Melissa Harris Perry has been under fire for the past week in the wake of a segment that may have offended families of transracial adoptions. After immediate and swift criticism from those families and conservatives alike, Perry issued a public apology to the Romney family and other families like them. This past Saturday, Perry opened her show with a heartfelt and emotional apology.
“Showing the photo in that context, that segment, was poor judgment. so without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family. Adults who enter into public life, implicitly consent to having less privacy, but their families, especially their children, should not be treated callously or thoughtlessly. My intention was not malicious, but I broke the ground rule that families are off-limits. For that I am sorry.”
Perry is not infallible. She is human. And like any other human, in recognizing that an action directly or indirectly causes someone harm, she owns up to responsibility, apologizes, and does what we all hope humans do: try to do better. It is also worth noting that Mitt Romney accepted Perry’s apology and, in his appearance on Fox Sunday, stated, “I think her apology was clearly heartfelt. We accept that.”
Perry had been called “racist” for the segment’s “attack” on Romney’s adopted grandchild. Notwithstanding some of Perry’s detractors fundamentally misunderstand the term racist, Romney’s grandson unfortunately became a focal point in a conservative culture war to shift narratives about race and racism in American society – the ones who seek to promote the concept and faux phenomenon of “reverse racism.” In the days between MHP’s public apology on Twitter and Saturday’s broadcast, an invisible and rabid conservative monolith has launched an aggressive online campaign to get Perry off the air. Tweeter @laurenarankin created the #StandWithMHP to garner online support among the twitterverse to support Perry.
MHP’s show has been a breath of fresh air in a media landscape that recycles a cadre of voices that fail to represent the plurality of America. In a recent study by Media Matters, MHP’s show has provided greater diversity than any of the Sunday talk shows:
MHP has also been recognized by the National Center for Transgender Equality for her show’s groundbreaking work covering transgender issues.
I would like to believe that there isn’t a credible threat by the conservative noise machine in its attack on Perry and her show. But we live in strange days and corporations behave like people, born with inalienable rights. If we’re to be honest about the continued manufacturing of the controversy, Fox would stand to benefit greatly in ratings by ginning up and maintaining the controversy even though apologies have been offered and accepted. It would be incredibly disappointing to see the corporate media power structure buckle under pressure of an overblown controversy that seeks to exploit a mistake into “cause célèbre” to silence a voice and media presence that has been essential in unpacking gender, class, race, and privilege in accessible ways for the American public.
We need voices like Perry’s, and we need what she teaches us in her apology – that we are all human, imperfect, and can be mature enough to face our mistakes and do better.
Syreeta McFadden wears the white hat.