In this episode of Adult ISH, co-hosts Nyge Turner and Dominique French sit down with Leila Day and Hana Baba, hosts of the podcast “The Stoop” to unpack the question: Does any Black person ever feel like they are “Black enough?”
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Dom: Welcome to Adult ISH produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I'm Dominique French.
Nyge: And I'm Nyge Turner. I know it's a loaded question, but Dom, can you tell me about a time when you didn't feel Black enough?
Dom: Yes. Recently I went to a new nail salon, a very Black nail salon, and I brought my little white mom with me. And the whole time I was like, “Oh, my God, should I not have brought my white mom?” (laughs) feeling very uncool. Their, like, specialty was like very out there, very trippy, very long nails. So I went there to get an alien acrylic set and I was like, “Is this dumb? I don't know.” So I was sitting there and my mom points to a sign on the wall and she's like, “Oh, ha ha ha. It says, like, N-E-V-A basic set, $80.” And my mom's name is Neva, N-E-V-A. So we were like, “Oh, what are the odds? Ha ha ha ha ha.” And the person doing my nails is like, “Oh, that's just our slang, you know, for like never, like, never basic.” And, like, everyone's like, “He he he!” and I'm like, like, “HA HA HA!” like laughing the loudest to try and, like, overcompensate for the fact that I did not get that. And later my mom even clowns me for not getting that. And I was like, “I am truly not Black enough.” (Laughs) And I was like, even my mom got the joke about ‘the slang.’ And here I was like getting — trying to go get my nails done in a Black salon for the first time and totally like being outed as a fraud.
Nyge: I can relate to that though. I remember just being at family functions and hanging out with my cousins and stuff like that. The way that I dressed, you know, they would always be like, “Oh, like you out here, you know, dressing white” and yada, yada, yada, because I'd wear like skinny jeans and all that. I'm a…
Nyge: Like I told you before I was a real skater kid, and I honestly didn't know like a ton about Black culture. All the newest music and everything like that was out … or people who like making, you know, references to like, movies I just didn't see, like, growing up. And so I always felt like, kind of left out of like all the jokes and references. But yeah, I definitely can identify with that. Do you still feel like you're not Black enough or do you feel like that changed over time?
Dom: Um, well, considering this thing at the nail salon happened probably like three days ago, I don't think (laughs) I've, like, fully become Black enough in that three day period.
Nyge: Three days? (Laughs) I spent these last three days becoming Black enough. (Laughs)
Dom: Everything's turned around in these last three days, I wish! No, I still constantly, you know, every day feel like there's something I don't get. There's, you know, a movie I haven't seen. There's a historical figure I should know about that I don't. And it's, it's hard to feel Black enough when you constantly feel out of the loop.
Nyge: Yeah, I feel like high school was when I started to feel Black enough. (Dom: I love that for you.) One, because there wasn't a lot of Black kids at my high school. So like —
Dom: There wasn't a lot of competition. (Laughs)
Nyge: No I was like, yo, with the Black kids that were there, they were like, “Yeah, like we kind of, we kind of gotta accept you,” like, I mean, “We low in numbers right now!” But it was like a process. Like, so remember how I mentioned like all the different movies and things like that? Like I had to go and rewatch all these different movies. Like my dad would have like days where we would just sit down and watch like “Cooley High” and “The Five Heartbeats.” And like all these movies.
Dom: Writing these down! (Laughs)
Nyge: No, but really, that's like I was watching them, like Okay, okay, okay. I got to like, okay, yeah. Ain’t nobody coming to see you, Otis, okay. (Dom: laughs) And, like, I would go to the barbershop and I'd say that, and people would be like ahhh!!!
Dom: Absolute kill.
Nyge: I was like, yeah, okay. Cool cool cool we in there. (Dom laughs.) Yeah. I feel like everyone's story is is so different, but it's interesting that you and I both experienced feelings that we're not measuring up culturally.
Dom: And that's why we wanted to break down this topic further and see how other people felt. So we sat down with Leila Day and Hana Baba, hosts of “The Stoop,” one of our favorite podcasts on Blackness.
Hana: Hey. I'm Hana Baba. I am an audio journalist. My day job is at NPR station KALW in San Francisco. I host Crosscurrents, the newsmagazine on there, and the rest of my waking and sleeping hours. I am co-host of “The Stoop” podcast, stories from across the Black diaspora. I'm also a mom and a Sudanese American Californian. That's my new thing that I'm saying.
