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February 19, 2021
What A Day
Making Black History

In This Episode

  • Black Americans still frequently have to break barriers to become elected, appointed, or hired to do a thing. We spoke to people who have become the ‘firsts’ to hold their position this past year, how they feel about it being celebrated, and the pressures that come with their new roles.
  • Congress held its first hearing on last month’s GameStop insanity, with CEOs of trading platforms and hedge funds testifying, along with one of r/WallStreetBet’s most notable figures. Congressional Dems also put out a new immigration relief bill which includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
  • And in headlines: Planned Parenthood sues to block anti-abortion law in South Carolina, Walmart announces raises for nearly half a million workers, and the Perseverance rover lands on Mars.

 

Transcript

 

 

Akilah Hughes: It’s Friday, February 19th. I’m Akilah Hughes.

 

Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we are asking to be seated as far away from Ted Cruz as possible if we are ever on the same flight.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. If you just want to seat me in the lounge at the airport until a new flight is available, that would be fine.

 

Gideon Resnick: I will be taking a car.

 

Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, we hear from black people who are breaking barriers that still exist today. Then some headlines.

 

Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest.

 

[clip of Keith Gill] A few things I am not. I’m not a cat. I’m not an institutional investor, nor am I a hedge fund. I do not have clients and I do not provide personalized investment advice for fees or commissions. I’m just an individual whose investment in GameStop and posts on social media were based upon my own research and analysis.

 

Akilah Hughes: Hmm. Oh, I love it. I’m going to start every introduction like that: a few things I am not, I’m not a cat. [laughs] Well, anyway, that was Keith Gill, otherwise known as Roaring Kitty—probably why he had to make that distinction—but he’s also otherwise known as DeepFuckinValue on Reddit, testifying in a hearing yesterday about the GameStop insanity from last month. The hearing also featured the CEO of Robinhood, the CEO of Reddit, and the CEOs of the hedge funds: Melvin Capital and Citadel. So Gideon, what do we know about what went down in the hearing?

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there was a lot of stuff, but a few key things here. So Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev seemed to get a bulk of the questions, which makes sense. And at one point he apologized for restricting customer buying on the app during the height of all this craziness. That was quite a big controversy when it happened. The CEO of Citadel claimed that his hedge fund had no role in that move to limit the trading done by Robinhood, which was a question that was raised by Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren before the hearing even started. And Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was among the members that asked pointed questions about Robinhood’s actual business model. So, for example, she asked about how Robinhood generates revenue from financial firms in a practice called ‘payment for order flow’—essentially where financial firms pay Robinhood for the right to actually execute user stock trades and thereby have information on stock buying or selling patterns. So lots of serious stuff mixed in here. And also worth mentioning to our friend at the top, it’s definitely the first time that a person known as Roaring Kitty has testified to Congress from a gaming chair, as far as I know.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Also a lot of interesting hairstyles. The CEO of Robinhood really doubling down on that Gen Z middle part trend. [laughs] It was not for me. But this is just the first hearing. Are we expecting a lot more action from the feds?

 

Gideon Resnick: It seems like it. There is a report in The Washington Post recently that said attorneys at DOJ are opening an investigation into possible market manipulation and, in fact, reportedly subpoenaed Robinhood as part of that. But the sentiment from some members of Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission is that this is just in its early stages for now. There’s a lot more research and fact finding they have to do. And there’s also a lot on Congress’s plate overall. In addition to the COVID relief bill, there’s a big new immigration bill from Democrats in Congress that they put out yesterday. It’s meant to reflect the goals of the Biden administration, which put out their proposal last month. The major part of it, as a reminder, being an eight year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. We will stay plugged in on all of this and explore more in depth at a later date. But let’s turn to our next story.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yes. So, all right. For Black History Month, we decided we wanted to take a moment to focus on the history that’s actually being made today. It’s crazy to think that here in the U.S., we’re still seeing people elected, appointed or hired as the first Black person to do a thing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Obviously, this past year, we got our first Black woman vice president in Kamala Harris, but we also saw Gabriella Karefa-Johnson become the first Black woman to ever style a U.S. Vogue cover. And MSNBC’s Rashida Jones become the first Black woman to run a major cable news network. Go off Rashida. Wilton Gregory became the first Black Catholic cardinal in the U.S. Nicholas Johnson became the first Black valedictorian at Princeton, which only started admitting black students in the late 1940s. Mickey Guyton became the first black woman solo artist to be nominated for a Grammy in a country music category. And the list goes on and on and on. And it says a lot about the work that hasn’t been done up until now and the work that’s still very much left to do.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes, it does. And we see headlines about these accomplishments and what it means for the industry or for the culture. But we wanted to hear firsthand from some of these people who’ve become the “first” this past year about what it means to them. How they feel about it being celebrated and the very real pressures that come with it. Here’s what they had to say.

