Melissa Harris-Perry’s “Insulting” Discussion of Star Wars and Race

Melissa Harris-PerryUntil tonight I had no idea who Melissa Harris-Perry is, but a rant posted on Facebook about her claims that Star Wars is racist because Darth Vader is black caught my attention.  Not knowing who Melissa Harris-Perry is or seeing the supposed offending clip from her television program didn’t really matter.  I knew there was something here that wasn’t going to make a lot of sense.  Let me briefly get it off my chest.

First off, Melissa Harris-Perry does not go off on some rant condemning Star Wars as a racist film because Darth Vader is black.  Melissa Harris-Perry shared feelings from her childhood that matter to her.  She did not condemn the story.  Instead, the segment gives her a chance — very briefly — to share those feelings, and go on to explain that it is good to see more diverse role models in the new Star Wars film.  That’s it!

The posts condemning Melissa Harris-Perry are outrageous and silly, damning  her as a liberal “fucktard” and all the rest.  (My friend reposting the link thinks Harris-Perry should be fired!)  All I can say is calm down, your outrage betrays your shame.

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Stri...

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Overall, the discussion of diversity in Star Wars was smart and simple, highlighting the positive roles across race, gender, and even animals and machines!  Barbie dolls get a mention, too.  It is all harmless and, frankly, enlightening.

I don’t know a lot about the black and white dichotomy where black is associated with evil and white with good in our society.  I suspect it has something to do with the Old Testament where we are told on the first day god divided light from dark or some such thing, right?  We can debate how relevant that is or should be, but I don’t think there is any offense in pointing out the dichotomy.  In any case, it really has little bearing here.

Rather, I would suggest that people who find something wrong with this sort of comment — people who feel that there is something insulting about it all — have other not-so-hidden issues.  Can you feel outrage if there isn’t something personal being attacked?  What threat does a discussion of race in a film raise?  And why?

That is the real issue here.  It reflects a sort of tribalism — we versus the other — that is defined by race and more specifically race as a point of difference and conflict.

Take a deep breath, inspect your anger!

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