Into Joy Reid’s Primetime Moment
Trymaine Lee: If our audio quality today isn't quite up to par, please forgive us. We're making this episode after a night of violent storms, and the power's out.
Joy Reid: Okay, so perhaps a few of you saw on the Twitters or maybe in, say, the Washington Post or on TheGrio.com that I'm soon to start a new gig right here in this very time slot. (MUSIC)
Lee: That's my friend and MSNBC colleague Joy Reid letting the world know that she was getting a great new gig, hosting a new show on MSNBC in the 7:00 hour.
Reid: With all that we're facing, I am so proud to bring the perspective of a Black woman, a daughter of immigrants, the wife and mother of a husband and kids who sadly are more vulnerable to police violence because of their color.
Lee: Joy becomes the first Black woman to anchor in prime time since the death in 2016 of PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill. (MUSIC) And she's the first Black woman anchor of a prime time show in the entire history of cable TV. The show premiered on July 20th, right after the passing of Congressman John Lewis.
Reid: There could not be a more striking contrast. This weekend, we mourned an icon who spent his life fighting for civil and human rights. And we also witnessed the incoherent rambling of a president who has spent the last four years burning democratic norms to the ground. Good evening. I'm Joy Reid, and welcome to The ReidOut.
Lee: And she brought out some heavy hitters.
Reid: My first guest is the man who will face Donald Trump in November, former Vice President Joe President. Former Vice President Biden, thanks so much for being here tonight.
Joe Biden: Thank you and congratulations. Congratulations--
Reid: Thank you.
Biden: This is a big day.
Lee: (MUSIC) More than 2.5 million people tuned in for that first big day of The ReidOut. It was the second most watched show for MSNBC in its 7:00 p.m. time slot. I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. Joy Reid has spent years putting in the work to get to her prime time moment.
She's worked in local news and politics, written books, and weathered the cancellation of her afternoon show, The Reid Report, in 2015. Then, in 2016, she came back with AM Joy on the weekends. Over the years, I've had the honor to join her as a guest.
Reid: Trymaine Lee, thank you very much. Looking forward to working with you. There's gonna be a lot more Trymaine Lee on AM Joy. Really excited about working with you, man.
Lee: Thank you.
Reid: Thank you very much for the good show--
Lee: But on today's show, we're putting Joy Reid in the guest seat, talking about how she rose to this moment and how she plans to use her new prime time platform. You know, this feels really weird because I'm on this side asking the questions, and I'm normally on the other side with you asking the questions. So here we go. (LAUGHTER)
Reid: The tables have turned.
Lee: Listen, you know, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that you're here. You put in a lot of work over the years. You didn't just arrive out of the sky. You've been (LAUGH) puttin' in this work. But for you, are you surprised you're here? Is there a moment when you pinch yourself and say, like, (LAUGHTER) "How did I actually get here?"
Reid: I'm surprised every single day. LeBron James tweeted at me, and I almost retired. (LAUGHTER) I was like--
Lee: You were like, "That's it. I'm done."
Reid: Right? Anybody famous tweets at me, and I'm like, "I cannot believe this person has any idea who I am." Honestly. I mean, I pinch myself every day. The people I've gotten to meet. I mean, Kerry Washington was on my show. What is that about? You know what I mean? Like, (LAUGHTER) so I'm still not used to anyone knowing who the hell I am.
Lee: I wonder, how did you get here to this moment? Like, growing up, were you from a family that really consumed a lot of media? Were y'all like news junkies? How did you come up?
Reid: Definitely a family of news junkies. So my mother, you know, immigrated to the country in 1960. She met my dad, who was also an immigrant. He was from the Congo. She was from Guyana. And, you know, she was very much into politics. Like, as soon as she was able to get her citizenship, she got it so she could vote in 1976 for Jimmy Carter.
And she took us with her. You know, we were little kids. We went with her to vote. She got very dressed up. It was a big deal. And so she was into politics big time and into the news. And so was I. So around 6th grade, I just got fascinated with the Iran hostage crisis, just to age myself.
