This is the second installment of the conversation with Leila Day and Hana Baba, hosts of the podcast “The Stoop” that explores Blackness, race, and identity in America. Together with Adult ISH hosts Dom and Nyge, they continue to dig into the question: Does any Black person ever feel like they are “Black enough” at any point in time?
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Nyge: Welcome to Adult ISH produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I’m Nyge Turner.
Dom: And I’m Dominique French. Last week we started a conversation with Leila Day and Hana Baba, longtime audio journalist vets and hosts of “The Stoop.” This is part two of that conversation. And if you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, go back and play “Black Enough, Part I.”
Nyge: Now, let’s jump back in.
Dom: I think a lot of my experience is similar to what you said, Hana, about not growing up around a ton of Black people and there being certain things that you just missed out on or you didn’t necessarily enjoy and kind of pretending your way through that experience. And I think for me, it’s definitely due to being raised by a white mother. So I grew up feeling a lot of pressure from the community to conform into it, or like try to experience and express Blackness in a certain way. And so I’m curious, what’s the greatest pressure you felt from the community?
Hana: Hmm. You know, I mean, talking about music and pop culture and all of that. It’s, it seems petty. It seems small, but it’s a lot of what we experience. It is a lot of how we experience Blackness, I think, is through media, through film, through television, through music, through literature. I think the biggest thing I missed out on is African American literature, you know, catching up later in life on Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and, and feeling like I just missed so much. I felt some of this too, from the outside, but I think I put pressure on myself too, to learn more about the African American experience in terms of history, in terms of writers, in terms of experiences. And I felt like that’s on me. I need to learn these things. When my parents came to this country in the seventies, my father, you know, made it a point. He, he loved Malcolm X being a Black Muslim man himself, right? There were definitely relationships there in terms of Black Muslims in the U.S. and the Sudanese community were African Muslims. And so our bookcases were filled with Black books related to African American history and the Black struggle. And he made it a point to learn about that. And so for me, I think continuing that and educating myself on the things that I missed out on has been the biggest, I think, pressure on me. Like I didn’t want to host a podcast about Blackness, not knowing some of the things that I should know, right? Like or some of the people or figures that I should be knowing about that other people may have studied because they did go to university in this country. I also did not go to university here. What I’m seeing my daughters studying now, I actually sometimes go into their rooms and take out their history books and just start reading. What they’re taking at school is fascinating to me always, because I missed out on that. So I’d say it’s a, it’s an internal pressure rather than somebody calling me out because I didn’t know who Frederick Douglass was.
Leila: I was thinking about this because a lot of people are talking about being a strong Black woman and the pressure there to always be resilient, to have solutions, to move through things, to be the one that’s the savior and standing up for everyone. And I think that there’s been a pressure within the Black community for us to consistently be that, because our parents, at least my parents generation, that’s what they were and that’s what they instilled in me that I have to consistently push through, be the one to stand up for other people, be that person. And I always have been that person, right? And I do feel that not just for me, but for other Black people that I’ve talked to in professional work environments, it’s starting to really wear on them to be that person that’s consistently fighting for everyone else and trying to defend themselves and trying to defend their projects and defend, defend their art and trying to point out injustices and discrimination within their workplace. And it’s exhausting.
I think that there’s a pressure definitely when you’re the only Black person in the room to be the one to stand up for everybody. But there’s also a pressure within the Black community I feel for us to consistently advocate and be everyone’s savior, you know, and it’s something that I’m proud of, but it’s also something that it’s just not a possible, like, living life situation for us to be living like like that, you know, to constantly be the one who has to carry all this weight. So sometimes when we’re doing “Stoop” episodes and maybe someone will say, “That’s a Black secret, you know, why do you need to share that? Why are you telling our business?” You know, that sort of thing. If we get a little comment here or there about that, it’s, it’s almost like because we want to present ourselves as not folding, right? And any sort of hint that we are vulnerable in some way, our parents or our teachers or a lot of elders in our community have, have told us that that’s a sign of weakness and it’s not. It’s just we’re human. So I feel like that is something I’ve been thinking about a lot within the Black community of how we unintentionally put this pressure on each other to like stand up for everyone and everything at all times, by any means necessary. And it is exhausting.
Hana: Or standing together and being in unity when we know we are different. A lot of the times that’s another thing. I think a pressure that we felt towards the beginning of “The Stoop.”
Hana: We did an episode called “You Called Me African What?” And it was about me and my childhood being called an African booty scratcher. And it was by the Black kids. And so — and Leila also, you know, kind of, unpacking these feelings between sometimes African Americans and African immigrant communities. And it was, it was a hard episode to do. And we were really personal. And we got some feedback from folks who thought we were sowing the seeds of division in the diaspora. And this idea of, “Why are you talking about differences? You know, we can’t afford to be talking about, you know, Black people insulting other Black people,” whereas we felt these were our experiences. And if we don’t talk about it, where can we start to heal and address all of this? So I feel that’s a pressure, too. And the overall pressure of you feel like you’re representing because you’re a minority in this very white field, whether it’s journalism, whether it’s podcasting. Right? Like all eyes are on you, as if you are the ambassador of all Blackness and you have to get it right.
