Inspiration for Women's History Month: Melissa Harris Perry

From @MHarrisPerry, Via The Root.

From @MHarrisPerry, via The Root.

Born: October 1973 in Seattle, Washington

Occupation: Writer, Professor, Television Host, and Political Commentator

Awesome Quote: “Sisters are more than the sum of their relative disadvantages: they are active agents who craft meaning out of their circumstances and do so in complicated and diverse ways.”

Why should you know about her? Melissa Harris Perry is a Black woman occupying a political space traditionally held by white men. Using her professional venues, she raises awareness about issues around the Black community, specifically Black womanhood and motherhood. She educates individuals about Black women’s political and emotional responses to negative representations of race and gender as she faces them herself. In February 2012, Perry received her own program on MSNBC, “MHP,” after being a frequent contributor to the network.  This was a major milestone for her and the Black community because she primarily discussed issues impacting Black women, which isn’t a major theme for discussion at MSNBC (or anywhere else). She continued to host her own show until February 2016.  In fact, she recently left MSNBC because MSNBC wanted her to read news that they deemed important and not what the “MHP” show normally discusses.  Refusing to be the token Black woman on a predominantly white network, she maintained her professionalism and authenticity as she did not conform to what the network thought she should be, such as being a mammy, a token, or a tool.  She knows her worth and is a meaningful person who shows compassion towards her staff, her students, and American society by the topics she discusses and her friendly encounter with others.  You can read her letter about her departure from MSNBC here.

Brief Biography: Melissa Harris Perry was born in Seattle, WA but grew up in Virginia.  She graduated from Wake Forest University with a Bachelor’s degree in English and received a PhD in political science from Duke University.  She began her career as a faculty member, working at universities such as University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Tulane University.  Perry transitioned from faculty to public intellectual and has written award-winning academic books such as Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America and Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought.  In these books, she discusses the emotional and political context of the Black community and the consequences of negative stereotypes of Black women.

In addition to her many accomplishments as a Black woman in political and educational spheres, she is also a mother who had a nontraditional journey to motherhood.  Perry gave birth to her first daughter, but her second child was born via surrogacy. In 2008, she had her uterus removed after suffering from uterine fibroids (which disproportionately affects Black women).  She was devastated and wept for the children she would never have.  After marrying in 2010, Perry struggled with the loss of her ability to become pregnant as a way to extend her family.  She first learned of surrogacy via a friend and talked with a lawyer about her ethical concerns with surrogacy.  After researching and consulting with others, Perry and her husband begin the journey to surrogacy, which includes the creation of an embryo outside of the body in laboratory (IVF) as part of the process.

Perry retained her ovaries so they were able to use her eggs to create the embryos. Perry, the intended parent, created an embryo using Perry’s egg and her husband’s sperm to be inserted into the surrogate mother.  Any form of assisted reproduction is emotionally, physically, and financially demanding, but it helped grow Perry’s family.  On Valentine’s Day, her second child was born.  She took some time off to raise her children, but she created a monthly column in Essence magazine discussing her parenting lifestyle in addition to hosting a special on MSNBC about motherhood and politics.  She found a way to balance her work life and parental life. Even though it hasn’t been easy, she was able to reflect on her roles through the monthly columns as a Black mom and a Black professional.  She addresses many of her challenges, ranging from activist mothers to motherhood being a political act.  Perry used her platform to create exposure for the different kinds of mothers around the country, showing society that the personal is the political.

This biography relies on two key sources: MPH’s website and her essay “How We Made Our Miracle.”