For Melissa Harris-Perry, the daughter of a UVA professor, academia is a calling. TV is a sideline.
Dr. Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Tulane who hosts a weekend show on MSNBC, stopped by the UNCG campus Thursday to field questions from students.
Staff and faculty in African American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies organized the visit for their students, who gathered in a small lounge for an informal Q&A. Their questions ranged from politics to health disparities to media icons, and Harris-Perry answered them with characteristic gusto and honesty.
On the U.S. default averted at the eleventh hour, and a heated political battle put on hold: “I don’t think we (Democrats) really won a victory. I think doing a victory lap at this moment would be a mistake.”
On the future of the Republican Party: “The business and corporate-oriented Right may decide it can no longer be in the same party with the ideologues of the Tea Party and the ideologues of the Christian Right. They can either bow down to the Tea Party or marginalize that function and generate a center Republican Party. And that will have to come out of the South. It will have to come from the Pat McCrory’s out there.”
On what students can do to make a difference: “Go to Moral Mondays. It’s a sustained social movement that’s intergenerational and cross-racial. And it’s happening in this moment, in this state.”
On voting, and beyond: “I like to think of voting as the brushing your teeth of democracy; you should just do it. Students have to start thinking about running for school boards, running for public office.”
On ways to improve black women’s health: “The one group of people for whom black women will ask for help is not themselves but their children. Sometimes you have to organize women around their children, not themselves.”
On those who criticize Miley Cyrus for appropriating black culture: “I’d take Miley all day over Tyler Perry and his performance of black women’s bodies.”
Harris-Perry has written extensively about stereotypes that harm black women, including types she calls Mammy, Jezebel and The Angry Black Woman. Her latest book, “Sister Citizen,” deals with those labels, and how they are often manipulated by policy makers.
A graduate of both Wake Forest and Duke, Harris-Perry was in Greensboro to speak at a Planned Parenthood dinner. She made stops at Bennett College and UNCG.
Jamie Stephens, on staff at UNCG’s Wellness Center, turned up with a copy of “Sister Citizen” and a Greensboro t-shirt for Harris-Perry. “I am such a fan, and I’m so excited she is here. I love the perspectives she shares, especially in terms of health disparities. She’s definitely able to bring attention to those issues.”
Nique Williams, a double major in African American Studies and political science, was not familiar with Harris-Perry before the session, but she was enthused after some initial reading. “I realized we had so much in common. I can learn a lot from what she has to say.”