#Nerdland Alert

I try not to annoy you all with my personal hate-reads, but this particular nugget seems to intersect with the BJ commentariat’s interests. Professional Mean Girl Hanna Rosin has decided to bitchsplain “How Melissa Harris-Perry Became TV’s Star Nerd”:

How did such a brainiac land her own cable news show? Harris-Perry doesn’t just get away with saying the word “intersectionality” on TV, using #nerdland as her show’s hashtag, and publishing an online “syllabus” with each episode—she’s beloved for it. When MSNBC gave Harris-Perry her own show in 2012, progressives reacted a little like they did when Obama first won election: Can this really be happening? At that point she was already a tenured professor in African-American studies and politics at Tulane, a columnist at The Nation and a frequent guest and sometime sub on the Rachel Maddow Show. What stood out about Harris-Perry was not just her liberal views, or that she was an African-American woman—MSNBC has other black female anchors—but her ability to talk about “the complexities at the intersections of race, gender and politics,” as Anna Holmes put it. The broad hope was that she would elevate the level of blather on cable news. And maybe you could even read into that hope a subconscious desire to redirect the unrequited love for Obama, because she too is a politically progressive professor who grew up in a biracial family, only she never lets you down….

“I’m not sure how I ended up with a television show,” Harris-Perry said in this conversation with Bell Hooks, which could be read as false modesty or playing to her audience (Bell Hooks being not the person who makes you proud to be on TV). But then she launched into a pretty convincing modern black history/timeline of herself, in which Barack Obama opens the way for a queer woman, Rachel Maddow, who opens the way for Melissa Harris-Perry, whose greatest accomplishment is having been born in the 1970s, after the civil rights era and before white flight—a lucky combination of geography, race, history, and talent. A product, in other words, of fortuitous intersectionality.

(On the other hand, that video conversation with bell hooks is the very opposite of everything Hanna Rosin, and well worth watching.)

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56 replies
  1. 1
    Aji says:

    LOL – second sentence says it all:

    Harris-Perry doesn’t just get away with saying the word “intersectionality” on TV, using #nerdland as her show’s hashtag, and publishing an online “syllabus” with each episode—she’s beloved for it.

    You could even leave off the last four words, and her indignation would still come screaming through loud and clear. “Get away with?” Oh, my. That says something, Hannah, but it’s not something very flattering to you.

  2. 2
    Mnemosyne says:

    Uh, IIRC, it’s bell hooks, not Bell Hooks. You don’t get to change the spelling (or capitalization) of someone’s name just because you feel like it, jackass.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Big R says:

    @Mnemosyne: Clearly, the interview was conducted not by the distinguished professor, but by the professor’s grandmother, whose name really was Bell Hooks.

  5. 5
    CTVoter says:

    MHP’s greatest accomplishment was being born in the 70s?

    Did this writer actually write that?

  6. 6
    jl says:

    I haven’t finished reading it, but so far the research and common sense of the Rosin piece seem sloppy.

    I mean Lil’ Newtie says stuff like ‘intersectionality’ too, it just never makes any sense. From what I have seen of Harris-Perry, she does usually make sense.

    But they’er both media people who can get featured on TV shows.

  7. 7
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    E. E. Cummings would approve.

  8. 8
    raven says:

    Teaching to Transgress

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    Um, sorry, but love him or hate him, Keith Olbermann had more to do with TRMS going online as anyone else not named RM did.

  10. 10
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Hannah Rosin seems to be pissed that MHP has a show and she, the brilliant Hannah Rosin, does not.

  11. 11
    jl says:

    @Aji: Yeah, gosh, lets make fun of a news / public affairs talky show host who does their homework, and has figured out a way to make complex information and stories, and learning, interesting to a wide audience, and willing to put in the work to pull it off.

    You don’t catch pillars of the media community like Gregory or Schiefer or Rose pulling that kind of stuff.

    So, she maybe really earns her money when she probably wouldn’t have to if she didn’t feel like it. She could just pump out ‘information product’ like most others do. How droll and pretentious is that, anyway?

    Edit: and Harris-Perry has her own show, and she can do more or less what she wants? How… like, weird is that? That is so weird.

  12. 12
    JMS says:

    @Mnemosyne: Sort of like how the author of the piece is named Hanna, not Hannah? It being Slate, it may have been an overzealous editor in any case.

