Melissa Harris Perry Saying ‘Kids Belong To The Whole Community’ Does Not Make Her A ‘Communist’

Melissa Harris Perry Kids Belong To CommunitiesMelissa Harris Perry, professor of political science and television host on MSNBC, recorded one of those groovy little channel promos you have probably seen before for the “Lean Forward” campaign that runs on MSNBC. In her spot, Perry says that:

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children”

Our kids belong to the community. It takes a village. This makes sense, right? The idea that we have to do better for our children, that we need better public education, more after-school programs for kids, more community involvement in making things better for these little humans who will one day be big humans.

I have watched the above clip about 20 times and I still don’t understand the reaction that some people are having to it. And neither does Perry, who answered the vitriol she has received with this:

My inbox began filling with hateful, personal attacks on Monday, apparently as a result of conservative reactions to a recent “Lean Forward” advertisement now airing on MSNBC, which you can view above. What I thought was an uncontroversial comment on my desire for Americans to see children as everyone’s responsibility has created a bit of a tempest in the right’s teapot. Allow me to double down.

One thing is for sure: I have no intention of apologizing for saying that our children, all of our children, are part of more than our households, they are part of our communities and deserve to have the care, attention, resources, respect and opportunities of those communities.

Perry goes on to cite examples from her own life where she felt the community was involved in raising her and others:

Then I started asking myself where did I learn this lesson about our collective responsibility to children. So many answers quickly became evident.

I learned it from my mother who, long after her own kids were teens, volunteered on the non profit boards of day care centers that served under-resourced children.

I learned it from my father who, despite a demanding career and a large family of his own, always coached boys’ basketball teams in our town.

A return to living in the sort of world where if your neighbor saw your kid falling off their bike they would help them up, and not walk right by them because this is sort of what most people do these days. A community where the kids who live in it knew if a grownup saw them bullying another kid they would stop and intervene, not ignore it. The sort of world where if an athletic coach heard rumors about an alleged rape, he would immediately alert authorities, not “take care of it.” I’m expounding on what Perry said in her video, obviously, but what I view as a totally benign commentary on the need for better public education has been translated into a call for extremist measure by people like (Spoiler alert? Nah, you guessed it!) Rush Limbaugh, who said this on his radio show:

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  • AS

    What? I mean, what?! I hate Rush Limbaugh with a passion. I truly think he just does this for $$ and ratings, surely he can’t believe half the stuff that comes out of his mouth. But regardless, his followers will take his word as gold. Sheesh.

    • Eve Vawter

      and it wasn’t just him, of course your good friends at Fox News and sarah Palin had to be greatly offended by this 30 second commercial too

    • AS


    • Valeri Jones

      Ugh. Fox News. In my house, we call that Faux News or the Pseudo News.

  • Carinn Jade

    This is ridiculous! I totally agree with Perry’s statement and your piece. What is wrong with people? I love that she said she was doubling down – go MHP!

  • Justme

    Perhaps I’m biased because I am a teacher and therefore it’s in my nature to honestly care about the goodwill of children who do not biologically belong to me, but I think she is absolutely correct.

    I want to see forward progress in this world. I want things to change for the better. But I can’t do it all by myself so I have to teach not only my own child how to live with conviction, confidence and tolerance but I must teach these traits to my students as well. I must model for them how to show kindness, respect and consideration for others.

    If, as a society, we are tired of the status quo of hatred, violence and tragedy then we must collectively step outside of our insular bubbles and try to positively influence as many children that we can because THEY are the key to a different future. If I care about the world that my daughter will inhabit in the future, I must care about the people who will inhabit it with her.

    I know that I must sound a bit idealistic and not securely based in reality but I truly believe in the powerful influence a positive role model can have in a child’s life.

    When I started my teaching career in a low-income school rife with gang violence, broken homes and children who didn’t have the luxury of a proper childhood, I would come home depressed – I couldn’t “fix” everything for these kids who deserved so much better. My mother (a lifelong teacher and youth minister) told me something that I have carried with me – you put as much good stuff into these kids in the time that you have and you just pray that it sticks with them in the future.

    So that’s what I’ll keep on doing.

