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CAREY, Tamika L.

Summer 2018, 48.2, pages 139-160

A Tightrope of Perfection: The Rhetoric and Risk of Black Women’s Intellectualism on Display in Television and Social Media 

Abstract: Although models for recovering and theorizing black women’s discourse have focused on examples of communicative eloquence, competence, verbal prowess, and depictions of strategy, these frameworks do not completely account for the racialized threats of violence black women sometimes incur as consequences for their participation in public dialogues. To understand how risk and penalty are activated against black women intellectuals on television and social media, this essay analyzes the controversy and subsequent social media backlash Wake Forest University professor and former MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry experienced in late 2013 after off-hand remarks about former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s African American grandchild. When read as the consequence of feminist literacy practices and signifying enacted within a hostile surveillance culture, Harris-Perry’s experience reveals an adverse rhetorical condition that penalizes and silences contemporary black women speakers and intellectuals.


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