Nyge: It’s so interesting. Me and one of my friends were literally just talking about that the other day. Like when you made the comment about music, me and my friend Abraham talk about music all the time. We get into so many arguments because he’s from Sierra Leone and he always will talk about the classics for, for me and for my childhood and be like, “Yeah, it’s not matching up. It’s like, it’s really not my vibe.” (laughs) Yeah.
Hana: Like what?
Nyge: So (laughs) I was just playing Toni Braxton and you know, there’s, there’s that new song by Burna Boy that has the Toni Braxton sample in it “Last Last.” And it’s like super popular right now. And I was playing the Toni Braxton version like, not man enough for me. And he was just like, “Oh, yeah, nah like Burna Boy, he, he took this next level. Afrobeats with this, like, made it ten times better” or whatever. And I’m like, “Bro, it wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for…” And so, we talk about that nonstop. It’s almost like as someone who doesn’t really have the same connections to their culture, I feel jealous of his connections to his culture, how far he can trace back his family tree and all those things. So then when he, like, says certain things about my classics or whatever, I feel I take it as a personal attack. And that’s all rooted in my personal insecurities, right? But it’s how it feels and that’s how it’s like, it comes back as, like, insecurity and jealousy. And so, like, that’s all I was just saying. I really relate to what you were saying with that.
Hana: Plus, that song is amazing. (Singing) “What are you thinking? Do you know about us back then? Do you know?” Yeah. I mean, you can’t. (Nyge: You’re right.) You can’t mess with Toni Braxton.
Leila: Now sing an Anita Baker Song. ( Everyone laughs)
Dom: Five, six…(laughs)
Hana: (Singing) “Caught up in the rapture of love…” (Dom laughs)
Hana: I try.
Nyge: So I was, I was wondering, is there a certain level of knowledge that every Black person should have about their culture? (Hana: Mm. hmm.)
Leila: Like the Black card…
Leila: …being revoked? Like revoking the Black card?
Nyge: I guess like the deeper question in it is, is it irresponsible as a Black person to not educate yourself about certain things? Like, what do you need to know as a Black person?
Hana: I mean again, Leila’s answer would probably be more straightforward than mine. Like, what part of my Blackness? Are we talking about African American? Being in, being in the U.S., living in Black America, or is African? So it’s hard for me. I got to pick or I got to know both equally because I go to Sudan and it’s like, “How do you not know this new song???”
Hana: And I’m here and it’s the other way around. So it’s, it’s super complicated, I think, for people with feet in, in two Black worlds. I got to know it all.
Leila: Yeah, I wouldn’t say there’s an answer for what constitutes like what you need to know to understand your Blackness or what every Black person should definitely know. But I do feel, and I’ve learned this a lot making this podcast is there is a very African American centered point of view about Blackness within this country. And when you open it up and you look at Blackness from so many different perspectives, and I’ve been learning so much from like the stories that Hana has been bringing, you know, to “The Stoop” as well about different cultures in Africa and different perspectives and different customs. And the fact that a lot of Africans weren’t taught about the history of the U.S. and slavery when they were in Africa, that that’s not part of you know, that’s not part of a lot of their curriculum. And it’s something that they learn when they come here. I feel, you know, you can’t judge people for not understanding all the complexity of Blackness when we are so diverse, you know, we are not a monolith, as Hana was saying. And to assume that these things should be known just because you’re Black is something that we’re dissecting all the time, that these aren’t things that everybody knows, right?
Even some of the, the negative things we say to each other, the slurs, the shade that we throw, the stereotypes that we, we give across cultures, these are things we’re learning to. And for me personally, I just feel like you were saying, Nyge, this idea of being on that Black cruise and everyone’s doing the electric slide and the boat tips to the side when they get to left, and they get to the right. I’m just imagining. It’s that feeling of being in that space and feeling safe and protected and like everyone is looking out for you and everyone — you know, that you feel like family. That is that overall feeling that I hope, I hope Black people feel. You know, like when I’m walking down the street and I give the nod to somebody, we talk about the nod all the time, and I don’t get it back. I’m not turning around and going, “Oh, I just gave you the nod and you didn’t nod back.” You know, I’m going, “Huh. You know, we are all different. I’m not judging. I don’t know the story of this person. This person doesn’t know my story.” And so it kind of, it kind of humbles you in a way and makes you just kind of realize that we are all just so many different types of Black. Hana and I say that all the time. But there’s one thing I certainly love, it’s just, even if I don’t get that nod back, I know that there’s a connection. (Nyge: Um. hm.)