And I wanted to watch it, like, every night. My mom let me sit up and watch it 'cause she was into it, too. So we were both news junkies. We would sit up and watch the 11:00 news every night and Nightline after the news. And, you know, this was just a thing we shared.
Lee: What was it about your mother's experience that really shaped her politics? Like, was it from back home? Or what got her so into politics?
Reid: Well, I think because, you know, when my mom came to the United States, there was a guy named Burnham who was the president of Guyana. And he was president for, like, 24 years, right? (LAUGH) Like, I mean, I still remember my mom getting a call from one of her cousins when Burnham died, and it was almost like the king of Guyana had died.
Because, you know, where she came from, democracy, it was sort of a small D, you know? It was not quite a democracy. You had, you know, governments that would last for decades, you know? And both my parents came from those kinds of systems. You know, my father came from a country where, you know, to run against the leader, you'd wind up dead, you know?
And so what we knew about the Congo was that there is no democracy. Mobutu Sese Seko was the lifetime president when I was growing up. I remember later in his life my father tried to run for office, and he had to drop out because the president's men sent gunmen to track him down 'cause he was in the wrong party.
So I just had parents who came from countries where voting was a luxury. They all really thought it mattered that Black people in this country get the opportunity to choose the president. It was a big deal to all my relatives. All of those older immigrant folks in my family, they are voting fanatics. It was just instilled into us even as kids that politics is not just important; it's a responsibility.
Lee: So coming from your parents' experience and viewing their politics through the filter of being immigrants and you and your brothers and sisters being first-generation Americans, how has that kinda shaped your world view and your view on politics?
Reid: It's had a profound effect on the way I look at politics. So when I look at us, I see a country that could have a Mobutu. Any country can have a Saddam Hussein. Any country can have a Vladimir Putin, even us. And American exceptionalism to me is a myth that was told to Americans so that we wouldn't be ready for our own Mobutu.
Well, now we have him. Trump is Mobutu. It used to be that the only difference was there weren't mass killings happening. Well, now we have mass death that he's allowing. How is that different? So I think that I look at our politics the way the world looks at our politics. And I think having immigrant parents who didn't have the luxury of getting to change presidents every four years helps me to see us in that way.
Lee: You know, speaking of strong men, we're less than 90 or so days from the election. Do you believe, if you had to bet, you had to put a wager on it, that if Donald Trump loses, how much of a fight is he gonna put up?
Reid: Listen, if Donald Trump doesn't win, I think we will have a fight unlike anything we've seen in our history. Think about it. George W. Bush, look how hard he fought. Look how hard his people fought to make sure that he got into office. Look at what the conservative members of the Supreme Court were willing to do.
Look what norms they were willing to throw out in order to make sure that a Republican was president. And that's in 2000. What more do you think Donald Trump, who cares nothing about the norms of the presidency, cares nothing about the rules, restrictions? So think about what he's been willing to do before the election.
I mean, they have created a secret police force in essence, deployed it into the streets of Democratic-run cities to brutalize people, to snatch people off the street. If this were another country, we would say this is a full-on autocracy and we need to send election monitors in. But who's gonna send election monitors in to save us?
So the reality is if Donald Trump doesn't win, I think you can expect a full-on fight to say the election was fraudulent. I think you can expect him to go to court. I think you can expect his supporters to go to the streets. And I think it's not gonna be pretty. And I think it's gonna take quite a while for us to know who the president is because I think we're gonna be in this fight maybe till December.
Lee: Wow. So let's go back a little while. Many people know you obviously from MSNBC as a host and correspondent, but you've been on the radio. You've been a print reporter. You've been in digital, dabblin' in film. Was there a moment when you said, "You know what? Journalism it is"? Or I should say, when was that moment?