Leila: That sounds so sexy. And so, you know…
Nyge: It flowed.
Leila: It really flows, I really like that!
Hana: I've now officially spent most of the years of my life living in California.
Leila: Oh, wow.
Hana: I'm a Californian, you know. (Leila: You sure are.) There you go.
Leila: I'm Leila Day. I am a co-host of “The Stoop” podcast with Hana. And I’m African American, grew up in Las Vegas, in the desert, wandering around with turtles and rabbits. Yeah, I am also an executive producer at a podcast network called Pineapple Street Media, where I make podcasts for other people aside from myself. Yeah, I used to work with Hana at KALW, where she currently works. We were both journalists in the same newsroom and that's how we met is talking smack while heating up our Trader Joe's lunches. Right? In the microwave. So, yeah, that's my story. (Laughs)
Dom: I'm very curious how creating “The Stoop” has informed your relationship with your own Blackness and Blackness in general.
Leila: It's been so interesting, like how we come up with different episodes. Like literally we’ll sit there and say, “What is something that we don't talk about that we need to talk about, that we might be a little bit ashamed of talking about, that we might be embarrassed about bringing up in public?” And for me, it's really opened me up in a way because I have had conversations with Hana and with thousands of listeners that I do not know that are just listening to us have these conversations about things that I really wouldn't always bring up. You know, definitely not in a public radio world, right, Hana? I mean, these were stories that we often were like, you know, told, “Those are too personal. Who's your audience for that story?”
Hana: “We couldn't hear them. We can't hear it.”
Leila: “Can't hear it. We can't quite hear it.”
Hana: That was something that was told, uh huh.
Leila: So for me, that's kind of what, what it's done for me, it's really giving me the confidence to actually have these conversations and feel — feel like I can. I was telling someone the other day that making this podcast has been a bit like therapy. It's been very therapeutic just to kind of let things out and be very personal about things that I normally would hold back on. What about you, Hana? Oh, sorry. I'm not doing the interview here.
Dom: What about you, Hana? (Everyone laughs.)
Hana: We’re used to interviewing, not getting interviewed. Sorry! This is so different! You know, I'm an — a daughter of African immigrants. And so for me, it was always this question of, “Well, what is Black in America and who is Black in America? Can I call myself Black?” And so, you know, from the get go, I think the premise of “The Stoop” is that Black is not a monolith and we're all different kinds of Black. And we're going to talk about all these issues from these different perspectives of Blackness. I think for me, it's always been this idea of, “Well, what am I and where do I fit in? Where do my children fit in, in this kind of world of Black in America?” And this question of being Black enough, like as an immigrant, as a child of immigrants to this country, am I Black? I also have learned a lot while kind of doing these inquiries into who we are and identity in all of this. I grew up in Texas, right? But my parents are from Sudan and I did go live in Sudan. And it's sort of like I feel equally both. And that's where the complexity comes in. And every time I'm learning something new about myself.
Dom: The level of personal story and candidness that you both reach in the show is so unlike what we're taught, as like journalists and like storytellers, to do like when you're kind of coming up, that I think really reflects how most journalism and storytelling is made to reflect whiteness. And it's like it's so much about removing the self and reflecting like a larger picture. But when it comes to your show and shows that I feel like are important, injecting the self, the narrative of like the Black person, the the person of color I think is so important and so beautiful. And you both just do it in such an incredible way and with so much bravery. I just, I can't complement what you two do enough. It's, it's gorgeous.
Hana: Is that a question?
Nyge: It’s a statement
Dom: Do you agree?
Hana: I wanna comment on that. I want to comment on kind of the idea behind that statement, which is I personally didn't grow up in a audio journalism education environment where we were encouraged to be ourselves.
Hana: Or to talk like we normally talk or to sound conversational. I grew up, I went to this school where it was like, erase your accents. And they weren't even talking about international accents. They were talking about American regional accents that they didn't want people sounding like that, right? They wanted neutral American English, whatever that meant. Right? Like it sounded like the broadcast journalists that you hear on the radio from the eighties and the nineties. And so that's what I personally learned. That was my first kind of education in how I should sound is that I should throw away my real voice. And so I think that we — it was important for us on “The Stoop” to purposefully say, “We are journalists and we sound like this. We are journalists, and we're going to talk about these things in this way. And we are still journalists, even if we do that.”
