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The Perfect Struggle: MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry On Being Okay With Making Mistakes

MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry talks life, career and the one thing women should not be afraid of.

In the history of high school drama, nerds tend to get the short end of the stick. While preferring to keep their noses buried in books, the academically zealous usually opt out of Mean Girl gossip and make social sacrifices to land 4.0 GPAs and clock in for extracurricular endeavors.

But geniuses nationwide re-upped on cool points when Melissa Harris-Perry, host of the wildly popular The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC, boldly and unapologetically claimed to be of the same ilk. While the Virginia-raised author, professor and public speaker is warm, funny and personable, MHP is no fool, often diving deep into topics of politics, art, race and whatever else the mother of two feels demands attention.

And while Melissa proudly lets her nerd flag fly, she'll also show off her cool side while dancing in her seat to hip-hop, R&B and other smooth tunes as the show goes to commercial break. VIBE called up MHP to discuss race, balancing life in North Carolina and New York, and the one thing women shouldn't fear.

Shh, enough talking. Class is in session.

My morning routine:
It depends a lot on what morning we're talking about because I live in two different places. On Monday through Thursday, I live in North Carolina and on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I'm in New York for my show. So Monday through Thursday, I wake up whenever baby Anna (we call her A.J) wakes up, which could be as wonderfully late as 5:30am or it could be 3 in the morning. It depends on what she wants. (Laughs) She wakes up and then around 6:00, I get some of the housework done that I never have time to do. I do a load of a laundry, unload the dishwasher, water the plants. At 6:30, I wake up my 13-year-old and put on my running clothes. Then I drive my 13-year-old to school, come back and the babysitter is there for the baby. I hand off the baby, go for a run, come back, take a shower and head to campus. I try to be at campus between 9 and 9:30.

On Friday mornings, I do something similar except instead of hitting campus, I hit the airport. I fly to New York and then on Saturday and Sunday mornings, I'm up at 5 and prep for the show. We start prepping on Wednesdays, but my personal reading takes place on Friday and Saturday mornings. I get up, get my coffee, sit in the living room and I usually read from about 5:00 to 7:00, go for a run and then get to the office by 8:00.

My MLK Moment (Realizing The Dream):
I think educators are a little like doctors. I think doctors have been playing with their toys and taking their blood pressure by the time they're six years old, and I believe teachers similarly were lining up their Barbies and teaching them the alphabet. My dad is a college professor, his twin brother is a college professor and my mom taught at community colleges, even though she worked [for non-profit organizations]. I was always kind of a teacher's pet and used to love my teachers. So I always knew [I would be an educator]. I certainly made the decision when I got to college, saying, 'Well I'm never leaving. This is great.' (Laughs) But the other part was my college adviser was Maya Angelou. Being with her and seeing that she was an educator in so many different ways, I'm not sure if I ever said to myself, 'Oh, I want to be like Dr. Angelou,' but she became the primary model of adulthood for me.

Favorite Maya Angelou quote:
There are two quotes that are particularly impactful for me. One is that, 'Courage is the greatest virtue, because without courage, no other virtue can be practiced consistently.' The other thing she would say is, 'All comparisons are odious.' You don't compare [yourself to the next person like], 'Am I smarter than her? Is she prettier than me? Is that house nicer? Does he have a better car?' Our humanity is unique. It helps when I read the better reviews of some shows and then I just remember, 'Nope, all comparisons are odious.'

On realizing my race and gender:
So I'm African-American. My mother is white and my father is black and both my parents were married before they met and had me. I have one sibling who has two white parents and three siblings where both parents are black, so we're truly a mixed race family. It was something that I was always aware of, but specifically when I was 14 and I was a freshman in high school. Two very different things happened. I was a cheerleader and I loved being one. I went to a public high school in central Virginia where football is king. It was very clear to me that there was a cap for how many black girls could be on the team and that no matter how many black guys were on the football team, people in the stands didn't want to see more than a few African-American girls as part of the cheerleading squad. So I not only learned about being black and a woman, but also being light-skinned because one of my girlfriends who was dark-skinned and was equally good, did not make the team when I did. The other thing is I'm a sexual assault survivor and that was the year I was assaulted. The perpetrator is an African-American man, who was my neighbor. I didn't tell [anyone] for about 10 years. One of the reasons I didn't tell [anyone about it] was about race, [from] experiencing the worst kind of vulnerability as a girl and as a woman, and suddenly understanding what it means to be a girl and victimized in this way, and then for [the perp] to be someone who was in the [same] race group.

