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Melissa Harris-Perry Angrily Goes Off On the Risks of Poverty

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry briefly lost her usual professional cool on Saturday morning when a guest on her show suggested that entrepreneurs who start new business are not afraid of taking big risks in their lives, compared to the poor people who never succeed.

Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Tulane, had been sparring all morning during her show, “Melissa Harris-Perry,” with a Republican finance expert, Monica Mehta, who had some ideas about why some people stay poor and others become big winners in the U.S. economy. Mehta suggested it was because the entrepreneurs are willing to take risks.

Finally, Harris-Perry had had enough.

“What is riskier than living poor in America?” she said angrily. “Seriously? What in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America. I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner. I love in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kids into a school because maybe it’ll be a good school and maybe it won’t.”

Harris-Perry, who lives in New Orleans, pounded the desk on the MSNBC set.

“I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky,” she said. “No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch and catch you. Being poor is what is risky! We have to create a safety net for poor people and when we won’t because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness. We cannot do that!”

Mehta appeared taken aback by the unusual outburst and grinned sheepishly.

The debate was centered around the line in President Obama’s speech when he implied that entrepreneurs relied on government funds to create the infrastructure that allowed their businesses to succeed. The president said “You didn’t build that!” during the speech, which Republicans pounced on to attack the president for alleging that entrepreneurs didn’t build their business. The Obama campaign said the president merely meant that entrepreneurs didn’t build the roads that they use.

Harris-Perry, the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South at Tulane, has quickly become a darling of the progressive left for her willingness to use her show to delve into thorny matters of race, gender and politics. But with her quick wit and formidable intellect, she has managed to keep the weighty debates on her show—which he calls “nerd headquarters”—entertaining and thought-provoking.


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