Nyge: Earlier you said, “We can't hear you” was a comment that you heard a lot, too. What, did they mean that the audience wouldn't be able to relate?
Leila: I think what we were saying is it was more about we can't relate to you. Not necessarily that, you know, we don't understand what story you're trying to tell because it's very clear in the pitch. It's very clear in the reporting. It's very clear just, you know, when you compare it to all the other stories that we would produce. But it's often a phrase that a lot of younger Black producers will hear reporters, which is, “We can't hear you. We don't know who the audience is for this piece.” You know, there's, there's a lot of there's a lot of sort of subtle language that embodies rejection, also tainted with racism, this idea of, of you presenting a story about Blackness and someone telling you, “We can't hear it.” I mean, what does that even mean? If they would rephrase it as, “We don't want to hear it,” that's actually what I feel like they're saying. Both Hana and I have heard that phrase in some way or another. It often comes out with more podcasts as, “We, we're not sure who the audience is for this” or “We don't know how to market this.” And for me, those are all excuses.
Lelia: Yeah. Excuses and code to keep voices like ours and stories like ours not available to listeners. And so when we started “The Stoop,” we were like, this is our opportunity to do the stories how we want to do them, to speak how we want to speak, to think about, like when people said, “Who's your audience?” we would just say, “People that look like us.” That was our mission, like, people that look like us. And that's how we've been making our stories with that in mind. And that's changed a lot for us in terms of how, how we create, because we're always just like, “We don't need to explain. No explanatory comma needed here. We just, we're just making it.”
Nyge: So, so far we've talked about situations or instances where you feel almost too Black. But can you tell us about instances where you felt like you weren't Black enough?
Hana: (Laughs) She’s like shrugging! Mmm hmmm.
Leila: It's so interesting. Like, we have talked about this a lot on “The Stoop.” This idea of not being Black enough and what does it mean to, quote unquote, act Black? And one of the reasons why I wanted to explore this in the beginning was because of my voice. A lot of times I was told I sounded white. And this was not just by white people. This is mostly by Black people. And so one of the first episodes that we did with “The Stoop” was unpacking this idea of what it means to sound white.
Hana: Episode two!
Leila: Episode two, you can find it on thestoop.org! So that was what we were unpacking. Like, why do people say that we sound white? Because Hana was also told the same thing. But we're also looking into like asking other kids. So we go to a skate park and we ask kids at the skate park, were they ever told they sound white and they express very clearly their opinions about what that means. And talk to a broadcast journalist who used to be a journalist — reporter at KQED, Joshua Johnson. We talked to him about his career and him being told he sounded white. And so, what we were unpacking, though, in that episode and we try to do this quite often in “The Stoop,” is we're trying to cover unpack stories about Blackness and things that are said within the Black community and the hurt that is felt when it's said by your own people, when you're being called out by your own people.
Hana: What Leila was saying about we are talking to ourselves here, we're not talking about a white gaze or race is not the issue here. We are talking about Black people talking to Black people. And so I think another episode that I really related to was — it was called “Black Enough.” You know, like I said, I grew up in Texas. I didn't grow up around a lot of Black African American people. I grew up around some Sudanese people, um, Arabs and Muslims and all different kinds of people like that. And so I missed out on a lot of Blackness by not having African American friends. And so I grew up and there's a lot of stuff that, you know, in popular culture or in music that I just didn't like or I didn't. It wasn't my thing. But God forbid I open my mouth and say, “I don't like Anita Baker songs” or something or anything. See look at Leila, look at Leila!
Hana: And it would be like, how, how and why? And sometimes I found myself like growing up pretending to like stuff so I can be Black. And so in this episode, I talked to this psychologist from Stanford who studies confirmation bias and studies just bias in general. And he goes into this idea that — this idea of pretending to like stuff so as not to be shunned by the group, and we unpack all of that. We also talked to W. Kamau Bell, who is a comedian and host of the CNN show “United Shades of America,” who has always felt awkward in Black company and on Black stages and did not like hip hop growing up, you know? And so for us, I think every episode comes out of something that we have felt, something that we have experienced because we know other people have definitely experienced this. There's got to be other people, right? And so making these episodes helps us, helps them as well, to say, “Hey, thank you for making that episode,” which we get a lot. You know, “I totally heard my experience. I totally heard stuff that I deal with that nobody else is talking about.”
