Having Our Say: Melissa Harris-Perry and the Voice of Black Women

On February 18, 2012, cable television received a much needed facelift via a new show: Melissa Harris-Perry. The eponymous show headed by Tulane University's tenured, political science professor, Melissa Harris-Perry, is changing not only the fashion in which political and social issues are discussed, but most importantly introducing a new image of the Black woman into the mainstream.

When the show premiered about two weeks ago, I tweeted: "Melissa Harris Perry's show is the best thing to happen to television in ten years...For once, [we] have a young, black professional who has it all talking for US." Some can argue that at that moment, my excitement led me to make very strong claims that can be refuted. And that may be so, but I believe that we cannot overlook the strides this program is making for Black women in this country.

The ongoing presentation of Black women on television can be summarized as "Black Women Behaving Badly." Today, the most popular shows with black female leads are the ones where there is fighting, gossiping, back-stabbing and drinks being thrown in peoples' faces. To say that we are very much lacking in counter-examples of such characters would be an understatement.

In such an environment, Harris-Perry breathes new life into the Black woman's image. We are not all loud, bitter basketball wives. Some of us are academics, leaders and students in our chosen fields.We live very full, well rounded lives. We are equally concerned with the issues du jour as our white counterparts. We, too, hold views and opinions that we wish to be heard and debated on the national stage. Harris-Perry proves that a black woman, who is credentialed, a wife, mother, and revered academic is not an anomaly. They exists -- We exists.

On the February 25th show, Harris-Perry effectively criticized the blockbuster, "The Help," for its revisionist history. In doing so, Harris-Perry has shown that we cannot allow for others to tell our stories as they see fit. We must speak of our truths ourselves to break this idea that black women can only be categorized as a mammy, loud and belligerent, or desperately seeking a mate. With her show as well as recently published book, "Sister Citizen," Harris-Perry has built new grounds for a dialogue to commence about what it truly means to be a Black Woman in America. It is my hope that we all may join her on these platforms, as well as create new ones to foster this conversation.

As we join Harris-Perry in "nerdland" every Saturday morning, let us remember that it will take more than one woman and a show to completely revise our image in society. Let us use this show and the tools we have in our possession such as talents, websites, social networking sites, etc. to represent ourselves and our histories truthfully and unapologetically.

Valerie Jean-Charles is a 22 year old community servant and writer from Brooklyn, NY. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.

Photo Credit: Nola.com

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