The ReidOut is Black journalist Joy Reid’s new primetime weeknight program on MSNBC. Since Biden announced his VP pick of Kamala Harris, Joy Reid hasn’t stopped smiling. Just hours after the announcement, Reid interviewed a panel of three prominent Black women: a Congresswoman, a national activist, a mayor. Their faces were in separate boxes across the screen and none of them could stop grinning. In answer to Reid’s questions about the significance of Kamala Harris being on the Democratic ticket, they used words like excited, validated, relieved, it’s about time, we’ve got her back. We.
Over the past 4 years, I’d watched Joy Reid on her Saturday morning show AM Joy, and wished it was on at a better hour. Then I watched as she more and more often filled in for other MSNBC hosts. Then one day her hair was short and natural, not its usual, smooth texture. A few days later, her hair was in long braids wound around her head. A few days after that, she had another natural hairstyle. I’m learning that “Afro-centric hairstyles” is an inclusive term for all the variations of textured hair: braids, dreadlocks, afros, etc.
My first reaction was Wow, that must take a lot of work and time. My next reaction was that her on-air presence seemed bigger, more natural and authentic too. Since July 20, 2020, she hosts her own show The ReidOut, a Black woman with an increasingly strong national voice and on-air presence. It turns out that my impression of this transformation is exactly what she intended. She traveled to South Africa in 2018, and wore braids during her trip. Returning on-air, she defied the years of having her hair straightened at the TV studio and kept her hair in braids in front of the camera.
White culture, you may have noticed, has strong explicit and implicit bias against Afro-centric hairstyles. A 2016 study actually found that white women have the strongest bias against textured hair of Black women. There are recent, awful examples of this white prejudice giving a young Black wrestler the option of cutting his dreadlocks or not getting to compete with the team in a championship match, a young Black girl told she couldn’t participate in graduation with her natural braids, etc. There’s a national movement now for every state to approve the CROWN Act — Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair — and make it illegal to discriminate against hairstyles.
Discrimination because of your hair has to be one of the blatant examples of white supremacy in our culture. Can you imagine a blonde woman being discriminated against for her naturally straight long blonde hair, and sent home from work until she styled her hair with dreadlocks?
Joy Reid is the Brooklyn-born daughter of immigrants from Guyana and the Democratic Republic of Congo who wears her textured hair in Afro-centric styles on national TV as part of her own empowerment, and to help empower other Black women. And she intends to use her MSNBC program to find “all of the smartest and most diverse voices in this country…and amplify them and make sure that they do have a place in primetime,” she told reporter Selena Hill for blackenterprise.com in July.
I’m looking forward to how Joy Reid, the 1st generation daughter of immigrants and first Black woman primetime TV news host, helping us all navigate the impact of Kamala Harris being the first Black woman nominated for Vice-president of a national party, herself the 1st generation Oakland, California-born daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India.
PBS Passport gets you access (for a minimum of $5/month PBS Milwaukee membership) to shows already aired on PBS Milwaukee. Available now is the March 25, 2012 episode of of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s FINDING YOUR ROOTS, with amazing revelations about the ancestors and family trees of Rep. John Lewis, and Sen. Cory Booker.
The revelation that brought John Lewis to tears eight years ago was a copy of the Alabama voter registration rolls of 1867 that included the name Tobias Carter, Lewis’s great-great grandfather. Carter had been a slave until ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 freed Tobias and Elizabeth Carter to marry, and two years later allowed Tobias to register to vote.
But the initial protection of freed slave rights didn’t last long in the South. Lewis said he didn’t remember his parents or grandparents ever being allowed to vote in rural Alabama. Protests against Black voter suppression were often met with violence, that John Lewis personally experienced as a young man and that helped pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “I guess it’s in my DNA,” Lewis said about the revelation that his ancestor also valued the right to vote, “it’s in my bloodline.”
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an historian and filmmaker, and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. He has hosted the series FINDING YOUR ROOTS for six seasons. In this episode, he said, “Sometimes we find out that the spirit of our ancestors has guided us in ways we could never have imagined.”
The program also revealed parts of Cory Booker’s family tree that his family had never known, and introduced him to two white cousins he’d never met. When Gates asked one of the white cousins if he was surprised to find out he had a Black cousin, the elderly white man said, “No, I’ve always heard that wise men say we’re all the same under the skin.”
In the program, Gates also articulated his personal passion to help others “find the threads that tie us to the people whose ancestry we share, whatever their color, whenever they lived…While our ancestors came to this country on different ships, we’re all in the same boat now.”