffries in this new leadership position. He’s the first African-American to hold this position, even though it’s minority leadership. We could possibly gain the majority in 2024, depending on how voting goes. I say all that to say when I was given this, you know, it’s Hakeem. Yay! Dancing in the streets. We get it. I said, I’ll get there, but I’m not there and I will get excited. But what I don’t like are coronation. And I felt like this was a coronation. And white folks have coronations all the time. That’s great. And I’m not trying to take that away from him because he’s African-American. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:48] But as a member of the Democratic Party, I don’t like when people run unopposed. I think that if I were given an option of Hakeem Jeffries and others, I might come to the conclusion. Now, granted, we’re not voting for Hakeem Jeffries. He’s his colleagues are voting for him. But if we were told as voters, as Democratic voters, here’s here are the three or four folks that we’re thinking about, I would then look and say, huh, based on their values and policies, the length of time and service and what they can do for the Democratic Party. I think I’m going to go with Hakeem. That makes sense to me. And I like the fact that I could sort of see the internal struggles of the party and the conversations they’re having. I don’t like people presenting me with a unanimous option, especially when it’s because of New York that the Democrats have lost control of the House. And so now we’ve got to Brooklynites Chuck Schumer, who remains, you know, Senate majority leader. Good for Chuck from Brooklyn. We get it. I’m not a fan of Chuck in this particular role. I think that he’s not built for this moment. I think he needs to be a little more LBJ, But that’s just me as a political scientist and a voter of New York State. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:57] But I don’t like when people present me with one option and they just say, Here’s the prize. This is actually you’re going to love it and it’s going to be great. And I just might love it and I’m sure it will be great. And I’m wishing him the best and I will support in whatever way I can as a Democratic voter. But I don’t like the process. I think the outcome is fine. I didn’t like the process. Am I just being a little too sensitive or do I have a point, especially since it’s basically because of New York that the Democrats didn’t have a clean sweep and we have a unified government. We now have divided government, which means the Republicans are going to take control of the House, dear listeners, and the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate and the presidency for the next two years. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:35:40] So. I don’t know if you can see I’m kind of light skinned, so I’m blushing a little bit on this one. So I just feel like I have to tell the truth. So Hakeem Jeffries has a younger brother, his name is Hasan Jeffries. He’s a professor of history at Ohio State University. You might notice if you look at his CV that he got his Ph.D. at Duke University in the late 1990s. I kind of was a little bit in love with Hasan Jeffries, oh, 25 years ago. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:08] I won’t tell. It’s just the two of us talking. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:36:13] Like he looks a lot like Hasan. And so even though I really know Hakeem like that, every time he’s on the TV, I have like a little like, oh, oh. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:21] You’re like the 80’s sitcom where it’s like. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:36:24] It’s terrible. I mean, to be clear, this is 20 years before I even, like, met my husband. He is, a Hasan is married with a lovely family. I am married with a lovely family. And not just like an a T.J. Holmes Amy Robach kind of way. Like it’s like, straight up, like, really.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:41] Out listeners can’t see this. But unfortunately, I was drinking water while Melissa said that, and we almost had a situation here on the podcast. That was true. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:36:50] I mean, it’s really it’s not a thing, but somehow it is. It’s just like one of those things where, like, you know, you break up with somebody when you’re like, whatever, 24, 25, you don’t really have to think about them again. And then. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:03] There they are on TV. everyday. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:37:05] His brother is the speaker of the house and you’re a Political Scientist. Oh, okay. So let me ,I just say all that to say. Full scale. Those are the words in the world. So I can’t really I don’t know. I just think it’s great and funny and hilarious. And I just hope basically that Hakeem gives Hasan a really hard time for the rest of their lives as brothers. Because I think you win the Brother war if you get to be the. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:31] If you get to be the speaker, yeah. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:37:32] If you get to be the speaker someday. Okay. So that’s all I’ll say about that. On the process piece, I guess. You know, it’s funny because this is a critique that I made of the Democratic primary process in 2016 very strongly. So I don’t like terms, I don’t like coronations, and I definitely did not like Hillary Clinton as a nominee. And not only did I not like Hillary Clinton as a nominee, to be clear, I don’t mean I don’t like her as a person, just lovely person. Actually. I think there’s a lot of evidence that she’s a really lovely person. I didn’t think she was a strong nominee. And I think that part of how she becomes the nominee and not a strong one or not as strong as I think she might have been was in fact, because there wasn’t a kind of robust process. But that, for me feels really different than leadership within the party. So I hear you 100%, about as a voter wanting to have a say in sort of who’s going to be on your ballot. I’m really I’m all for the most robust primary system at every level. I don’t know that I think that about party leadership, in part because I think that party is finally kind of the LBJ thing, right? Like I should think party leadership is about arm wrestling and backdoor dealing and who’s good enough to make everybody else sit down and who knows how, like all those pieces that actually aren’t about policy or positions or anything else, they’re about raw power. