As she takes her seat on a television-show set that’s right at the center of any given day's most contentious political and cultural debates, the vitriolic attacks against Joy Reid from faceless Twitter followers are guaranteed to increase.
And it's safe to say that critics on the right would cheer if her commentary were to "lean forward" just a little too far, making her the latest MSNBC personality forced to apologize or step down. But Reid, the cable news network's newly appointed host (and the fourth who identifies as black, if you're counting), doesn't plan to let the pressures of the new platform temper her expression of the kinds of opinions that have fueled her nearly 15-year career in media.
"You can't do this job with a fear of what might happen," she says. "I don't think I could go in from a point of view of fear."
Her new show, The Reid Report—its name is borrowed from her blog and personal Twitter handle—will launch on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. The program is slated to be what Reid—who's already a regular MSNBC contributor and frequent guest host, in addition to her roles as managing editor of The Grio and Miami Herald columnist—calls a "table-setter for prime time" that includes "a lot of policy and politics, as well as things happening in the culture right then and there.
“Everyone at MSNBC has a different, unique perspective," she says. So, how will her personality and priority color her daily hour? One thing's clear: The veteran journalist delights in the opportunity to weigh in on the messy places where race rears it head amid political and cultural headlines.
Her background suggests that when this happens, she's going to do just what seems to have always come naturally to her: Give it to America straight.
Reid is no stranger to looking at current events through the lens of the African-American experience. On any given day at The Grio, she says, "our goal is to find what the broadest spectrum of black readers care about." She doesn't drop that perspective entirely at the door of the MSNBC set, either. While the demographics are different, she insists, "It's crucial that the African-American voice and perspective isn't drowned out."
Not far from her mind as she curates news and interviews guests on The Reid Report will be the book she's working on, which unpacks the racial and cultural history of the Democratic Party. And it's worth noting that when it comes to her ethnicity and political party, she sees the former as a more reliable lens through which to filter current events.
"It's hard not to view things as a black person. For African Americans, your racial identity is something that affects the way your life is lived out," she explains. "The Democrats used to be the Republicans, and if they were to go back, I wouldn't be there with them. The Democratic Party in this iteration is more welcoming ideologically to me, but these parties change."
A first-generation American with a father from the Congo and mother from Guyana, Reid says she was raised in a family that was not only hyper-engaged politically ("My mom taught us the importance of voting every time, from city council to the dog catcher,” she recalls), but also tended to see America from an outsider's perspective. "My mother's critique was very much an immigrant critique of the country—she viewed America in sort of an idyllic way, and then didn't find it to be that way," she says. Along with that critical take on politics and culture, she says her mom bestowed upon her something even more valuable for a pundit-in-the-making: plenty of encouragement to express herself. And that, she did.
"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.