Reid: (LAUGH) Yeah, no, you know, it's funny. I was originally supposed to be a doctor. (LAUGHTER) You know, West Indian kids say, "I'm gonna be a doctor," at, like, 12, and then it's like you're locked in--
Reid: --right? My sister was gonna be the lawyer. I was gonna be the doctor. My brother was gonna be an architect. That's the traditional Caribbean kid trajectory. But, you know, my mom unfortunately passed when I was 17, about 22 days before I was supposed to start college. And that dream just dissolved.
So I proceeded to nearly fail out of Harvard my freshman year. I spent most of my time at Brown University, where my sister was, crying, you know, or drinking too much, or trying to, you know, sleep my days away. I was just depressed and miserable, and there was just no way that this being a doctor thing was gonna happen.
So I took a year off, and I moved in with my Auntie Dolly in Brooklyn, and I just had to start my whole life over of what I was gonna do. And I happened to get a job, 'cause I was temping, a thing that doesn't exist anymore, for you young'uns who don't remember it.
But I was temping at Columbia Pictures, and they hired me. And I wound up working there and thinking, you know, "This is a new thing I could do." And when I eventually moved out of my auntie's house (because her rules were really strict), (LAUGH) I ended up movin' to Fort Green, which back in those days was Brooklyn boheme, man.
Spike Lee was down the street from me. 40 Acres and a Mule was right there. You know, I watched Missy Elliott shoot her first music video. Films were bein' made, you know, right down the street. It was brilliant. It was just the most incredible place. I mean, Erykah Badu lived there. And so all of a sudden--
Reid: --I was in this whole new world and I went back to school as a film major and decided I just wanted to be the girl Spike Lee. That was my dream. Went back in, majored in film, came out, decided I'm gonna find me a crew and we're gonna make movies. I ended up meeting my husband 'cause I took a job at School of Visual Arts.
Then I got pregnant. (LAUGH) And then I got pregnant a second time. And then we needed a house. And so we had to move because we couldn't afford a home in New York. So we wound up moving to Florida. And so I was like, "You know what? Since I gotta start my life over with these two little kids and this new life, I'm gonna do something that's just fun."
So I wrote a letter to WSVN, which was the local FOX affiliate. And I got a job as a producer, $7.25 an hour writing for the morning show. And it was the greatest job ever. Other than the fact that they had giant cockroaches that ran around (I'm terrified of bugs), it was a great job. I had everything, all the information you could possibly want, right in front of me on this iNEWS magical thing. But that's how I got in news. I got in news 'cause I had to start over.
Lee: The road also has been rocky. Like, you're in this moment, and we've all been celebrating you. But I think back to what I've witnessed with The Reid Report first. The cancellation of that must have been tough. And also the controversy over the comments that offended a lotta gay people in this country. And I wonder how you've been changed by those things, especially the latter, but just generally the road here, how you emerged from that different or changed in some way.
Reid: I like to say, you know, my godmother's saying. You know, she has a lot of sayings. But one of her sayings is, "Disappointment works for good." So on the first thing, on getting canceled, disappointment did work for good 'cause the thing I don't fear is gettin' canceled 'cause it's happened.
Like, the worst thing that could happen to you, right, the death penalty in television is cancellation. So I've already been through that. So there's nothing anybody can really do as far as my career that's gonna scare me, right? I'm a good writer. I know I can always make a living. I can write. I can teach. I'll be fine, right?
So I'm not afraid of that. So I can sort of approach my career with a fearlessness thanks to that cancellation. And it gave me the opportunity to become a reporter, which I had never been. You know, I covered some of the most important stories in my career after I was canceled.
You know, the flag coming down in Mississippi, that Confederate flag coming down, I was inside the building, inside the chambers when the arguments were being made and when that flag was brought down. You know, I covered an alleged lynching in Mississippi.
During this period, I covered Black Lives Matter cases like Freddie Gray. You know, I was in Baltimore. I got the chance to do more of what I had done when you and I met when I was at TheGrio covering the Trayvon case. So on that matter, I think disappoint worked for absolute good. On the second thing, on the controversies, you know, it definitely made me feel a greater responsibility. (MUSIC)
Lee: A quick note here about those controversies Joy just mentioned. In 2017 and 2018, homophobic blog posts from the mid- to late 2000s resurfaced. Joy at one point claimed she'd been hacked. But ultimately, she apologized to viewers and to the LGBTQ community. Here's how she addressed it at the time.
