Slideshow of pictures from Student Pre-Reception at Penn Women's Center and Harris-Perry's public lecture at Harrison Auditorium, both on February 28, 2013:
On February 28th Melissa Harris-Perry presented her talk “Which Women? Race, Class, Sexuality, and the Continuing War on Women” in the Penn Museum to a crowd of approximately 450 of Penn and Philadelphia community members. Harris-Perry is currently a Professor of Political Science at Tulane University, where she is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. She hosts her own eponymous show on MSNBC every weekend morning, and is a frequent columnist for The Nation. Harris-Perry also recently authored the book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale, 2011).
During her presentation, Melissa Harris-Perry discussed the nature of feminism, race, and sexuality as they relate to American politics. A self-identified feminist, Harris-Perry practices feminism by asking the question, “What truths are missing here?” She began by addressing the representation and understanding of different types of bodies in our communities. There are some bodies that are not only have problems, but are associated with being problems themselves, as often seen specifically in the case of black women’s bodies. Popular images of fictive kinship attempt to reconcile this problem. Fictive kinship assumes that inequality is primarily due to lack of vision. Therefore, if a black woman has the ability to see another black woman – her “sister” – in a position of power, she herself will feel pride. The idea that successful black women serve as role models of courage, resilience, and achievement only works due to the concept of fictive kinship. It creates a false connection, or familial bond, between people with similar bodies. Therefore, Harris-Perry argues, if the accomplishments of unrelated fictive kin can increase self-confidence, then failures of unrelated fictive kin can threaten self-image as well. Fictive kinship creates pride, yet it just as often creates feelings of unnecessary shame. If racial pride is political, then so too is racial shame. These ideas of fictive kinship and collective pride and shame, Harris-Perry argues, create a “crooked room” in which the images and realities we see everyday are in fact ‘slanted’. Melissa Harris-Perry challenges us to ‘realign’ ourselves to stand ‘upright’ in a room full of crooked and biased images. Once we are able to recognize that we are standing in a crooked room, then we can create an understanding of truth and reality for ourselves.
In the second part of her presentation, Melissa Harris-Perry argued that while we have made progress as a nation, we cannot stop now. President Obama addressed the interesectionality of race, gender, and sexual orientation during his inaugural address, yet GLAAD and HRC did not participate in the Voting Rights Act protest outside of the Supreme Court in February. Harris-Perry argued that in order to gain progress for the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, and women – all three need to form a coalition and support each other, for one cannot truly advance without the other.
Written by: Sheila Shankar, Media Outreach Coordinator