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.