I know devotees of Fox News may find this hard to believe, but December 29 was not the first time Melissa Harris-Perry discussed transracial adoption on her show. In that episode, Harris-Perry made an uncharacteristically infelicitous pairing. During a segment in which she asked comedians to provide captions for notable photos of the year, she displayed a portrait of Mitt Romney and his twenty-one grandchildren, including Kieran Romney, the African-American adopted child of Ben and Andelynne Romney. One of her guests quipped in sing-song, “One of these things is not like the other…” Some laughter ensued, as well as a maladroit attempt to turn Romney’s family photo into a symbol of the GOP’s racial dilemma. (Obvious disclosure: Harris-Perry is a Nation columnist; I have also appeared on her show on multiple occasions.)
Suffice to say, the segment has now gone down in the annals of partisan cable-news outrages, thanks largely to a barrage of posturing denunciations from right-wing voices Sean Hannity, Breitbart.com, Sarah Palin, TheBlaze.com and the like. Harris-Perry apologized on Twitter, and then again on the MSNBC website, and then again in an on-air monologue—not just to the Romney family but to all families created by transracial adoption. “I am deeply sorry,” she said, visibly distressed, “that we suggested that interracial families are in any way funny or deserving of ridicule.” Romney himself accepted her “heartfelt apology” this weekend on Fox News, saying “we hold no ill will whatsoever.” And that, at long last, should have been the end of it.
Except, of course, many conservatives are still milking it. On Monday, Ann Coulter called Harris-Perry an MSNBC “token” in a Fox News segment in which she also said that “unfortunately for liberals, there is no more racism in America. There is more cholera in America than there is racism.” On Tuesday, one conservative writer cast Harris-Perry as the modern-day incarnation of Bull Connor (yes, really!), because “skin color—whether using it as an excuse to enslave, segregate, lynch, divide, scorn, mock, get votes or get MSNBC ratings—is part and parcel of the American Left.” And Jason Riley, a black conservative Wall Street Journal editor and Fox News contributor, chimed in to accuse MSNBC of hiring “black mediocrities like Melissa Harris-Perry….simply to race-bait.”
It’s promulgating this view of racism as a problem fabricated by liberals and minorities for political gain—and not any umbrage taken by the Romney family or by families who have adopted across racial lines—that is, of course, the whole point of the conservative outrage machine. Plenty of smart analyses to this effect have been made, and I recommend reading Brittney Cooper at Salon, Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic and Jelani Cobb at The New Yorker in particular. As Coates put it, “The conservative movement does not believe that racism is an actual issue to be grappled with, but sees it instead as a hand grenade to be lobbed into an enemy camp.”