MSNBC weekend host and Wake Forest professor Melissa Harris-Perry had a scary confrontation with a hostile man in Des Moines. He wanted to know why MSNBC would pick her for a show. (Many people might ask this question.) She wrote a blog on a Wake Forest website on how this somehow caused her to think of being raped as a child and maybe this man had come to murder her. Without more of a recreation of the unpleasant conversation -- with just swatches of Nazi references and anger -- it's impossible to know how unglued this accuser was.
The "safe space" was violated. Her piece began: "I don't know if he was there to kill me." This is how she described the scene, in a hotel lobby:
“What I want to know is how you got credentialed to be on MSNBC.”
I am not sure if it is how he spat the word credentialed, or if it is how he took another half step toward me, or if it is how he didn’t respond to my question, but the hairs on my arm stood on end. I ignored it. Told myself everything was ok.
“Well. It is not exactly a credential…” I began.
“But why you? Why would they pick you?”
Now I know something is wrong. Now his voice is angry. Now a few other people have stopped talking and started staring. Now he is so close I can feel his breath. Before I can answer his unanswerable question of why they picked me, he begins to tell me why he has picked me.
“I just want you to know why I am doing this.”
Oh – there is a this. He is going to do a this. To me. And he is going to tell me why. [Italics hers.]
I freeze. Not even me – the girl in me. The one who was held down by an adult neighbor and as he raped her. The one who listened as he explained why he was doing this. She freezes.
I freeze. He speaks. And moves closer. Is there a knife under the coat? A gun? Worse?
And I can’t hear all the words. But I catch “Nazi Germany” and I catch “rise to power.” But I can’t move. I am lulled by a familiar powerlessness, muteness, that comes powerfully and unexpectedly. It grips me. Everything is falling away. Until in my peripheral vision I catch sight of a ponytail, the movement of an arm, the sound of familiar young voices and I remember… my students....
Instead of sitting still as he tells me what he is going to do and why, I jump up. I move. I put space – a table – between him and me. My friend jumps too. It is breathtaking how fearlessly – almost recklessly – she throws herself between he and I. Together we raise our voices and make a fuss. He turns. He runs out. He jumps in a car. He drives off. We try to explain to hotel security what has happened and how I receive hate mail and even death threats, how I have had people show up at my workplace, how this might be serious. They listen politely, but this is the Iowa caucus, and I am not a candidate, so they go back to their evening. And we go back to ours.
A political debate should never threaten to turn violent....especially when a man is debating a woman. But can someone actually challenge this professor for some of the crazy things she says on weekend television without being imagined as a rapist/murderer?
They're in a hotel lobby with lots of windows, surrounded by students. In Harris-Perry's narrative, her Wake Forest students "saved her" from her imagined crime scene:
I don’t know if he was there to kill me. I know they were there to save me.
It was seeing my students out of the corner of my eye that broke the trance of survivor submission into which I’d slipped earlier. As he’d invaded my space with angry, incoherent cruelty, I heard a voice in my head roar, “Not in front of my students!” I did not think, “No! Get away from me!” I thought, “Not in front of my students!”
Ridiculous though it may be, my dominant fear was that if this man maimed or killed me my students would fail to achieve the learning outcome of the Wake the Vote program, which is charged with helping them hone tools of democratic deliberation, perspective-taking, conflict resolution, and civic engagement in diverse settings. It was the fear of a ruined lesson plan that propelled me out of my seat and away from the potential attacker.
Left-wing sites are treating it like an actual attack: Crooks & Liars has the headline "Melissa Harris-Perry Narrowly Escapes An Attack During Iowa Caucuses." Addicting Info described it as Nazi-Ranting Man Accosts MSNBC Host At Iowa Caucus. A video or more eyewitnesses could really help explain just how unsafe she was in this hotel.
[HT: Dan Gainor]