December 31, 2013
MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry apologized this morning amid a growing media storm over the way she and her guests made fun of Mitt Romney’s adopted grandchild — who happens to be black.
On her weekend show, the African-American host and her panelists started laughing almost immediately in the segment, in a way that made me cringe.
The object of their derision, cloaked as it was in pointed humor? A Romney family photo, with the grandchild perched on Romney’s knee.
Yes, Harris-Perry kept cooing about how the baby was cute. The real target, for her and the guests, was Mitt.
As in, isn’t it funny that this white Mormon with a white family would find among his clan a black baby.
Maybe it was supposed to be okay because the host is African-American. But I think the segment took a horribly wrong turn.
Harris-Perry apologized on Twitter, shortly after a demand by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus that she do so for her “disgusting” comments.
“I apologize to all families built on loving transracial adoptions who feel I degraded their lives or choices,” she wrote.
“As black child born into large white Mormon family I feel familiarity w/ Romney family pic & never meant to suggest otherwise.
“Therefore, while I meant no offense, I want to immediately apologize to the Romney family for hurting them.”
During the segment, as Harris-Perry showed the Romney family photo, one of the panelists, Pia Glenn, sang: “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same.”
Harris-Perry chimed in that “my goal is that in 2040, the biggest thing of the year will be the marriage between Kieran Romney and North West. Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?”
Then came comedian Dean Obeidallah, chortling that the photo “really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party, the RNC. At the convention they find the one black person.”
So the baby became a convenient symbol for ripping the GOP, with the added bonus of having Romney as a last name. A pleasant time was had by all.
Forgive me, but isn’t adoption a good thing? Is interracial adoption something to be mocked? If the racial aspect had to be addressed, doesn’t the adoption show an open-mindedness on the part of the Romney family?
Harris-Perry is not just some cable yakker; she’s a Ph.D. and a political science professor at Tulane, fiercely liberal and generally civil. But she is not above making pointed racial arguments.
Earlier this month, for instance, Harris-Perry said of the term ObamaCare: “The word was conceived by a group of wealthy white men who needed a way to put themselves above and apart from a black man.”
I’m not an MSNBC-basher, and the network deserves credit for hiring a number of African-American hosts, several of them women. But MSNBC has had some big-time tone problems lately, what with Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin getting the boot. This episode isn’t in the same category.
But it came off as condescending and insensitive.
The other panelists backpedaled before Harris-Perry weighed in on Tuesday. On Twitter, as Mediaite reports, Obeidallah wrote: “I apologize to the baby if the baby was offended by my joke mocking GOP’s lack or (sic) racial diversity.”
He offered a more full-throated regrets in a statement to CNN:
“Occasionally my jokes have been known to ‘cross the line’ and I can assure you that in the future some of my jokes will do that again. My joke on MHP was not intended in any way to mock the Romney family or the baby they adopted. Rather it was a joke about the lack of racial diversity that we see at the Republican National Convention. I apologize to the Romney family and especially the baby if any of them were offended by that joke.”
Glenn, for her part, tweeted her defiance: “Yes, I sang the song. There are many children in the pic & only 1 black child. I don’t see that as mocking or attacking the baby.”
Then she doubled down: “If I point out the 1 black person & you translate that as an attack ON HIM, who’s racist? I don’t personally see anything wrong with being black.”
She eventually realized the tone-deaf nature of her comments:
“Adoptive parents giving a child of ANY ethnicity a loving home,I apologize.I absolutely did not intend to harm you but it seems that I have.”
At least she finally got there.