Amazing MSNBC show host, writer, and professor Melissa Harris-Perry recently detailed how a racist and possible Nazi said some very threatening things to her in a very threatening posture while she was at the Iowa caucus with a group of her students. It's unclear what the man had actually intended to do, but it's a horrifying and very important story. Trigger warning for a brief description of a past rape.
Of Teachers and Students
What really strikes me is her incredibly powerful description of her trauma response to the situation. Melissa Harris-Perry is a survivor, and her freezing response is a very common reaction in trauma survivors and people in generally, actually. But she explains exactly how her brain and body responded to the danger.
I freeze. He speaks. And moves closer. Is there a knife under the coat? A gun? Worse?
And I can’t hear all the words. But I catch “Nazi Germany” and I catch “rise to power.” But I can’t move. I am lulled by a familiar powerlessness, muteness, that comes powerfully and unexpectedly. It grips me. Everything is falling away.
Harris-Perry goes on to talk about how the sight of her students and remembering their presence was the thing that snapped her back into reality and allowed her to move away and defend herself.
It's also fucking terrifying as shit that this man, likely a white supremacist, threatened this black woman and that she has to fear this kind of thing at all. I'm horrified to think what could have happened. Clearly, this man knew what he was doing. He started by confusing his target, then moved quickly into threats and violating personal space. He was likely counting on her freeze response. Then, when that broke, he immediately fled. He knew he no longer held that power over her.
It would have been utterly tragic to lose someone as important and brilliant as Melissa, who was just given the honor of being the first Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at her university.
This is why we have to fight against racism and white supremacy. I will not stand for losing someone like Melissa Harris-Perry because we white people failed to stop men like this.