Melissa Harris-Perry Discusses Lessons Learned from Anita Hill

Twenty-five years ago, Anita Hill testified before a Senate judiciary committee that she was the victim of unwanted sexual advances by Clarence Thomas. In an exclusive interview with ESSENCE, Melissa Harris-Perry sat down with Hill to get her side of the story.

ESSENCE.COM Apr, 06, 2016
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[MUSIC] It was an extraordinary opportunity to interview Professor Anita Hill. I asked her what she thought about Kerry Washington's portrayal of her. And she said that she thought that Miss Washington was actually more dignified in her portrayal than she actually felt herself during the senate confirmation hearings. Now, I remember those hearings, and I remember thinking that Professor Hill, at just 35, talking there to the senate judiciary committee was the actual paragon of dignity. Exactly what we would think of as Self contained and composed, but she remembers being quite nervous. And so in watching Miss Washington playing that role, she actually sees even more dignity and composure in the character, and that was quite something for me to learn. I also learned from Professor Helb. She said, my mother did not raise her children for the time we were living in. She raised us for the time that was coming. She raised us for a world that had not yet even come to pass. As the mother of young daughters The idea that you would prepare your children in this case, not for a [UNKNOWN] pro-world, but for a world in which a young African American woman would be in a position of actually speaking before an elective body, before, in this case, the US Senate, and that she felt prepared by her mother, who herself did not have a college education or even a high school education. That I think of maybe the very goal of parenting, to prepare our children for a world that has not yet even come to pass I learned from Professor Anita Hill, how angry she was when Justice Thomas invoked the language of lynching to discuss what he was experiencing. During the senate confirmation hearings. And her anger was because her own grandfather had in fact faced the threat of an actual lynching. He bought a small plot of land and was trying to raise his large family on it, was working as a share cropper. And the white sheriff in town and other white citizens living in that town did not think he should own that land and he and his wife and his children had to escape under the cover of night because of a threat of a real lynching. So, when Clarence Thomas said during those Confirmation hearings that this was a high-tech lynching. Professor Hill felt particularly irritated. I will always remember Professor Hill asking this question. It was such a simple question, but I've been asking it of myself ever since the interview. She said to me, Melissa What would be different if they had simply taken me seriously? She doesn't say, what if they believed me? i think a lot of us in the 25 years since the hearings have said, what if they believed Anita Hill? Some of us have even worn shirts that say, I believe Anita Hill. But that's not what she asked. What would be different in this country. What would be different for American women if they had not thought of this as a political maneuver? If they had not thought of this as something to get over quickly, if they had taken seriously the possibility of workplace sexual harassment, if they had take seriously the testimony of an African-American woman, if they had fulfilled their responsibilities and duties. As a Senate judiciary committee what would be different in this country? And I keep asking myself that same question. And I keep coming up with a lot, a lot would be different if we had taken Anita Hill seriously 25 years ago. The fifth and final thing that I learned from the interview With Professor Anita Hill. No member of that committee, in 25 years, has reached out to Professor Hill. In 25 years, no person who sat there and asked her those questions over and over again, ever bothered to pick up the phone And call her to simply say 'Professor Hill, you're a citizen. You came and you did your best. You spoke before the U.S. Senate. You spoke before an elected body here in Washington D.C. How was that experience for you? You how could we make it different the next time around? How could we make it better? How can we be sure that the next woman or the next citizen or the next law professor or the next individual who is facing a situation of such disproof power can have a better experience not one Person including the person who is currently the Vice President of the United States has ever reached out to Anita Hill just to ask that question. Much less to do something like apologize. And I think for me That is stunning. We think of ourselves as having moved beyond that moment. And I think in many ways we have. We're a very different country. But I gotta say, it can't possibly be that hard to pick up the phone and call Professor Hill. [MUSIC]