Why Joy Reid Will Be Real About Race and Politics

MSNBC’s newest host has never held back when it comes to honest analysis of the issues that make America squirm.

Joy Reid
Joy Reid Seher Sikandar/The Root

“My mom used to say, ‘If you could get paid to talk, you’d be a millionaire,’ ” laughs Reid. “I’ve always loved to talk.”

For a time, while in college, the Colorado native thought she’d deliver her commentary on the world around her through movies. As a socially aware Harvard film major, energized by living in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the borough’s creative heyday, she aspired to be not just any filmmaker but “the girl Spike Lee.”

Although she did become the managing partner of a video production firm, through which she’s producing a documentary on boxing in Miami, it was in journalism that her voice really took hold. “I care a lot about politics and have a lot of passion for a lot of issues,” she says.

It shows, and never more than when it comes to dissecting and translating into plain language the ways in which race informs politics and powers.

Today’s MSNBC viewers will remember her as an authoritative voice on the death of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, weaving legal updates with analysis of psychological impact through the trial and immediately after the controversial verdict. But this subject matter wasn’t new territory for Reid. As long ago as 2009, she challenged readers of her Salon column to an “Open Dialogue on Race,” asking them to debate her hypothesis that “white men on the right are feeling marginalized in the age of Obama.” More recently, in her “What we learned in 2013” roundup for the Miami Herald, she wrote, “We also discovered that the great unresolved conundrum of American history—that of race—remains toxic and potent in American life” and scoffed at what she called “the enforcers of American perfectionism, who demand that the veil never be lifted on our nation’s racial divide.”

While Reid attributes her steady demeanor and positive outlook to a knack for debating people with whom she doesn’t agree without getting angry or drained (“One thing I’ve always had is the ability to debate in my head and not in my heart—even if I passionately disagree with someone, I don’t hate the person, I just don’t agree,” she says), she admits that she laments a climate that she says has “just become really nasty” and made civilized disagreements few and far between. It’s thanks in part to what she calls a “very virulent strain that is sort of in the underbelly of society.”

Related to that underbelly is another pet peeve of the soon-to-be-host: “There’s this new thing where people on the right revel in calling anyone black racist who mentions race. It’s like a weapon that they’ve attempted to take away from black people, and they call black people racist all the time for things that definitionally don’t even make sense.”

If anyone’s going to reclaim that weapon, the always straight-shooting Reid might just be the one to do it, every weekday at 2 p.m.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s senior staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.