    • Eve Vawter

      Teachers rule and so do you

  • Blueathena623

    One of these days, someone else’s kid is going to be your president, your doctor, your accountant, your cook — you really don’t want to contribute at all to try and make these people better?

    • once upon a time

      This is exactly what I was going to say. The ‘village’ part also refers to the responsibility everyone has to ensure that children get the best possible start in life so that we can build a better future (ugh, that sounds so trite and politician-y but it’s too early to think of something better).

  • Guerrilla Mom


  • Cee

    I believe with Melissa Harris Perry. I think the community no longer interferes with children because they are afraid. I think parents and the larger community have both put up walls due to this fear. Parents, being protective and at times overly protective have made it impossible for the community to want to help. Try to correct a child and “mama bear” will come after you, try to teach a child and…read blogs about parents view of teachers or watch the news about every complaint regarding a teacher, try to be the doctor that advices on a child’s well being and they are wrong mother knows best, try to help a child and you might be a pervert, lastly try being entitled because you are a parent (see STFUParents) and the community will have nothing to do with you. Granted, some of these reactions are warranted. Many things have happened that have made parents as protective as they are, just watching the news would make me very nervous about every step my child would take. Out of these fears and parent reaction, the community does not help and puts up their wall right after parents put theirs. It is the responsibility of the community to try to reach out rather than be afraid. They have reason to be afraid as well. (Ever have a “mama bear” berate you? Let me tell you, my heart was JUMPING!) But, the community will one day encounter these children and if we want whats best for them and for us, the community must find a way to get past the fear and reach out and help. There are parents out there that want it!

  • Rachel Sea

    I completely agree. I could not respect myself if I didn’t stop bullying by passing schoolkids in front of my house, or right a fallen child with skinned palms lagging a bit behind her family. Maybe if communities were more willing to BE communities from infancy on up, my neighborhood wouldn’t have so many issues with poorly socialized adults. Kids don’t magically become responsible, law-abiding citizens on their 18th birthday, they have to start practicing from childhood.

    I’m starting my orientation to volunteer as a literacy tutor tonight, because a quarter of our population is functionally illiterate – which means our public education system has failed. Uneducated kids become uneducated adults, so no wonder there is a desperate shortage of reasonable, evidence based, public discourse.

    That functionally illiterate quarter of the population has kids, just like everyone else, and they don’t magically become literate when they become parents. This means that their kids are less likely to be literate, owing to a lack of exposure to reading, and a lack of parental resources to provide educational support, in absence of community intervention.

    People can only lift themselves up by their bootstraps if they HAVE bootstraps. If they don’t, then it is in the best interest of the community to help them rise.

  • Valeri Jones

    Absolutely! We have lots of neighbors and of course I will send my teenage stepsons across the street to mow a lawn for the elderly lady whose grown kids are spoiled brats and won’t help her with anything. Why, just today, I was walking into a store to pick up some spring cleaning items and saw an older lady struggling to carry a large bag of dog food. So I stopped what I was doing and packed it out to her car for her because that’s how I was raised.

    On another aspect of this whole debate, consider this: If you live in a town where a star basketball player went to high school, don’t you feel pride as a community that you live in the same place that raised the boy, so to speak? We see it all the time.

    Then again, there’s the other aspect. There’s lot of kids in my neighborhood. Some of them, not so nice. I’ve witnessed them bullying each other and throwing rocks at windows. I’ve also witnessed another neighbor getting onto them and the parents of these children (where were they before hand?!?!) running outside and verbally lashing out at the non-parent for daring to be mean to their child. It’s hard to feel like your community is raising a child when you have to worry that another parent is going to freak out on you or press charges or whatever if you try to say or do anything.

  • AE Vorro

    I have the feeling that if Perry or any of her colleagues recorded an ad saying “I like chocolate, birthday gifts, and kittens,” Limbaugh and his ilk would find some way to call them a wrong-headed Communist…

  • Zoe

    I was chatting about this issue with a pregnant friend in Uganda a while ago, and she told me a story of a scene she had recently witnessed while walking down the street. A child, perhaps 10, was standing outside a shop and kicked at a chicken (they’re everywhere). A man exiting the shop grabbed the child by the upper arm and gave him a finger-waggle and a quick talking-to. The child’s mother came out of the shop next door and asked what happened. The man explained. My friend was now walking close enough to hear, and the mother was thanking the man for administering discipline when she was not present. She then walked away with her son, explaining that people should never hurt animals. Apparently this is the norm, where every adult is expected to step in if a child misbehaves. My friend says the people there have an incredibly strong sense of community. Something to think about.