Hana: The electric slide I had to, I learned that. I really wanted to learn that. But I was struggling. I love dancing and I really want to learn the electric slide. But I was like, “Is it okay for me to do the electric slide (Leila: Why not?) with folks?” (Leila: Absolutely. Nyge: Yeah!)
Hana: Because I don’t see the Black enough thing. Like it’s a very Black American — there are things that are very Black American, right? And so me with my African behind (Dom laughs), it’s like, I look weird. I don’t know. It’s an insecurity that I have, (Leila: What about the wobble?) I really want to do the electric slide. (Nyge: That’s interesting.) Wobble too! The wobble too. (Nyge: Wow.) These feel like very African American special, you know, in African American company type of thing.
Leila: But do you feel like you’d be —
Hana: I feel like a foreigner.
Leila: You’d feel like uncomfortable, like people be looking at you, maybe? You feel like…
Hana: I feel like I’m like, “Can I try this? Am I allowed?” (Nyge laughs.) Like, I would ask permission. I would literally ask permission.
Dom: You have it. The wobble is for you. The wobble is for me. (Nyge: Yeah.) The wobble is for us. (laughs)
Nyge: It definitely is. I’ve been to so many weddings where majority of the people doing the electric slide were not Black. It would be like a group of Black people leading it. And I definitely have been in, in that group of Black people leading the electric slide. But, yeah.
Leila: The electric slush.
Dom: (Laughs) The electric slush!
Hana: One thing I do think everybody needs to learn, though, is Black American history. I’ve always said this to immigrants. When you come to this country, you need to learn Black African American history. That’s, that’s, that’s something I think should be compulsory for immigrants coming to this country, especially Black immigrants.
Dom: Mm hmm.
Nyge: I’m also kind of interested, not to take away from that amazing point that you just made. But if you saw somebody who wasn’t, like, was from another culture doing the electric slide and you were just like sitting watching, would you feel uncomfortable with them doing the electric slide?
Hana: Like a white woman?
Dom: Like a white woman gets out and she starts the electric slide in the middle of the wedding?
Hana: That she started, or is she following?
Nyge: She didn’t start it. She, she jumped in, but she’s like, hittin’ it, like she clearly knows it.
Hana: Is she doing it right?
Nyge: Yeah. She knows it.
Leila: Yeah she might be doing the slide..
Hana: Yeah, she’s a foreigner. She’s a foreigner to this very special cultural experience. And I think folks will be side-eyeing her, but I don’t know. That’s my insecurity. See?
Nyge: I just was curious. I just was curious.
Leila: I just, I don’t feel the same way. I mean, I would look and say, “Oh. (starts singing) One of these things is not like the other.”
Leila: But I would, I’m like, get it, enjoy it and have a good time, you know? Especially if they’re on beat, if they’re on beat, then I’m like, “Yeah, okay, she got it.” (Nyge laughs.)
Dom: To take us out. I want to know if a young person came to you and wanted your advice about not feeling Black enough, what would you say to that person, whether it’d be a younger version of you or a child in your life, a young person in your life? What would be the wisdom that you would give them?
Hana: Leila, you’ve got a niece.
Leila: I do have a niece. And I’ve told this to her because she had once, after George Floyd was murdered, she was really trying to have conversations about it. And she was the only Black kid at her school. And she was feeling, feeling very emotional. And we actually did an episode called “For Ima.” Her name is Ima. And, um, and she got very emotional about being, you know, the only Black kid in her school and not being, feeling like she can talk about it. And I, I just told her, you know, and I would tell any kid — it’s like, it doesn’t necessarily need to be your friends that you’re having these conversations with. You always have family. You always have people that love you. You always have people that understand you, that are always going to be there for you, that grew up with you, that know you, that can explain these things that have lived through these things. And I can also just say from experience, you know, I grew up also feeling not Black enough many times, right? But as you get older, you just start realizing, like the complexity, the diversity of Blackness and when you really start thinking about it, it’s actually a stereotype that’s put on Blackness to say that you are supposed to be one type of Black. And the beauty of it is, is that we are so rich and different and unique that it’s almost like — I’m doing a middle finger. It’s almost like a middle finger, you know, to that whole phrase because, because we are not just one thing. And that’s what’s so amazing about it.
Hana: I would totally agree with what Leila is saying. And I talk to my daughters about this all the time, but there’s not one kind of Black for you not to feel Black enough. Black is a whole world. And when we say diaspora that embodies sooo much. And it’s fluid. And it’s encompassing. And it’s big. It’s bigger than being able to, to kind of corner it in one little thing to think that you’re not Black enough because you don’t look a certain way or you don’t talk a certain way or you don’t like certain things. You decide if you’re Black enough.