Reid (archival): I've not been exempt from being dumb, or cruel, or hurtful to the very people I want to advocate for. I own that. I get it. And for that, I am truly, truly sorry. I look back today at some of the ways I've talked casually about people, and gender identity, and sexual orientation, and I wonder who that even was. But the reality is that like a lot of people in this country, that person was me.
Reid: You know, words have meaning. Those words have meaning to people in the present, even if they are deep in the past. And I think that it's made me feel a greater responsibility, particularly to those communities. You know, I have in my own family people I love who are LGBT. And I have to look out for them.
I have to make sure that their advancement continues. I have to make sure that their lives are possible with the full possibility that mine is. If you inflict pain on people, the most important thing you can do is to hear it and to feel it so that you can then turn that into something positive.
And I have to say I was just so incredibly overwhelmed by the warmth and actually the kindness of this community toward me in a moment when they could have been the opposite and had every right to be. But people in this community were so incredible and were so kind, whether it was my colleagues, my dear friends. I feel even a double responsibility to repay that kindness in everything I do.
Lee: Why do you think that's what you got instead of you're done? Coulda been it for you, but it wasn't.
Reid: So a lot of the people that I was talking to were already my friends. I didn't have to run out and try to make friends in this community; because this happened, I need to go and try to find me some friends. My friends were already there. You know, these are friends, some of these were people that I had known since that time.
So, you know, it's not as if I had to go searching for new people to talk to. These were people who were already my friends, already my colleagues, new people that I definitely met through other folks that I was able to reach out. You know, and reached out to a lotta organizations that, you know, knew of me but we didn't know each other personally.
And so I think because I had at least made those connections over the decades that I've been on this Earth and been in this business and even outside of the business, I think that part of what I had sort of available to me was a community that I already had.
Lee: (MUSIC) When we come back, Joy and I talk about the responsibility she feels stepping into this role in this moment in our country's political and social landscape. Stick with us.
Lee: (MUSIC) We're back with Joy Reid. Speaking of a reckoning, we're in the midst of this racial reckoning. And there are a lotta white folks especially kinda trippin' over themselves trying to find that Black friend like, (LAUGHTER) "I want to learn. I want to grow."
Lee: Some honestly and some, I think they're feigning a little bit, right, 'cause they have to cover. We see what's happened with corporations now. NBA has "Black Lives Matter" on the court. Sprite has the commercials. From your perspective, how do we best cover this moment, and how do you plan on covering this moment as it continues to go on?
Reid: Well, you know, it is true. And I think that's the point that we were just talking about, is that if you don't already have those connections in your actual real life, it's difficult to get them on the back end, right? And so I think for a lot of corporate America, they're now trying to on the back end make those connections.
And God bless 'em for at least caring enough to do it, and I think people need to do it. But I think to your point, you also don't want to just make a black square, and then you're like, "I'm good. I made a black square. I am for equality. Black lives matter," and then walk away. You actually have to do the things that actually change the way things are. And so I think it will benefit these companies if they actually do the work on the back end.
Lee: We could turn that on ourselves also. We could turn that on the media also. MSNBC--
Lee: --and NBC, I think we do a better job than most. But, you know, we should call out the lack of diversity when see it. And I wonder with that, in this moment for you to, you know, acquire this space, this coveted prime time space in the midst of this reckoning, what do you think the message is that it sounds out, that you are here, too, in this moment? And what does it mean for the company to tap you?
Reid: Yeah. No, I think it does mean a lot. And I think it's a visible change that says that we're not just gonna talk about equity; we're actually gonna, you know, produce a more diverse patina on air. But it won't mean anything actually, to be honest, if I don't keep that door open and pull some people in behind me.
So when I got The Reid Report, my first show, you know, I was able to bring in a hair and makeup team that was Black and that, you know, was comfortable working on Black people. 'Cause that's actually a place that there was not a lot of diversity at all in our business.