  13. 13
    RareSanity says:

    @Corner Stone:

    From way downtown…bang!

  14. 14
    low-tech cyclist says:

    having been born in the 1970s, after the civil rights era and before white flight

    Speaking as someone who grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s, someone’s got their chronology fucked up. Broadly speaking, there was no part of ‘in the 1970s’ that was also ‘before white flight.’

    Now white flight started earlier in some places and later in others, so let’s look at where MHP grew up:

    Wikipedia: “Harris-Perry was born in Seattle [on 10/2/73] but grew up in the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia” so she might’ve started kindergarten as early as the fall of 1978. The city of Richmond’s population dropped from 249,621 in 1970 to 219,214 in 1980, so I’m gonna hazard a guess that white flight from Richmond was well underway by the time she would have started school.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    I like MHP. And I enjoy her TV show.
    There. I said it.

  16. 16
    Big R says:

    Having read the entire Rosin piece, I think AL buried the lede. The real giveaway on Rosin is her focus on MHP’s Princeton years, where she was left more or less high and dry by her colleagues, who even now treat her with disdain because she dares to have an impact.

    Having watched that sort of petty academic bullmalarkey nearly derail the career of one of the most brilliant political scientists I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing personally, I can’t say that I’m terribly sympathetic to West or his Princeton colleagues, or to their mouthpieces like Rosin.

    Of course, I’m just a honky, so clearly my opinion on such matters can be dismissed. The plantation owner will always take the house servant’s word over the field servant’s. And other such rot.

  17. 17
    mainmata says:

    Anne Laurie, you never irritate me. You are the most awesome BJ front pager by far. You are the cartoon poster and the careful analyzer. You go girl! We love you…or at least I do. (Also from MA and Irish.)

  18. 18
    Baud says:

    WHY YOU NO RESPECT FAIR USE, AL?

  19. 19
    jl says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I get that impression too, and maybe that this was dashed off at the last moment. A lot of silliness in the piece. And some not so silly things, like the bit about Cornel West calling her a fake and liar. I mean, Rosin herself says West is often out of contril (not hard to believe) and that the interview the quotes came from was ‘unhinged’. So, what is that all about, and why was it important to put in the profile.

    But if you have ‘issues’ with the subject, and need to fill some space under deadline, and will raise some eyebrows, why not just let fly with stuff, that don’t mean much, or add up to much for the average reader, really.

  20. 20
    Tyro says:

    @Big R: Having read the entire Rosin piece, I think AL buried the lede. The real giveaway on Rosin is her focus on MHP’s Princeton years, where she was left more or less high and dry by her colleagues, who even now treat her with disdain because she dares to have an impact.

    Honestly, to leave in a huff because you didn’t make full professor before 40 even while you were tenured at the top university in the country sounds petty. Her colleagues probably thought she wasn’t fully developed as a scholar while she felt they should have treated her like a senior member of the field.

  21. 21
    Aji says:

    @jl: LOL – I guess it’s waaaay more pretentious than nattering on online about how said host “gets away with it.” Also, like, SO weird.

  22. 22
    scav says:

    Oh. Hor. Rors. The like, Geek Girl, has. Friends. Not Eve-un the right brand of jeans but seriously, Pee. Pul. Like. her. I mean.

  23. 23
    Corner Stone says:

    @Big R:

    Of course, I’m just a honky,

    You did not need to say that. Earlier you unironically used the word “bullmalarkey” in your comment.
    You could be nothing other than honky.

  24. 24
    Marc says:

    because she too is a politically progressive professor who grew up in a biracial family, only she never lets you down….

    That might have something to do with the fact that she’s not the fucking President and doesn’t carry that burden of responsibility.

    (And also, you know, she can let you down, if you expect someone of Harris-Perry’s acuity to do better than, say, mock Mitt Romney’s children for adopting a black child. But I generally like Harris-Perry, in large part because she refuses to engage in the kind of faux-progressive pity party embodied by Rosin’s comment. She will always be my hero just for calling Cornel West out on his bullshit.)

  25. 25
    Corner Stone says:

    @Tyro:

    Honestly, to leave in a huff because you didn’t make full professor before 40 even while you were tenured at the top university in the country sounds petty. Her colleagues probably thought she wasn’t fully developed as a scholar while she felt they should have treated her like a senior member of the field.