Leila: I was just remembering an episode we did where we interviewed Stacey Abrams and, you know, she went to Spelman and the episode was about the decision for us not to go to HBCUs.
Hana: And you being jealous of people who went to HBCUs.
Leila: And me being jealous of people that went to HBCUs because I did not go to one. Hana went to an HBCU and then transferred.
Hana: A little bit and then left.
Leila: And so, you know, it was this thing about: Did we let down our people because we didn't go to HBCU? And of course, it was around the time that Beyonce did her thing and all that, and we were just like, “Oh my God!”
Hana: We’re trying, but! (Leila: Homecoming!)
Leila: Yeah, we tried. But, so it was talking to Stacey Abrams and we were talking to her about her feeling uncomfortable at the campus at Spelman when she first arrived there for multiple reasons. She just didn't. It was things that she had to learn about her Blackness — jus slang that she didn't even know. And so we talked a lot about, like the varying types of Blackness at an HBCU and how it can be intimidating and how it can be something that you're really embraced for. But there are stories about Black people dropping out of HBCUs because they did feel like their Blackness was was an issue or that their lack of Blackness was an issue. (Hana: Weren’t Black enough) Feeling not Black enough. And so it's something that's embarrassing to talk about, but it's — it happens, you know, and I feel like if we talk about this a little bit more, then, you know, we can open up these conversations for kids that are considering going to HBCUs, that grew up in white environments and aren't feeling Black enough. Like maybe they can have a little bit more confidence and realize as well that there are other people that had struggled with the same thing about not knowing like the Black national anthem. I mean, do we all know the words to the Black national anthem? Let's raise our hands. Okay. Okay. I'm just sayin. I mean…
Hana: I am so glad I'm not alone.
Leila: I'm so glad that we're all on Zoom. (Everyone laughs.)
Dom: Yeah. The listeners will never know. As far as they know, everyone's hands were raised.
Leila: Everyone's hands were raised. (Nyge: All the hands wer raised.) I raised all my hands for that one.
Nyge: But it's funny. They always, they always do pass out like the, uh, the little sheet of paper too, when when you're about to sing it.
Nyge: They try to, they tried to prep everybody.
Hana: Yeah. There is a cute little story in that episode of two girls from the African Student Union and they went to homecoming or something and everybody got up and sang and they didn't know the words, so they had to, like, mouth with the people. (Laughs)
Dom: Oh, my gosh. Nightmare fuel, nightmare fuel.
Hana: That's what makes a “Stoop” episode.
Nyge: I kind of wanted to also throw this to you, Dom, too. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt — can you tell us about a situation where you didn’t feel Black enough? I'm not going to act like we haven’t had these conversations before.
Dom: I don't know that I've ever been in a situation where I was like, “Yeah, I feel Black enough. I'm nailing this right now.” I mean, honestly, I'm sitting here having this conversation for an episode that was like my idea to, like, talk to these people that I admire about, like, not being Black enough. And I don't feel Black enough to be like, sitting here having this conversation right now. It’s something that I deal with all day, every day. And it's, it's kind of like anxiety. It's like, it's something that I have a generalized version of. And it's all about like how intensely I feel it.
Hana: Do you think your generation is harder on itself in terms of Black enough and who's Black?
Dom: I have a theory that like when it comes to different generational things that I don't know how much harder like one is on the other so much is that I think different generations talk about things more often than other generations. And I think something like this, the more you talk about it, the more awareness you have of it, the more examples you see of it, like out in the wild.
Hana: Cause our generation did not talk about this stuff. We’re just saying. And that's why we felt “The Stoop” was important because of this… (Dom: Yeah. Exactly.) Like we didn’t, we didn't grow up talking about any of this. So, I'm kind of envious of y'all's generation a lot.