Leila: And then you go on that cruise!
Hana: And then you do the wobble!
Dom: Boat right on over! (Laughs)
Dom: If you want to hear more of Leila and Hana, you can find “The Stoop” on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Nyge: All right, Dom. I got another big question for you. (Dom: I’m ready.) I’m curious, after talking about all of this, were you always proud to be Black? And if that’s something that you had to grow into, when did you first start to feel proud of that part of your identity?
Dom: Oh, it’s definitely something that I had to grow into. Honestly, it’s embarrassing to say, but it probably wasn’t until I was in college that I really started to feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself and something better than I could ever have imagined. But even then, it started off very theoretical. It wasn’t like I felt a home in my Blackness, like around me, in the community at Northwestern, where I went to school, until really my senior year, the last quarter of my senior year. I went to a Black event. Dress code all white because it was a Black event. (Laughs) And so I got all dressed up and it was a really dark time for me. I was, you know, going through a really deep depression. And I was like, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this no matter what. I’m going to get my butt there.” And one of the things that we did was as seniors, we went around and we shared, you know, the advice that we were going to give to the Black people of the future of Northwestern. And people kept going around and saying things about taking care of yourself, relying on your community and things like that. And I, I realized that a huge part of me and my Blackness and the way that I experience things is going to therapy. And that’s how I get through. That’s how I struggle with my Blackness, I struggle with operating through the world as a Black woman. And so I, like, grabbed the mic and went to the center and people, like, clapped for my little outfit or whatever. And then I said to everyone, I said, “You know, a lot of people have said to take care of yourself, but no one said the words therapy or therapist. And I know that that doesn’t necessarily have a huge home in our community, but that’s something that I definitely want to name.” And I gave the resources for the local health services for mental health, and people were really, really receptive to that.
And I was standing next to someone when I got back in my part of, like, the circle that we had created and they said, “Thank you.” And they’re like, “I started therapy this year and I’m so glad that you said that.” And I realized in a lot of ways, I just experienced my Blackness the way that I experience it. And if I discount the way I experience it, I discount those other people standing next to me in the circle that are thankful that I spoke up and said something about validating my own experience. What about you, Nyge? When did you first start to feel proud of being Black, or was that something you had the privilege to be born into?
Nyge: Yeah, I, um. I didn’t even, like, really realize I was Black until … I guess middle school is like when most people kind of like, I don’t know, all that division kind of like, starts to happen. It probably happened in a bunch of little, like, weird ways, like when I was younger, but I just didn’t process them. But I remember in middle school, like, feeling different from other people. But I did always have a good amount of Black friends and my parents and my family like, was always really active and doing a lot of things, like with our community, with a lot of other Black people. And so I feel like I was always proud of being Black. There definitely were times when I have, like, shrunken myself and I have done my best to, like, assimilate and go into like these other parts of life or whatever where I felt like I had, like I couldn’t be too Black. I still will, like, code switch and things like that, like, depending on, like, where I am. And I think that’s fine, you have to do what you have to do. But now I am more unapologetic in how Black I am. I know it sounds like corny, but…
Dom: No! That sounds wonderful.
Nyge: I just have to try to make it a point not to shrink myself in certain rooms because it comes naturally, because it’s taught in so many of these different ways. But I mean, and rightfully so because of, like, safety, right? (Dom: Yeah.) But yeah, I think that’s something that I’ve had to work on over the years is just like making a conscious effort not to shrink myself or who I am or hide my culture, which I do hold a lot of pride in.
I really liked how Hana asked the question like, what is being Black? I think that’s the question that we often all ask ourselves. And I think the answer is really just like whatever a Black person’s experience is. Whatever your Black experience is, is being Black. And I think that’s something that, like, is a simple concept, I guess, to hear like now, but actually like feeling that way is a much longer journey as we’ve all shared.
Dom: I couldn’t agree more.
Nyge: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young journalists and artists creating content for this generation. Our show is produced by Georgia Wright, Dominique French and by me, your boy, Nyge Turner.
Dom: Our engineer is James Riley.
Nyge: Our executive producer is Rebecca Martin.
Dom: Our interns are Laly Vasquez and Ichtaca Lira. Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza and David Lawrence. Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.
Nyge: Art for this episode created by Brigido Bautista with these young people at YR: Ariam Michael and Jordan Ferguson. Art Direction by Marjorie Masicat. Creative Direction by Pedro Vega, Jr.
Dom: Special thanks to Eli Arbreton and YR’s CEO, Kyra Kyles.
Nyge: We are also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most amazing shows in all of podcasting. Find them at Radiotopia.fm. And if you haven’t reviewed our show on Apple Podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five stars is much appreciated.
Dom: And you can follow us on all the socials @YRAdultish. And on that note, see you later.