    More on this aspect, please?

  26. 26
    jl says:

    @Tyro:

    ” Honestly, to leave in a huff because you didn’t make full professor before 40 even while you were tenured at the top university in the country sounds petty. Her colleagues probably thought she wasn’t fully developed as a scholar while she felt they should have treated her like a senior member of the field. ”

    Have you ever been on the faculty, or worked with faculty at a major university? That is serious question. What a normal person would consider ‘petty’ is SOP among faculty. I can give examples.

    I might be interested in reading her story at Princeton, but without a lot of information, the Lord only knows what sort of nonsense went on, or pettiness was committed by MHP or her colleagues.

    If you know, you should tell us, or provide a link.

    Edit: I don’t mean to indict all faculty at major universities, but my God, it is a zoo. You meet all kinds.

  27. 27
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Marc:

    Actually, it was one of her guests who mocked Romney, and she went along with it, and apologized for it later.

  28. 28
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @jl:

    I’ve heard it said that university faculty politics are the most vicious of all politics, because the stakes are so low.

  29. 29
    jl says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: If know that you are Great Person in your own mind, and most intellects are far beneath you, no stakes are low.

    I have met the nicest humblest most affable (and brilliant) people in academia, and some people who are just totally out of control divas and prima donas of the worst sort. The ratio of the latter might rival what you get in national politics, show biz and rock and roll.

  30. 30
    aimai says:

    @Tyro: When men leave for a better position or more money we never say they “left in a huff” and they are never expected to just gratefully take the crumbs their better’s leave for them. She was driven, ambitious, hard working and she knew how to value herself? Isn’t that more accurate?

  31. 31
    Izzy says:

    Nothing makes one a douche quite like intentionally referring to someone by a name other than that which they’ve asked to be called. It’s like spitting, but with less fluid exchange.

  32. 32
    Marc says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Yeah, I know. I still expect better of her. I hate it when any news anchor or host starts trying out their sub-Jon Stewart comedy routines, but MHP especially is better than that.

  33. 33
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Tyro: because you didn’t make full professor before 40 even while you were tenured at the top university in the country

    But I thought she was at Princeton?

  34. 34
    jl says:

    @aimai: I have no idea what the deal was with her leaving Princeton. It might also have been that it was made known to her, in the wonderful subtle ways of academia, that she would not get nothing more, not one damn thing, as long as she was in that department. For reasons that might range from inscrutable and nonexistent to any reasonable person, to some serious issue.

  35. 35
    J.Ty says:

    @Mnemosyne: Damn it, I thought I would be the first one to comment about that but nope, here’s Mnemosyne in spot #2–tab must’ve been a bit old =)

  36. 36
    aimai says:

    @jl: I don’t know why or how she left Princeton either. She’s not in my field and I’m not in Academia any more. But I thought Tyro’s point was a load of crap. When you come up for tenure you come up for tenure and if they don’t offer it to you on terms you like you have to leave–there are no two bites at the apple in American Academia. It was at Princeton that a friend of mine was told “We prefer abortion to infanticide.” Meaning the senior faculty prefer to force out junior faculty early (abortion) rather than have to try to terminate them later.

    Leaving for another better job is not “leaving in a huff” and certainly not over hurt pride–people are forced to leave in order to get respect in their fields all the time. You use your position at an Ivy or other top ranked school to your advantage as long as you can, then you move on and parlay it into a better situation if they don’t come up with enough money for you or your spouse so you can solve the two body problem. This happens all the time. Nothing personal in it–with the exception of Cornel West himself leaving Harvard “in a huff” because Larry Summer’s told him his work was crap.

  37. 37
    dr. bloor says:

    Who’s Hannah Rosin?

  38. 38
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @jl: haven’t read the piece, but I thought she left Princeton because she wanted to relocate to New Orleans, which was right about the time she changed from being Melissa Harris-Lacewell to Melissa Harris-Perry, and she was in a relationship with someone who then ran for… mayor of New Orleans, was it? This is all from memory.

  39. 39
    J.Ty says:

    Skimming the article, I can’t help but notice how many sentences start with “At Princeton, …”

    Yeah, Princeton, what do they know? Tossers!