Dom: Yeah. And I think talking about it, it makes — I don't know about you Nyge, but it makes me feel, it makes me feel less alone. But then I'm also like, “Damn. Other people have to feel this way.” (Laughs)
Nyge: I mean, it's like we're talking about it at like, 26. That's a little bit later. But like, when I was younger, when I was in school, I wasn't having these conversations at all and I didn't know anybody who was having these conversations. I didn't really hear these conversations anywhere. So like I grew up in the suburbs. Skater kid. I live in Northern California too. So I'm also like snowboarder kid. My winters I spend in Tahoe pretty much like 24/7. And so I never felt Black enough either until … so every summer me and my family would go on these cruises. It's called like the Black Cruise. I don't know if y'all have ever heard of it, but it's like Festival at Sea is the actual name of, of the company. So shout outs to Festival at Sea. But it's nicknamed the Black Cruise because it’s the African American themed cruise. I went on one and they'll have like, you know, Fantasia will perform and Charlie Wilson will perform.
Leila: I've seen ads for these. Yeah.
Nyge: So, w used to go on the Black Cruise every summer. And I remember the first one I went on, I was probably like 15, and it's literally all Black people. I probably saw like one person who wasn't Black throughout the whole time. And it's a full cruise ship, full Carnival cruise ship full of just Black people for seven days. And it was definitely like a culture shock for me because people were making jokes about things that I didn't really know about. I felt so thrown. But also at the same time, I was like really embraced too. And I felt like it was when I first learned that being Black was cool. And that's, like, sad to say. But I remember I used to always kind of, like, belittle myself, or I used to make the Black jokes to try to get ahead of like all the other kids that were in like, you know, the private schools and stuff I went to. But yeah, when I was on that cruise was the first time I was like, “Yo, being Black is really dope.” And I think that shaped a lot of my personality, even like to this day. But that was a situation where I felt I wasn't Black enough, but it was more of an educational experience. And then I became, I started to feel like I was Black enough within, like, you know, a short time or whatever, from actually being kind of immersed or being in an area where I was around a lot of other Black people.
Hana: And, you know, your parents did that on purpose.
Nyge: My dad said it like before. He was like, “Nah, like, this is where you're going to. You're going to learn like who you are a little bit.” And I used to always be like, “What do you mean? I'm a learn who I am?” Because, like, my dad always felt kind of guilty himself. Like he grew up in East Oakland and he and my mom grew up in South Richmond, which are both highly like Black populated areas, and they always felt kind of guilty for raising us in like all these white areas, but they were really big on always educating me and my brother about like who we were. And it didn't all like sink in until I was really around all Black people like that.
Hana: And our parents, our parents. I'm saying that when I am the parent now, I have a 19 year old and I have a 16 year old, and that's what we do, right? We move to the places that we think our kids will have the best. The best, right? Like that's just a parental thing. But then you realize all the things that they're missing out on. My daughter, I think, had her first experience like that last Juneteenth. She went to Lake Merritt and it felt just like she had so much to say because there was a shooting that day at Lake Merritt and she said she felt like she was everybody's daughter. And everybody's sister. Everybody was looking out for her and everybody was looking out for everybody else. And she was the safest she has ever felt in her life. And that's Black. Like like a big, like a big hug around her. And so I feel like it's experiences like that. You know, I didn't plan that as a parent. Your, your parents planned that cruise, that's for sure. Black people will educate you when you meet them and you when you spend time with them, even if you're, you've missed out.
Nyge: And from those experiences, like on the cruise and I'm sure even like from your daughter's like recent experience, I feel safe around Black people. Like, if I walk into a room, I walk into a space, I feel safe when I when there's a Black person there because like, I always feel like, “Okay, like there's an unspoken thing between us that is like, stuff hits the fan. Like, I gotchu, like, we could check in or whatever.” It feels like home. I was even telling Dom before this that Hana, you were my first interview ever. The first time I've ever been interviewed anywhere. And, like, I went and then I didn't know, like, I didn't get really prepped like that on who would be interviewing me or anything like that. So I'm like,super nervous —
Hana: I remember.
Nyge: And even just like, just seeing your face, though I was, I did feel like, “Good, this will be cool.” Like, even if, even if I’m horrible, it'll still like be — you could tell me I'm horrible, but like, but you know, I still love you. But it's, it's a different feeling.
Hana: Oh for sure.
Nyge: This is obviously a huge topic and there's so much more to this conversation that we didn't want to rush. So we're actually going to continue our chat with Leila and Hana next week. That's right. You can catch part two of this conversation next Thursday on Black Enough, Part II.
Dom: Don't miss it.
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 Marjerrie 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, we’ll see you later.