What a shame and an embarrassment for Cornell it was to feature MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as the speaker at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Lecture on Feb. 23.
The event, titled “We Can’t Breathe: The Continuing Consequences of Inequality,” was ostensibly meant to serve as a thought-provoking reflection on contemporary race relations and the role the teachings of Dr. King should play today in light of recent elevation of racial tensions due to the cases involving Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.
Instead, Harris-Perry delivered an hour-long comedy routine lightly mixed in, here and there, with some serious thought. Though she did reference Dr. King on numerous occasions, Harris-Perry clearly established from the very beginning that this event was really just about Harris-Perry, and not Dr. King, one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. After a humbling introduction delivered by Dean of Students Kent Hubbell, which referenced Dr. King’s 1960 speech at Cornell and also honored Cornellians slain in the Civil Rights Movement, Harris-Perry started off by taking a “selfie” with the audience behind her.
The event took place in Sage Chapel, with an audience of about 250 packed into the pews. Despite the sanctity of the setting, Harris-Perry could not resist herself in peppering curse words throughout her speech, some of which were obviously planned and not spur of the moment.