  40. 40

    @Gin & Tonic: Thank you, and we’re done.

    Faculty politics made my FIL, who is mentally ill & needs to be supervised by a responsible adult*, look like just another asshole with tenure to his colleagues. The man wasn’t diagnosed while he was working, because his symptoms were interpreted as ‘business as usual in the faculty senate, but more so’, as the grad student/ex-lover/my wife’s childhood babysitter put it.

    *As his kids and ex-wives and former co-workers won’t take on this task, it’s a matter of time before he’s back in the headlines.

  41. 41
    🎂 Martin says:

    @CTVoter:

    MHP’s greatest accomplishment was being born in the 70s?

    Black PhDs don’t count, because affirmative action.

  42. 42
    jl says:

    @aimai: Maybe I misunderstood. I thought she got tenure, but did not get advanced as fast as she wanted. You are totally correct if she did not get tenure: then, you gotta go. And I have heard that there is a culture in some places of churning through junior faculty for reasons that have more to do with turf and maintaining power than quality of scholarship.

    Even if she had tenure she could have left in a huff for valid reasons. One hypothetical would be that her ambition pissed off people, and it was made known to her that life would be made a miserable as possible for her as long as she was there. Just a couple of powerful pissed off divas in the department could make that happen, easily.

  43. 43
    Corner Stone says:

    @🎂 Martin:

    Black PhDs don’t count

    Why not? Are they like Black Twitter?

  44. 44
    🎂 Martin says:

    @jl: She had tenure at Princeton. Supposedly she left when she didn’t get full professorship.

  45. 45
    Tyro says:

    @jl: She had tenure. The reason she left is because she wanted to be promoted to full professor and her department declined… which is exactly what one would expect for someone at her career stage. I just don’t buy the narrative of “she was just too popular for her colleagues at Princeton to respect.” She was a tenured professor at Princeton while still in her 30s. To say she was not respected as a scholar because she was too popular is simply ridiculous. Even more ridiculous would be for her to believe that she deserved to be promoted at that stage in her career and was being shortchanged because she wasn’t.

  46. 46
    patrick II says:

    @low-tech cyclist:
    Nice research. You might be the MHP of BJ commenters.

  47. 47
    Mike in NC says:

    @dr. bloor: Probably BFF with Jennifer Rubin and other neo-cons.

  48. 48
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Tyro:

    The reason she left is because she wanted to be promoted to full professor and her department declined… which is exactly what one would expect for someone at her career stage.

    Cite?

  49. 49

    @aimai: Except we know that Larry Summers is full of crap. And a sexist shitbag too.

  50. 50
    Another Holocene Human says:

    I have soooo been trying to rationalize Cornell West’s decisions and rationalize his words and behavior, but that shit he said about MHP goes over a line for me.

    Hm, I wonder if he has some sort of insecurity about other academics. This could be why he hates on Obama so violently but is all buddy buddy with radio personalities.

    Egos gone wild.

    Anyway, I was going to say it ought to put all the mean stuff said about Kanye West’s supposed ego into perspective but FYWP mercifully ate it. Kanye’s a bit self-absorbed but not in a pathological way like some people seem to want to think. And he’s created some awesome art by not listening to his critics. But I dunno about Professor West. Either he’s a mean old (sexist) jerk or he really needs help.

  51. 51
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @scav: This.

  52. 52
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Phil Perspective: Does that mean he was wrong about West?

  53. 53
    gorram says:

    Rosin’s last bit about “intersectionality” only makes sense if you interpret it as synonymous with “coincidence” which, uh, is a bald-faced inaccuracy.

  54. 54
    gorram says:

    But then again, she capitalized bell hooks into “Bell Hooks”, so I’d expect her to be equally well-versed in the sort of concepts that bell hooks popularized.

  55. 55
    Pluky says:

    @Big R: Bing! Bing! You beat me to this. Especially, the focus on Professor West. After all, why are academic fights so vicious?

  56. 56
    Isla says:

    @Tyro: Are you sure about her having tenure? Or was she tenure track? That’s a big difference. Being a “full professor” means being granted tenure. If she was only an assistant or associate professor there, then she would be tenure track, or on her way to being tenured.

    It sounds like you’re not familiar with how the whole tenure thing works in most American universities.

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