Lee: It's crazy.
Reid: That we all experience. Yeah, I mean, you didn't have a lot of people who knew how to work on Black hair, you know, work on dark skin. If you, you know, were on AM Joy back when we still had a normal life and we actually went into 30 Rock--
Lee: It's crazy.
Reid: --it didn't matter if you were AAPI, if you were tall, short, big, small, dark skin, you know, the lightest light skin, white, Black, whatever, you were gonna look great because we had people in there that knew how to do every kinda skin and every kinda hair.
And that was something we did deliberately. We wanted that space to be diverse. I'm now in this space, where as we're hiring, as we're bringing in interns, for instance, we need to open those doors, right? And my argument always has been affirmative action is that you look for me.
That I'm out there anyway. I'm out there bein' smart. I'm doin' the thing. I'm very talented. But if you're not looking for me, you'll never find me. And so for us when we're trying to create diversity, we can't just say, "Well, our doors are open, Black people. Come on in." We have to look for them.
We have to actually have an affirmative push to find people. And so that's what I'm doing. I'm looking for guests. When we're casting the show, we're looking at it and we're saying, "Is this all white guys? Yeah, that's not gonna work. Is there a Black person that can do that same thing? Is there a Latino person? Is there an LGBT person that can do that same thing? Is there an AAPI person? Have we looked for that? Is there a Muslim person?" That's what we're doing every day when we're looking at just what our show looks like and also behind the scenes.
Lee: You know, with that, when Black folks, often when we're in these white spaces, a lot of folks deal with many pressures. One of them is, like, impostor syndrome sometimes, feeling like, "Do I belong here?" And then you have to deal with the pressure of the white gaze, and how do you look, and how do you feel, and how do you speak. Have you had to wrestle with any of those feelings?
Reid: I mean, I definitely did in college. The first time anybody ever said, "Can I touch your hair?" I literally was like, "What am I, a pet? No, you can't. (LAUGHTER) Are you crazy?" Like, the roommate situation was wild. You know, I've had the blessing of working for a lot of Black companies.
I worked for Radio One. I've worked for TheGrio. But then when you're in the opposite situation, you know, even at work when I was at TheGrio, I would go into the big meeting, the big show meeting, and I would be one of maybe one or two Black people in the room. And then it's a whole different thing.
I remember one time I had a job working in a consulting firm where I was the only Black person that worked in the entire company. And I made a point with clients in the room and the guy who was the senior VP of marketing said, "Right on." (LAUGH) And I could just feel my entire face burnin' up.
Reid: "Right on"? Like, he didn't respond that way to anybody else's ideas. So I said, "Let me just wait till after the show is over," 'cause, you know, my mother's in my head, right? "Don't go off and go nuts and get fired."
Lee: "Don't get fired."
Reid: So afterwards, I went in his office and I said, "Why did you respond to what I said by saying, 'Right on'?" "Well, I thought your point was really good." "Yeah, but that was offensive." "Oh, no, no, no." He then immediately started to tell me about all his Black friends. (LAUGH)
Reid: "I have Black friends. I'm not racist. (LAUGH) Yeah, let me tell you about," and then literally had the Black friend call me (LAUGH) to tell me. But that was one of those instances where you realize, "Okay, my skin is what you see and you don't hear what I'm saying."
And I think the most important thing I always tell people in those situations is you have to say something. Like, maybe in that moment is not the most appropriate time, but you've gotta confront people when they do that. 'Cause if you don't, they are not gonna know.
Lee: And so I've talked to some of our female colleagues about what it's like to be a woman in media and in broadcast journalism and the way their bodies and hairs are policed. And I can only imagine that being a Black woman adds another level of scrutiny. Have you had to deal with that? And how do you weather that when you know that your body, the way you present, your hair, your face is often radical to some people?
