Saying No To Great Expectations

Since I have moved to the city, podcasts have become an essential part of my life. They help me survive my commute and they are one thing that nothing in the city is: free. So when I heard that Melissa Harris Perry was going to speak on the Another Round Podcast, I had to listen.
Most of us have heard that the Melissa Harris Perry Show was cancelled due to a portion of an  email from Perry to her staff being leaked on the internet. The most publicized quote from the email is as follows: “The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head.” Melissa Harris Perry (MHP) gone on to state in recent interviews that MSNBC had been keeping her show in limbo while not responding to her emails concerning the future of her show.
Now to be completely honest, I had been ignoring MHP and MSNBC’s very public split. It had become another racially charged story overnight. Between trying to understand how the American affinity for entertainment had allowed Donald Trump to get this far and actively attempting to maintain my own sanity, I had recently started ignoring anything with the buzzwords “injustice,” “police,” or “Trump.” But anyone who knows me knows that I am always here for the tea and if MHP was gonna break her silence, I was gonna be nosy and listen in.
A disclaimer: If you want a rant about the establishment and how MSNBC took MHP and discarded her like society has discarded black women all throughout history and that her referencing herself as a “mammy” or a “brown-bobble head” was YASSSSSSSSSSS worthy, look for another think piece. You won’t get that from me.
In her interview with the show’s hosts Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, Melissa Harris Perry was eloquent and composed in a way that I can only aspire to be in the face of becoming a public source of controversy overnight. She name-dropped. She wasn’t ashamed of sipping the tea. She spoke up and told her truth.  She dealt with the human fear of being expendable and was vulnerable enough to admit that MSNBC hurt her with their behavior. The whole interview was phenomenal. But the quote that stood out to me the most was her response to MSNBC when they made it clear that they wanted her to change the content and direction of her show:
“…where I finally said ‘You know what, cool. It seems to me that what you want is not my show. If you want me to go on television and act like this [referring to change in content] isn’t happening you must want an anchor and I’m not an anchor.”
She didn’t say this with malice. MHP just said it. She knew what MSNBC wanted from her wasn’t who she was and made the hard choice to walk out.  For me, as a young woman who probably apologizes a lot more than she should, that was the most powerful message. Some things in life are non-negotiable. And if maintaining your non-negotiables means putting everything on the line, even the things that you care about – do it anyway.
I don’t consider myself a pleaser, but I do care about being perceived favorably and meeting expectations that I have set for myself. And as an educated black woman, those expectations are heightened. To be completely honest: I am obsessed with being twice as good. I am constantly looking for ways to prove that I deserve to be where I am while also holding up the expectations I set for myself and the expectations that come from my community. But more and more I am learning that I need to drop that burden and just live my life.  A good friend of mine told me once, “Nia, learn to live your life outside of the expectations.” Everyone expected MHP to keep doing what she was doing – and it would have made sense for her to do just that. But she knew herself well enough to recognize that the expectations that others had set for her were no longer aligned with who she was. Maybe that is because she is older and wiser. Or maybe it wasn’t. But all I know is that she was brave enough to respectfully say what she wasn’t finna do, and get up and walk out of it like a G – even while being hurt deeply in the process.
I want to get to the place in life where I can do that with no apologies. I don’t want to keep letting others pressure me into being who they think I should be. If whatever you’re trying to achieve doesn’t let you be you at any point in the process, it’s not yours anymore and it’s time to move on.
So no, this won’t be a rant on injustice. And I don’t think that’s what MHP would want (don’t believe me – listen to the podcast). But more and more in life, I am learning the value of defining who you are outside of expectations. And that’s what Melissa Harris Perry did. So thank you for being brave enough and comfortable enough with you to unapologetically say what you weren’t finna do MHP. This over-achieving-twenty-something-year-old millennial appreciates it.
By: Nia Johnson
Twitter: @KeepingitClassi

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