On my biggest fear and hope for my daughters:
There's no question that my biggest fear as a mother of daughters is sexual assault, and that's because I'm a survivor and report on it. I also know how fundamentally altering—not just to your life, but to your whole character and sense of self—sexual assault can be. Also, [I know] how powerless any given parent is over it. My mom was a great parent. My dad was a fine, wonderful parent. You can't put your children in a protective shield [to prevent sexual assault] from happening.

But I guess I'll also say, unlike some parents, I don't hope that my children's lives are worry and struggle-free. I mention often that my dad was an intense guy. He grew up in the Jim Crow South, was part of the civil rights movement and when we were growing up, he would sign our birthday cards [when we were] three, four, five years old with 'The struggle continues, Daddy.' (Laughs) Years later, I've learned that [the struggle] is such a gift. What I hope for our children is that their life isn't without struggle, but specifically, they have good allies and meaningful struggle.

Women should never be afraid to...
Make mistakes. The fear of making a mistake so often keeps us from trying the hard stuff, and I think it's particularly true especially for high achieving African-American women who recognize we're not just representing ourselves, but often representing the race. We'll only do the things we know we're going to be good at so that way, we're leaving a good impression about who we are, but then we never try the thing we might fail at. Look, I've failed a lot. Like I said before, Maya Angelou was my college adviser. She did not act perfect in front of me and that was such a gift. She let me see her be a woman and a human, and not just Dr. Maya Angelou. It was liberating because when I went out into the world and I made a mess sometimes, I was like, 'Well Maya Angelou used to make a mess sometimes, too and she is still everything!'

Biggest on-air regret:
The most obvious one is the experience I had at the end of 2013 when we put up a picture of the Romney family. [Editor's Note: Melissa-Harris Perry and a panel of guests mocked Mitt Romney's family holiday photo, which included the governor's wife, 22 grandchildren and their adopted African-American grandson. Melissa later issued an on-air apology.] The way the conversation went turned out to be hurtful—and this is why it was such a great learning experience for me. Things were said and I did not immediately regret them. Then the response came and it was clear to me that we not only did something that was hurtful to that individual family, but we spent two years as a team developing our show as a safe space for all different kinds of families. This should be the one show you can always tune into and know that your family will always be affirmed, and we messed up.

On knowing the audience in TV land:
Part of it is we don't try and simplify [the content]. We do try and use the clearest language that we can, although sometimes we use academic language to define it. But part of it is we really do our very best to respect that our audience is smart. If [viewers] show up on a weekend morning to talk about the stuff that we talk about, then they're actually capable of complex reasoning even if they're not scholars and haven't spent years reading books. I do believe sometimes, some media [outlets] don't respect their audience enough to give them the benefit of the doubt that they can come along.

People would be surprised to know that I'm...
A great baker! I make a mean red velvet cake. I can make cookies. There's sort of a joke that I make cookies automatically. When I start to talk about politics with people in my kitchen, I'll just whip up some cookies from scratch. I'm only an average cook. My husband does most of the cooking because he's from New Orleans. I'm also an HGTV addict.

The best lesson I learned from marriage:
Ahh, man, this is my second marriage. But I will tell you this: a bad marriage will take away your fear of death. (Laughs) A bad marriage is a bad thing but similarly, a good marriage is life-giving in all kinds of surprising ways. Let me be clear: my first husband is a good guy, but we had a bad marriage. I mean, I don't know who I was during those years, but I was not Melissa Harris. So when I met and started dating James, it really was shockingly easy. All these people who are like 'Marriage is hard work,' [I say] grown-up life is hard work. But it's just I see him, he sees me, and we just like the shit out of each other everyday! (Laughs) And I adore the way he parents our children. If there's a great lesson I've learned from this marriage, it's that respect is so central. Love is great but man, when you can pair that love, friendship and deep respect for who a person is, it's a great marriage.

On whether or not racism can end:
What I want for us to struggle towards is for the consequences of racial bias to be reduced as close to zero as possible. I think there is a lot of reason for us to believe, from social psychology, cognitive psychology and decades of sociological work, people make groupings and they make judgments based on those groupings. Will people stop grouping each other and making judgments? No. But can we move to create a world where the consequences of racial bias be reduced as much towards zero? Yes! Will we get to zero? Probably not. Can we push ourselves, our society, our culture, our public policies, our laws, our practices so that being born in a black body will have fewer and fewer negative economic, social and political and even bodily consequences? Yes! In fact, I think we're already on that track. The consequences of being in a black body in 1776 are very different than in 1876 and different in 1976, and very different in 2015.

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

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Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

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VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

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