Tag Archives: Race

Spotlight On: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Ph.D.


Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Political scientist, professor, feminist, writer and mother. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is an academic force to be reckoned with. She can often be seen on television sharing insightful and well researched opinions about the intersection between race, politics and gender. If you are a fan of the Rachel Maddow show or Keith Olberman on MSNBC then you’ve undoubtedly seen Melissa holding her own while engaging in intellectually entertaining dialog.  Her knowledge on the topics she addresses far exceeds her years on this earth (she’s only 34) and it is perhaps her fresh perspective that makes her one to watch.

Melissa’s success and chosen fields of study are examples of the apple not falling far from the tree and the environment in which she was raised. She was born in Seattle but raised in Virginia, both in the cities of Charlottesville and Chester. Her father, an African American, graduated from Howard University and was roommates with Stokely Carmichael. Her father later became the dean of African American affairs for the University of Virginia. Her mother, Caucasian, graduated from Brigham Young University and later became a professor at a local community college in Virginia. She also spent significant time working for non-profit organizations focused on helping poor communities. Melissa had an early awareness of race growing up in a blended family. Her father previously had three children with an African American woman and her mother had a daughter with a Caucasian man from a previous marriage. Melissa is the only child between her parents. Regarding growing up in this household Melissa says, “It was a very unique, kind of interracial, interesting family… in my household, there were different racial identities; people thinking and understanding themselves within different identities, but of course all being brother and sisters”.

With parents who clearly fostered and demonstrated the importance of education, it is no surprise that Melissa graduated from Wake Forest University with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She continued her studies and later received a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University as well as an honorary doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School. Currently she is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Over the course of Melissa’s career she has been published in several scholarly journals. Her book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, (Princeton 2004) is an award winning examination of public discourse and political ideology formation in the black community. She is currently hard at work on her next book titled, Sister Citizen: A Text For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn’t Enough (Forthcoming Yale University Press).

In addition to writing, Melissa is an Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University where her students call her MHL. She is known for her dynamic teaching style and for courageously tackling timely and relevant discussions on race, politics, culture and gender in the classroom. As an example, she held a course entitled Disaster, Race and American Politics which explored the multiple political meanings of Hurricane Katrina.

Somewhere in the midst of all her writing, researching, teaching and television appearances, Melissa finds the time to be a devoted mother to her beloved daughter Parker, who is sure to be yet another apple not far from the tree.

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Spotlight On: Soledad O’Brien


15786_Soledad-O_Brien“I define myself as multiracial. Definitions are important to other people. They make no difference to my life. I think my parents were sort of like. You’re a black girl. You’re a light skinned black girl – that’s what you are, and I don’t know if it was ever a really big issue…” – Soledad O’Brien

 She was the investigative force behind CNN’s much talked about series, Black in America and Latino in America. Next to Roland Martin, she is usually the most outspoken journalist on CNN, often not afraid to say the tough things. Award winning journalist, Soledad O’Brien is no shrinking violet.

 She was born Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien in Long Island New York to Edward and Estella O’Brien. Both of her parents are immigrants, her mother a black Cuban and her father, a white Australian. As the fifth of six children, Soledad had the great fortune to be born into a family that valued education. Her mother was a French and English teacher and her father a mechanical engineering professor. Clearly it was the example they set that led to them raising six children, all of whom graduated from Harvard. Soledad’s sibling’s professions range from law professor and corporate attorney to eye surgeon and anesthesiologist. Soledad attended Smithtown High School East in Smithtown, NY and was often faced with the race question. She says of her middle school days:

“…when I was 13 I’d be stopped in the hallway, with a question: “If you’re a n—–, why don’t you have big lips? [or]…“Why is your name so weird?” People would apologize for asking me if I was black. I didn’t know how to take the apology. I just ignored them and pushed forward with a quest to become a typical Long Island teenager. I chopped off the end of my name and had people call me Solie, which I spelled with a heart over the “i” in true Long Island high-school-girl fashion. But my hair would never “wing” like Farrah Fawcett’s.

Despite the challenges, Soledad went on to attend Harvard University in the footsteps of her siblings. She did not immediately graduate, choosing instead to postpone her degree in favor of pursuing her journalism career. She started out as an associate producer and writer for an NBC affiliate in Boston. She went on to join NBC news in New York as a field producer for the Nightly News and Today. It wasn’t long before she became on-air talent for an NBC affiliate in San Francisco, the Discovery Channel and eventually began anchoring the weekend morning show on MSNBC. She continued writing and contributing reports for the Today Show and NBC Nightly News. In 2000, the same year that she was named one of People magazines “50 Most Beautiful People in the World”; Soledad completed her studies at Harvard and received her Bachelor of Arts.

 Soledad’s career trajectory and accolades are beyond impressive. Since joining CNN she has covered some of the most significant stories of our time, from Hurricane Katrina to the 2008 Presidential election. Her most recent success has come from her special investigative reporting series, Black in America  and Latino in America. As a mother and wife with a successful career, Soledad continues to demonstrate for women the world over that the sky is the limit.

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Black Women and Interracial Dating/Marriage: Necessity or Choice?


untitled237888Article after article has continued to explore the increasing numbers of black women who remain unmarried. The reasons for the dwindling statistics range from choice to self-professed “pickiness.” Perhaps the most controversial reason is the notion that there are not enough eligible, “good on paper,” quality black men. However debatable that notion is, the result is what appears to be the resurgence of conversation amongst circles of black women about opening their dating experiences, and ultimately their marriage options, to men of different races. If the sports industry is any reflection, one can infer that black men clearly have let go of any hang-ups they have about opening their dating experiences to women of different races. So why shouldn’t black women do the same? The question is, are black women opening their dating experiences to men of other races out of necessity (lack of good, quality black men) or choice (conscious decision to be open)? Ladies, we want to hear from you. Let us know what you think…necessity or choice?

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