  • Gangle

    I’d love to know when having some communist ideals was a bad thing anyway? Sure, it hasn’t worked so far in real life, but the idea of working and serving for the good of your community instead of yourself? Equal schooling for children? Why is that so terrible? Perhaps communism isn’t ever going to work in politics, but maybe we would all benefit from being inspired by some of its ideals.

    • once upon a time

      And this was also what I wanted to say. The Cold War ended decades ago. There’s no Ruskies under your bed. Appreciating the ideal of people working together to build a community, while also understanding that as a form of government it’s far too prone to corruption, is not pinko garbage.

    • Gangle

      Thank you. I figured that I was going to get a lot of flak for that comment. But I guess I am NOT taking too many crazy pills. If it was ok for John Lennon, it is ok for me.

  • Annie

    You wouldn’t believe the personal abuse I got for commenting about this on youtube. People jumped to call her a cunt, part of the illuminati, a slut, a cow, ugh.

    The fact that this is at all a deal just enrages me. SHE IS NOT BEING LITERAL. WHAT THE FUCK.

    • Justme

      You know what bothers me about the comments? If you disagree with her, do it intelligently. Give actual reasons based in some sort of ideology or rational thought process. Using foul language to insult someone is a sign of low intelligence…to me at least.

    • Annie

      That’s totally correct, but no, they jumped to attacking her as a woman! It’s absolutely nuts.

    • Justme

      They’re reactions are crazy, but I also take solace in the fact that (for most people, hopefully) it undermines their actual argument against her, you know what I mean?

  • Annie

    Just check out the comments:

  • Justme

    This is what popped up on my Facebook feed last night. I wanted to pull a Princess Bride and tell the person that Perry’s statements “did not mean what you think it meant.”

  • RobMac

    Well, it seems that the “backlash” has been a bit hysterical and crass. In the spirit of reasoned civility then, I’d offer this perspective on why some of what Melissa Harris Perry is saying is great, and why some of it is off base (and could be interpreted as dangerous). Along with a lot of commenters on this blog, I value the idea of communities being more involved with its children. We’d all be better served if it was more the exception than the rule to see an adult step in to stop a bully, or someone offer to help an elderly person with yard work. In fact, I’m sure that an awful lot of people — conventionally both left and right, even — could and would get behind this kind of community development. I think however the problems come when people use language that fundamentally questions to whom it is that children ultimately belong. When someone offers that we have to “get passed these private notions” of children and the family, some people worry that “society” or the state could infringe on their ability to raise their children as they see fit. Given a lot of very open, high-level discussion of these kinds of ideas — the celebrity-Philosopher Daniel Dennett suggested in his TED talk that children be “spared” religious indoctrination, even if this meant a state-mandated custodial role — this concern does not seem entirely alarmist or paranoid. Rights and obligations are always backed by power and force, and we should consider a wide range of implications and scenarios before we wax figuratively about children “belonging to the world.”

    • Makabit

      Sure, there are terrible potential scenarios that could develop if you assume that the rights of society over children trump the rights of their parents. Of course, it works the other way as well. If you assume the community should butt out, and the nuclear family should be the only source of authority because children ‘belong’ to their parents…well, issues arise of physical abuse, sexual abuse, denying a child an education, child labor…a whole lot of unlovely things that you could reasonably worry are implied by saying that a parent controls his or her child.

      In real life, there’s a balance between the privacy of a family, and the demands of society. But I will be honest, I think that mostly the fretting over ‘the state’ stepping in and making your kids become vegetarian atheists is self-indulgence, or a money-maker for blowhards like Limbaugh. Do we all agree where the lines are? No. Are we going to tell people they can’t teach their children religion? No. Are we going to end up with a situation where the neighbors can requisition your kid for yard labor from the government? No.