Melissa Harris-Perry defends Black woman
[Transcription courtesy of Sophia Petrillo. Many thanks!]
bell hooks: Your question, my sweet, your name?
Audience Member: My name is Tanya Fields, I was actually on Melissa’s show last month. I’m a low-income mom living in the-
bh: Yes, I saw you.
TF: And my daughter’s first board book was “Happy to Be Nappy!” [laughs.]
bh: All right!
TF: The words that guys are saying right now are so sustaining. As a low-income Black mother, I’ve been struggling to find my voice. And so I’ve been using my platforms- Twitter, Facebook… and talking about this, being a whole person. What it means to be unmarried with three baby daddies and four kids.
TF: The pushback that I am often feeling is not from the white folks in the community, it is from the other sistas who tear me down, [Audience clapping] tell me that reason I am low-income is because I didn’t have the insight to choose good men. That I should have kept my hand out and my mouth closed, and my legs closed and kept my hand out. And so I’m trying to figure out, as we talk about this Plantation Culture, as I try to rise above my circumstances and literally create meals that the babies in my community can eat, how do we- it stops you from wanting to have that voice. I have people who tell me, “When you talk about being low-income, don’t talk about feeding your kids on food stamps! You don’t need an audience for that! Suffer in shame and silence. The situation that you are feeling is your own and is a product of your own bad choices.” I am pregnant with my fifth child and just had this man walk out on me. How do you wake up every morning and- I consider myself a Black Feminist, but some days it’s just so hard to get out of the bed and face other Black people. [Audience clapping.]
bh: [to Melissa Harris-Perry] I said, take it… I actually said, “Take it, Mom!”
MHP: Um, so, that, um, that is exactly what the whole thing is designed to do. The language you used, ‘sit alone in your shame, and suffer alone.” So… [Audience clapping. Conversation inaudible as MHP leaves stage and has off-mic exchange with TF.]
MHP: It’s just to say that- You know, I could turn into my academic self which says that the reason that people who are most vulnerable to being in your exact same circumstance are the ones who most want to shame you. Is because- it’s the same reason that, um, it’s the sorority girls on campus who say that you have to, like keep yourself from getting raped by not drinking. And it’s, it’s, um it’s the same reason that the churches that are growing among Black folks are the prosperity, health and wealth ones instead of Liberation Theology churches, right? And it’s because it is much easier to believe that we can solve inequality by pulling up our pants or keeping our legs closed. And so it allows you to wipe away all of the structural realities that require collective action and that require work that goes over and past your own life. So if it’s just your individual decision-making, then I’m safe from it. So as long as I make a different decision, I will never be vulnerable to poverty, [Audience clapping] or to heartache, or to pain. And I will just say, y’know, your point about making all the right choices so- I can remember, the point at which I became a single parent. And I was like “But whoa, wait a minute. I did everything right, and I got my degree first, and I got married, and-“ No, actually, I got my degree first, then I got married, then I bought a house, then I got pregnant. I’m supposed to be all good. And that mothfucka was like- “Peace. Out.” And went, and just was, and there I stood, with a baby. Now after, there was a baby, and a degree, and as a homeowner, so the shame- I didn’t have to, right, because it’s not really about being a single parent, it’s about being poor. The thing you’re supposed to be ashamed of is being poor. And so, it’s though- I will just say that that shaming, it is a defense mechanism to keep people from having to do the hard work of organizing. And it is the most dangerous thing in marginalized communities- the most dangerous thing. Because then we do not organize, because we can just say that if only you had made different choices then everything would be fine. [Audience clapping.]
bh: I think we have to remember constantly that shaming is one of the deepest tools of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, because shame produces trauma. And trauma often produces paralysis. [Audience vocalizing agreement] So when the sister said that there are days when she just can’t get out of bed, lots of us experience that sense of paralysis. So that, that healing, I have to go back to, I’m not gonna belabor it, but emotional well-being, because we’ve got to have some mechanism to resist what is out there. To resist the constant shaming.