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:00] Raw power in politics. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:39:02] I actually won’t even like as even as a relatively informed sort of observer. I actually don’t know. Right. Is all those things that are going on inside of any given system. So in a certain way, like, you know, I could, for example, say, oh, I’m not a fan of Nancy Pelosi in some ways, but on the other hand, I mean, Sister Pelosi, she knows something about power. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:24] Anyone who knows me knows I love Nancy D’Alesandro. Well, you know Baltimore is my favorite city. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:39:33] Well, as she knows what power is, she knows how to wield it. She don’t really play when she has it. And so I think for me, when I look at Representative Jeffries, it’s less about where he stands on any given issue, which means it’s probably about the median Democrat, maybe a little left of the median Democrat. The median Democrat in the population probably little to the middle or even right of the median Democrats to the party. Hard to say, depending on age. But what does seem clear is at a certain point in his career, he decided, “Oh, I’m not going to be an outsider. I’m going to be an insider. I’m going to wield power.” And honestly, I guess when I think about party leadership, I want a power wielder. And so I don’t know what the story is back there. Again, it’s been a long time since I dated his brother, but I will say that alone is the thing that makes me feel fine. I mean, excited. I don’t know if I’ve ever been excited about a leader. But the final thing, though, I’ll say is I’m not sure I’d put it on New York, the loss of the leader, I mean, of the of the majority. I mean, I just I, you know, perhaps because I live in a gerrymander district and, you know, and as a North Carolinian watching these states who won additional seats because of growing Black and brown populations and then sent more Republicans to the House this time. I mean, sure New York. But I got to say, for me, I’m not so worried about New York’s representation in the U.S. House. I’m much more worried about the representation of southern Black and brown people who literally gave these states additional seats after the 2020 census, but then, because of redistricting, failed to gain more representation. And that I mean, I live in a in a district like I am represented by Virginia Fox. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:41:31] Mm hmm. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:41:32] Like, I don’t know if y’all know who Virgina Fox is, but the idea that she is my representative, I mean, I live in a very racially and economically diverse community. And the idea that we are represented by Virginia Fox is like indicative of of how little our vote matters. And then the district that was carved out that was meant to be a predominantly person of color district is represented by Kathy Manning, who is a Democrat, but is the white woman with very deep pockets who was able to basically come in, split the Black vote multiple ways, and then walk away with that, the Democratic nomination. And and so I don’t know. I think there’s plenty there is plenty to go. Look, I would point to Elaine Luria in the in in Virginia. Right. And let me say it this way, There’s someone to blame for for the house. And to the extent that that blame exists in the Democratic Party, I would put it squarely on the shoulders of the D triple C no, particularly on New York. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:45] Don’t even get me started. That’s for another podcast. Again, I basically need like 12 podcasts to talk about different things at different times. But hopefully we can have you back because, you know, we got to go to a quick commercial break, but I do want to do like at some point we need to do a deeper dive because, you know, New York lost a seat and that’s, you know, tied to the census. But also, you know, we we had a governor’s race where Kathy Hochul won, but by 5%, and she ran against Trump supporting election, denying January 6th supporting Republican that millions of New Yorkers thought was A-OK. And had he had a few more weeks, I think he could have gained on her. And so. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:43:26] You remember, Donald Trump is from New York, right? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:28] Yeah, But I do recall I did. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:43:31] Don’t be acting like we did that. We didn’t do that. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:34] Okay. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. I’m talking to Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, friend and mentor. And you’re listening to the Blackest Questions. Okay, We’re back. You’re listening to the Blackest Questions. Melissa, are you ready for question number four? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:43:52] Let’s do it. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:53] This American singer, Academy Award winning songwriter and actress of African, Cuban and Puerto Rican descent was cast at age 17 in the film Sparkle, becoming the film’s breakout star and went on to act in films such as Fame. Who was she? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:44:10] Irene Cara. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:44:12] I know the late Irene Claire. I hate to say it that way. The late Irene Cara, born March 18th, 1959, in New York City, more specifically in the Bronx. And she died November 26, 2022, and before landing an Oscar and Grammy Award for her work on the film Flashdance, Cara laid the foundation for her career, the 1970s children’s show The Electric Company. Oh, I remember that show. Her Broadway debut came in the original 1968 production of Maggie Flynn, where she appeared alongside Stephanie Mills. Sparkle was Cara’s breakout movie role when she played the title character in the 1976 film. In 1980, she received her first award nominations for her voice and acting as driving dancer Coco Hernandez in Alan Parker’s 1980 movie Fame. Alongside costar Debbie Allen. And her performance in singing led to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and a nod for Best Pop vocal performance for the title song. In Three Years After Fame, Cara got her next go to Emmy Award cycle as the voice behind the hit from the 1983 Flashdance, starring Jennifer Beals and Cara won the Academy Award for Flashdance. What a feeling. Along with songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey for Best Original Song. And it also won two Grammy Awards. So Fame and Flashdance, What a feeling. Spent six weeks at number one, and Cara was behind some of the most joyful high energy pop anthems of the 1980s. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:45:34] So this, you know, Melissa, this recent passing feels, I don’t know which is getting older or what, but this one hurt as far as being kind of a young Black woman. I remember and I was young when, you know, sort of fame and Flashdance were huge, but I definitely remember them in like a DNA level, you know, part of my musical upbringing, you know, when they talk about imprinted memories, that’s an imprinted memory. She is an imprinted memory. And I just wanted to hear your reflection on Irene Cara. I usually, you know, I haven’t read so many of the tributes thus far, but I think that what was also with it brings up an interesting set of conversations is because she also represented diaspora. And I think for a lot of us, it was the first time we’re looking at a Black girl who may or may not look like us, but we knew she was ours. But we also knew that there was something that bound us to her and some other people in a way that maybe as young Black girls we could necessarily identify, but we still knew that she was with us. Does that makes sense? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:46:44] I do. I mean, it does. I, I so many things to say about her. Yes, the binding to us. Also, though I was old enough again, I’m a bit older than you, maybe a lot older, but I’m older. But I also just remember being so jealous of her hair. Like, why does her hair do that? My hair won’t do that. And it was before there were a lot of public conversations about Black girl hair we were having. There were always a lot of private conversations about Black hair. We were having them. But I do remember feeling like, “Oh, man, I wish I could do that.” My hair did not do that. But here is what I remember most. And it’s it’s an odd kind of memory around around race in this sense. So I am the youngest of five siblings, but the sister closest to me in age is about six years older than I am. And and she is now a lawyer. She’s been a public defender in the San Francisco public defender’s office for like more than 25 years. She’s very accomplished, an extraordinary and wonderful. Before becoming an attorney, though, my sister was an extremely accomplished dancer. Got her undergraduate degree in dance, dance with professional company, dance with Hubbard St just even now has the best legs in the courtroom always. And she went to high school at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Now, I grew up in Virginia, but what happened was we saw Fame. Like we we got the film Fame. I was still relatively young, but my sister was, I think, maybe a first year high school student. And she was like, wait a minute, this exists. And then it turned out it didn’t exist just in New York. And also there was a version in D.C. which was within a bus trip of our house, and she literally took the bus up, tried out for the Duke Ellington School, and then left home at 16 and went to high school at the School of the Arts. It literally, like Irene Cara literally changed my household, changed my family. I do have to say one more thing, though. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:48:55] So this is my sister and my big crazy family who’s white. And I don’t mean she looks white. I mean her mom and her dad are white. My mother was white, my father’s Black. But both her mother and her father are white. And yet she also saw herself in Irene Cara. And let me tell you in, she went to Duke Ellington between 1981 and 1985, and I think she she might have been the only white girl. I mean, I’m pretty sure they called it the vanilla child the whole time she was there. But those those. Those years at Duke Ellington shaped who she was, shaped who we were like. We would go up for the performances, but at all points that was always like chasing Koko. It was like this vision that she received from that film, from from what was possible and what really fed her soul as an artist. And I think for me, that that is part of. Why? It was a tough loss that there was this Black girl piece. But I am nobody’s artist. My sister, who’s the white girl behind on the artist piece, and the idea that she was so extraordinarily transcendent that she was all of those things to both of us, I think is indicative of of just how powerful she is. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:50:18] Yeah. You know, and I danced a little when I was a kid. By no means was I, you know, touring in companies. But I do think that my early memory was a feeling of freedom when she danced. And I mean, I think maybe that’s why I still have a special place in my heart for Debbie Allen, even though, you know, Debbie Allen played like the harsh, you know, I just feel like she always had a stick and she was slam at it on the ground, you know, five, six, seven, eight. But like, I still see Debbie Allen and I’m like, ooh, you know. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:50:48] Yes. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:50:49] You know, like be on beat. Like Debbie Allen is going to get you. But I think that these early memories of these women of color who are just so strong and elegant, but there’s maybe this is a larger conversation about dance. And this is I still think about this was Maya Angelou. I know that people think about her as a scholar and a poet. And so many of us are introduced to her, obviously, through I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her poetry and on the Pulse of Morning. Yes, But I’ll never forget the first time I saw that picture of her in some sort of dance number. Yes. And she’s with like. Ashford and Simpson, I’m like what is happening to my mind. It’s like, Oh, yeah, Maya Angelou was the dancer.  