Reid: So I remember getting my hair braided to go to South Africa a couple years ago. And when I came back, I had an executive say to me, "Well, that hairstyle is not appropriate to fill in," 'cause I was filling in for a prime time show. And those are the kinda things you'd never hear if you're white, that you just don't deal with, the idea that the hair or the way I wear my hair as a Black person that is just a common way we wear our hair is considered inappropriate.
I've had white people say that to me before when I would go on job interviews. "Maybe that's not the right hairstyle. You should change your hair because that's not appropriate. It's not corporate." So I've definitely had that happen to me. I thank God for the CROWN Act because this was a pre-CROWN Act conversation. Post-CROWN Act, you see how my hair is right now? (LAUGH)
Lee: For those that don't know, the CROWN Act is a law that bans discrimination against natural hair and hair styles. Uh-huh (AFFIRM). (LAUGHTER) I see.
Reid: I can wear my hair anywho I want, any way I want and nobody can say anything. Thank God. There should be a CROWN Act in every state because there shouldn't be the added pressure of trying to make yourself look like a white person when you are clearly not white.
And our hair is nappy. Some of our hair is straight. We come in all flavors and sizes. Some of our hair we color it blonde. We'll put it in braids. We do what we want. And this should not be an impediment to our moving up in the world. I want to see more, you know, sisters natural.
If you don't want to be natural, wear your hair however you want because it's your hair. And if somebody tries to challenge you on it, be prepared to fight. Because we have to fight to be who we are, and look how we look, and be as we are in this business. Otherwise, what's the point of diversity?
Lee: And what's it mean for you, for little Black girls to look up and see you prime time with your hair the way you want it, (LAUGH) being yourself? What does it mean to you?
Reid: When we did the prime time show, the first night of it on The ReidOut, a gentleman who has actually been on the show tweeted that his daughter looked up at the TV and said, "Her hair is curly like mine." And that makes me feel really proud. You know, Gwen Ifill was that woman for me when I was a kid 'cause there was almost nobody Black.
You know, she was like the only one. She and Carol Simpson were the only Black people that I ever saw, Black women that I ever saw doing news. And I revered them so much because they looked like me. And so I think it's important that our little Black girls and little Black boys can look at the TV and say, "That person looks like me."
Lee: Why is this moment significant? Talk about Gwen Ifill. She was the last Black woman to host a prime time show. Why does this moment matter, and why does it matter that it's you?
Reid: I don't know that it matters that it's me. I think it matters that it's somebody, right? I think that especially when we're living in the backlash to the moment when Barack Obama gave us reconstruction, political reconstruction and social reconstruction, now we're in redemption.
And I think during the redemption period, the second redemption period in American history, it's important to have visible markers of the fact that we will resist this. More immigrants that look like me are coming. More little brown kids are gonna be born, and be in the United States, and be Americans, no matter how many you try to deport.
Muslims are still gonna be Muslims, including one fifth of Black people, even when we came to this country, dragged here against our will. LGBT people are still gonna get married, no matter what anyone says. Trans people are still gonna exist, no matter what anybody says.
I don't care how angry, and recalcitrant, and mean the right continues to be. None of this is gonna stop. America is going to be a multicultural democracy, whether they like it or not. And so I think having visible markers of that resistance and that insistence on equality are so, so crucial. And I think I am just one of very, very many.
Lee: Joy, whether they like it or not, they're gonna look up on TV and see your face at 7:00 (LAUGHTER) weekdays, every day. Joy Reid--
Lee: --you are a friend, a colleague. You are a gem. You brought so many of us joy and insight, and we thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Reid: Thank you very much. And I'm glad that we finally stole you. People may not know that I plotted to steal Trymaine Lee from the Huffington Post from the first time I read your first (LAUGH) brilliant story.
Lee: Thank you.
Reid: But I got to know you as you were the person I bumped into more than anybody else covering the Trayvon Martin story. And we became friends.
Lee: Appreciate it.
Reid: You are a great brother. So thank you very much for having me on.
Lee: (MUSIC) Into America is produced by Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Barbara Raab, Claire Tighe, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan. Original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is executive producer of audio. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll be back tomorrow.