Melissa Harris-Perry’s Tearful On-Air Apology: “Our Fiercest Critics Can Sometimes Be Our Best Teachers”

On MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry this morning, the host apologized for remarks she made on her show last weekend, a story first broken here at The Right Scoop. She apologized “without reservation or qualification” to the Romney family, and very emotionally to interracial families everywhere:

Good morning. I’m Melissa Harris-perry. We have a lot of news and politics to discuss this morning. But before we get to that, I am going to start with an apology. Last Sunday we invited a panel of comedians for a year in review program. It’s what we call our look back in laughter. But in one of the segments we looked at a number of photos that caught our attention over the course of the year. And in that segment I asked my guests to provide kind of off-the-cuff ideas for captions of the photos that we were seeing. Among the images we aired was one of the Romney family that showed Governor Mitt Romney’s grandchildren, including his adopted grandson, who is African-American. Now given my own family history, I’d identified with that picture and I intended to say positive and celebratory things about it. But whatever the intent was, the reality is that the segment proceeded in a way that was offensive. And showing the photo in that context, of that segment, was poor judgement. 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, and 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, and for that I am sorry. Also, allow me to apologize to other families formed through transracial adoption because I am deeply sorry that we suggested interracial families are in any way funny or deserving of ridicule. On this program we are dedicated to advocating for a wide diversity of families. It is one of our core principles. And I am reminded that when we doing so, it must always be with the utmost respect. I’m genuinely appreciative of everyone who offered serious criticisms of last Sunday’s program, and I am reminded that our fiercest critics can sometimes be our best teachers.

“Adults who enter into public life implicitly consent to having less privacy, but their families, and especially their children, should not be treated callously or thoughtlessly.” Melissa Harris-Perry allowed a segment on her show cross through this invisible wall. Her thoughtful apology serves as a reminder of that wall which the press, the blogs, and even users of social media can stand to hear every few months. It’s something the media should have kept in mind when Sarah Palin first stepped on the national stage, and that should be remembered in elections yet to come.

Harris-Perry’s additional inclusion of families of interracial families was also an important point: that there is no reason to think that such families are inherently or self-evidently funny. In this case, what the comedians on the panel found to be funny was their belief that it was ironic for Governor Romney, “of all people”, to have an African-American family member. What the comedians who have addressed this during the past week fail to realize is that they are not being chided for bad humor. They are experiencing the backlash against their presumption that everyone immediately agrees that white Republicans are to be naturally assumed racist.

So the only group due an apology yet to hear one, and who will almost certainly never hear one, are Republicans across the nation, who are caricatured and characterized as obviously racist every single day, based solely on their party affiliation. Unfortunately, as we’ll show later today in a follow-up post (Update: Post can be found here), the racist assumption about the right crops right back up in Harris-Perry’s show only a few segments after the above clip.

Nevertheless, Harris-Perry’s well-put apology was warranted, and no doubt welcomed by the Romney family. And that is a good thing.

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