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:51:32] Those were her homies. Ashford and Simpson was her homies. Forever. Yes. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:51:36] And I think when I saw her legs and I was like oh, this kind of freedom, this like intellectual freedom that I feel from Maya Angelou, I’m now seeing in a physical photograph of her in this outfit and these legs, these little I mean, it’s like it’s always legs, right? It’s always the legs. And I think that they’ve always connected dance to a freedom. I mean, this is why I go see Alvin Ailey every, you know, holiday. This is why I’m a huge supporter of the Dance Theater of Harlem. There is something about watching our bodies be free, and I think that’s maybe what I miss so much about Irene Cara in this moment. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:52:16] Yeah. I mean, it’s a you know, I just for the take away, I just recently talked with Misty Copeland about her new book, which is about her mentor who sort of like paved the way in in classical. And in so many ways, we experience it right from an audience perspective as the freedom right, almost as flight as effortlessness. But of course, we know that it is it is the opposite of that, right? That it is grueling. It is painful. The tax that it takes on your body. You know, which maybe in many ways is also just indicative of the whole sort of performative aspect of Black girlhood. Right. So, I mean, you know, I’m sure people experience it, you know, with you as professor and as media host and as commentator, and they think, oh, like you just go and you just like. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:53:07] Effortlessness. Effortless, right? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:53:09] But it’s not. Like your feet hurt in the toe shoe of the scholarly world. You know. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:53:17] Or the sleepless nights worried about our democracy. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:53:20] Oh. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:53:21] All that. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:53:21] You be staying up thinking about it? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:53:23] Ma’am, I’m just like, what is happening to this country? It’s like, oh, the country, this country’s acting country. The same way with Chris, when Chris Rock said that tiger will tiger. I’m like American acting America. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:53:36] Yeah. Don’t let it keep you up at night, sis. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:53:38] I have a whole sleep hygiene regiment just to try and cleanse the spirit. Yeah, This country will not take me out. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:53:46] Yeah, there’s a lot of things you should stay up late at night for and worrying about American democracy should not. There’s plenty of time during the day to worry about American democracy. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:53:54] Every now and again it gets me, though. I got to be honest. Okay. We’re going to take a quick break. Melissa Harris-Perry is killing the game here today on the Blackest Questions. We’ll be right back. And we’re back. You’re listening to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer. I’m here with my dear friend, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa, are you ready for question number five? You’re on a roll. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:54:23] Okay, let’s do it. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:54:24] Okay. This Harvard graduate, author and historian, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and is credited for what is now called Black History Month. Who was he? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:54:38] Carter G. Woodson? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:54:39] Carter G. Woodson. The story Black History Month begins in Chicago. During the summer of 1915, an alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C., to participate in a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. And thousands of African-Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people have made since the destruction of slavery. And in February 1926, he launched the celebration of a historic week dedicated to teaching the cultural significance of the history of Black Americans. Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, celebrates the history of the diaspora or migration of African people and groups from across the globe. And while that looks different in each culture today, to simplify it, it’s a way of celebrating accomplishments and positive contributions to society made by people who migrated from or descended from Africa. And though its roots are from the United States and that’s what we’ll be focusing on today, it’s also observed in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. So it moved from a week to a month. Now, Melissa, do you do anything special for Black History Month? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:55:52] Girl, yes. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:55:52] Yeah. Listen, let our listeners know. What do you do? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:55:58] I make tuition for my children by giving lectures around the country. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:56:04] Keeping it 100. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:56:07] What do you mean? Like that is? Yes, that is the accurate response. Basically january, mid-January. Thank you, Dr. King, for being born after the Christmas holiday when the bills are due, right through February is when mama pays tuition. On the road. That is what Mama does. Look. You know, you can’t take a I mean, I’ve heard you say this before and and I love it because I do it as well. You know, everything is Black History Month for me. So, you know, you can’t take Intro American Gov with Christina Greer and not get it, you know from Black right Black American history perspective. And the same thing for me, right? I love to for example, like next semester. Excuse me. So, for example, like in the spring semester, I’ll be teaching a course called First Ladies, America’s First Ladies. And, you know, I think the word may be out now, but but often what will happen is, like, as I like to say, many of my tea drinking girls on campus will show up. You know, young women who are maybe, you know, majors in Art History or maybe their major is in the business school and they’re like, Oh, I’m going to come learn about the first ladies, and then, boom, they’re in class with me. And we’re reading about Sally Hemings and we’re like, doing the whole thing, right? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [00:57:24] And so, you know, on the one hand, no, I don’t do anything special in that. I you know, I’m a scholar who is always thinking about these questions, and I’m joking, but only a little bit about the resource question. I really do give a lot of public lectures during that time, but that is maybe indicative of kind of how our institutions work, right? That because I will point out that I am also appointed in the Department of Gender, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and I don’t give a lot of lectures in March, despite the fact that I absolutely could. But I often fall off the radar of institutions come Women’s History Month. But, you know, people think of you as, you know, Black scholar and therefore bring you out to give lectures during during February. So I’m never mad at it, not only because of the personal resource piece, but because really any time you have a platform, whether it is a class of, you know, 20 1st year students or whether it’s an hour and a half lecture on another campus or whether it is a daily radio show, whenever you have a platform, you know, for me, I see it as an opportunity to engage in, you know, the classroom work. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:58:38] Mm hmm. Absolutely. I mean, everything we do is sprinkled and laid in a foundation of Black history. You know, what I’ve started to do is just really think about February and March as Black Women’s History Months. Plural. Plural. And so I’ve just been trying to learn a lot more about Black people. You know, I mean, we do this all the time, but there’s only been so many moments in a day, but for February and March, I’ve been trying to be a lot more deliberate to learn about Black women in particular for the month of Black History Month in Women’s History Month. Because, you know, when you think about someone, you know, we started this conversation with Anna Julia Cooper, I mean, she was never on my radar as a child necessarily. Wasn’t until I got older and you hear about, you know, Pauli Murray, you know, the great legal scholar and legal mind, you know, Constance Baker Motley, who’s, you know, a judge and was the Manhattan borough president in New York City, you know, before David Dinkins was the Manhattan borough president and he became the first Black mayor of New York City. So you think about these Black women, you know, during a very different time who went against incredible odds. And, you know, you and I have been in these institutions for a long time, but these women were in these same institutions with even fewer fewer Black women, Black people, you know, probably no Black instructors depending on where they went. And so I think it’s just really important for me to I’m just trying to be a lot more deliberate. So, you know, I joined a Black bank. I donated to an HBCU. There’s a whole rubric that I have that for me from Black History Month. It’s like, okay, Greer, it’s time to just make sure you know, as busy as you are, we get to brush up on this Blackity Blackness. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:00:16] Do do your listeners know that you actually have multiple of these crazy rubrics that you pass around to your friends and family and your email list and you make us do all this? I mean, I don’t really know if y’all Grio folks know that Chrissy is like a little like, ball of self-improvement. Like, and she’ll send you a list, like, all right, so this week we’re going to get on the peloton while we learn French so that we can get our Francophone West African context together. And we’re going to read these four books and you’re like, “Girl, really? Like this week we’re doing that?”. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:00:49] And you know what? And I’ll, I’ll, I’ll post it for our listeners to, to check it out because I’ve been doing it for years, you know. Give it to me. Almost 20 years ago now. But, you know, it’s funny. I was just dusting it off so I could get my email ready to send to you and the rest of the gang. But for the listeners, here’s what I do. It’s called a Year in Reflection. So you essentially, you go through each month and you talk about the highlights that you know that she can remember from the month of the previous year. And then you talk about them highlights from the year and then some things that you’re looking forward to for the next year and what you’ll need to do to make that happen. And so when we were in graduate school, you know, there were some dark days. And so it was just like, I don’t know what I’m looking forward I’m looking forward to getting out of here. But it was just even the practice of writing that out every year. I’m looking forward to getting my PhD. I’m looking forward to getting the hell out of this institution. That actually was a beacon. And then, you know, you’re writing the book and then you’re trying to get tenure. So there are always these carrots and sticks and obstacles. But now, you know, I’m looking forward to being more deliberate about spending time with people I love. You know, being more deliberate about, you know, we’re still in COVID, but like making sure I make my way to get down to North Carolina and, like, run around with some some chickens and in nature, you know, you know, I’m a birder. My listeners know that I’m a birder, you know, making sure I, you know, sneak away, do my lunch break and walk two blocks to Central Park because that’s where I am. You know, you’re in in North Carolina. I’m going to come down there with my binoculars and get you. And I’m like, slowly but surely converting all these Black women into birding. They’re like, Girl, let me tell you about this woodpecker outside my office. And I’m like, Oh, look at this. I’m starting at Black birding crew. Didn’t even know it. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:02:31] We have incredible birding here, and I’m in Winston-Salem, so it’s just a short drive up to the to the mountains. And our birding is incredible here. Plus, you know, I got 27 chickens. They’re birds of a different kind. But they’re right in my backyard. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:02:43] There’s still birds nonetheless. And I do get in trouble because, you know, I’m a little anti pigeon, but, you know, real birders say it’s pigeons only dirty because humans are dirty. They’re beautiful bird, you know. But I you know, there’s there are all these debates, girl. There’s so much drama in the bird community, you just never believe it. Like, I feed birds in the winter, but not in the summer because, you know, folks don’t believe and there’s a big debate as to, you know, whether or not you should even be feeding birds because they’re you know, they should learn how to fend for themselves. But I’m like, it’s snowing. I should you know, I should try. Okay. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:03:14] Also we destroy their environment. So like, to fend for themselves while we destroy their environment is a real like. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:03:20] It’s a rough call. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:03:22] Imperialist sort of worldview. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:03:23] Yeah. Yeah. So I feed them only when when it’s cold called wintertime, but they. Hey, that’s another podcast. We’ll add that. Byron Allen’s going to be, “Listen, this woman has 17 podcasts on the network. What is happening?” Okay. We’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we’re going to play Black Lightning. Okay, We’re back. Melissa, before we let you out of here, we have time for our Black bonus round. And this is called what I call Black lightning. These are just quick answers. Don’t overthink it. It comes from the heart. You tell us how you feel and that’s it. No right or wrong answer. You ready? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:04:04] Yes. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:05] Okay. Favorite Christmas singer? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:04:09] Hmm. Oh, I guess Donny Hathaway. I mean, yeah. or The Temptations. One of the two. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:17] Okay. 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:04:18] Yeah. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:20] Do you prefer a white Christmas tree or a green Christmas tree? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:04:23] I do have both, but I do have a the big one in the house is green. I also have a pink, even though I’m a Delta. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:31] I was about to say, I even wear red earrings just out of solidarity for you today. Favorite Christmas movie? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:04:37] Oh, that’s easy. It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s actually my favorite movie. Full stop. It is my favorite movie. It is the only one I’ve watched 1 million times. It’s a Wonderful Life. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:04:45] Okay. I got to come down at some point, so I’ve never seen it. Um. Okay. Ugly Christmas sweater party. Another podcasts, movie Chrissy hasn’t seen but she should. Okay. Ugly Christmas sweater party. Are you in or you out? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:04:59] Oh, I’m in. And in fact, I’m sort of, I didn’t quite realize the on air today. I have, like, a whole drawer that I can only really wear from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. I mean, it’s an entire drawer that is exclusively both like Black girl Christmas sweaters and and also, like, slightly raunchy Santa sweaters that say’s things like “I got hos in many area codes” and then also ugly Christmas sweaters. I have a real serious Christmas problem. Yeah. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:28] Okay, you’re in. Do you prefer a game night or amusement parks? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:05:34] Oh. Amusement parks with the kids. Game nights with the growns. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:38] Okay. If you had to choose The Lion King, the movie or the Broadway play? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:05:43] Oh, the Broadway play. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:45] Okay. If you had to choose the original Sparkle or the remake? 

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry [01:05:51] I can’t watch them back to back in a double feature. Okay. The original. 

Dr. Christina Greer [01:05:56] Melissa Harris-Perry, thank you for playing the Blackest Questions. You did phenomenally. Might I say. I hope you come back and join us at another time. You’ve been listening to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer. Thank you all for listening. The show is produced by Sasha Armstrong, Akilah Sheldrick, Geoffrey Trudeau, and Regina Griffin is our managing editor podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode. And please download theGrio app to listen and watch many more great shows. Have a wonderful one.