 

[Rep Mondaire Jones] My name is Mondaire Jones, the congressman from New York’s 17th Congressional District, and I am among the first openly gay Black members of Congress. I wish it had happened sooner. I wished I had grown up, my life would have been easier because I would have been able to look to someone like me in the United States Congress. I remember last summer mentioning to Ritchie Torres, congressman, Ritchie Torres, that I was growing wary of every headline about me being one of the first two openly gay Black members, because I wanted to talk about the substance, right? I wanted to talk about the need to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act and to, to enact comprehensive immigration reform so that we can have a humane system of immigration laws in this country. And his response was: of course there will be time for that, but you are blessed in that you are receiving biographical coverage and that is inspiring people all across this country and all across this world. So I’m very, I’m cognizant not to, to take for granted the unique ways in which I’m allowed to lead.

 

[Jennifer King] My name is Jennifer King. I’m the first Black female position coach in the NFL. I’m an assistant running backs coach for the Washington football team. It took a lot. This is years and years of work. I was coaching college basketball and also coaching football and I saw women getting opportunities in NFL and I just kind of decided that I wanted to try to do that. I love football and then I kind of was just fine doing basketball because there was no one looked like me in football. [laughs] So I just did basketball and I was happy with it. But, no, really really chase what you want. If you want to be in football, then go be football. But, you know, learn and grow just like you would do anything else. If that’s what you want to do, do it. And know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be an easy ride with things not going wrong at some point, but how do you handle those and move forward?

 

[Eric Hale] My name is Eric Hale. I teach in Dallas, Texas. I am the first African-American male in the history of Texas to win the Texas State Teacher of the Year. There’s a lot of pressure with being first. Uh, when I look at the history of this award in the state of Texas, it’s been over 60 years that they have participated in the National Teacher of the Year competition. And there’s never even been an African-American male that was a finalist for high school, middle school or elementary school. So with me being the first, I know how imperative it is that I conduct myself at the highest levels and I almost have to almost be like, an Obama of education. And I know that children, growing up, they need to see somebody like me. They need to see a champion. But a champion that they can reach out and touch.

 

[Deborah Archer] I’m Deborah Archer, and I’m the first Black person to be elected president of the American Civil Liberties Union. People often have expectations or assumptions about who you are and who you will be in that role. And depending on what those expectations or assumptions are, I either have the responsibility to live up to and fulfill those expectations, or to challenge and shatter those assumptions. I think growing up as the child of immigrants, the first person in my family to graduate from college, as a young Black woman, that a lot of society and the world is designed to tell me what my limits are, to tell me what my place is, to tell me the spaces that belong to me, and to remind me that there are places that are not for me, opportunities that are not for me. And getting to this point with the ACLU, getting to this point in my career is a reminder that none of those things are true. Those limits are nonexistent and that people should ignore them and do what you feel is right. And never live down to expectations, live up to your dreams instead.

 

[Everett Fitzhugh] My name is Everett Fitzhugh. I am the team broadcaster radio play-by-play announcer for the Seattle Kraken. And I am the first Black team broadcaster in the history of the NHL. I’ve always been viewed as an equal. But having said that, there is that, that pressure as, as the only Black broadcaster in the game of people saying that, hey, you know, does this guy know what he’s talking about? And it’s my job to, to go and prove them wrong. I got in the hockey because I went home and watched a hockey game and there were two Black players on the same team. It was Mike Grier and George Laraque—they played for the Edmonton Oilers. And I was running around the house like: Mom, mom, there’s two Black guys on TV like, they play hockey! And then two years later, they added a third. So being able to see that it’s not just the token black guy, it’s like, no, these are impactful, meaningful players that are, that are contributing to our organization on the ice, in the community, in the locker room. That’s important. So for me to be able to to say like, yes, I’m not just the NHL’s token broadcaster. But like, you know, this is something that I’m very serious about. I’m very passionate about. And I’m going to do whatever I can to let minorities, historically underrepresented communities know that there is a place for you and there is a place for your voice in this game.

 

Akilah Hughes: Thanks to Congressman Mondaire Jones, Jennifer King, Eric Hale, Deborah Archer and Everett Fitzhugh for sharing their experiences with us. We really appreciate it. And we’ll have more next week on Black History Month and what it means this year in particular. But that’s the latest for now.

 

Akilah Hughes: It’s Friday, WAD squad, and today we’re talking about the world’s most badly-timed tropical getaway: Ted Cruz’s overnight trip to Cancun. Now, you may have already heard about this, but here’s a quick recap. Cruz flew from Texas to Mexico on Wednesday, leaving behind millions of his constituents who are freezing, without power and without safe water. Pictures of him traveling were posted on social media, leading to uproar, and Cruz subsequently flew back to Houston on Thursday. Like any good, self-centered dad, he blamed his daughter, saying, quote “Our girls asked to take a trip with friends.” Some are reporting that Cruz booked his return flight the day of, and was booked to return on Saturday. Also, Cruz’s neighbors have leaked texts from his wife, inviting them on a full weekend trip. So Giddy, as usual, Ted Cruz stays losing. What was your reaction to watching this unfold on, I’m assuming on Twitter?

 

Gideon Resnick: A train wreck I could not take my eyes away from. I, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen somebody get so openly busted.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah.

 

Gideon Resnick: Just from every step of the way. Like throwing a lie out there, having the lie get backed down. We’re watching like, an O.J.-type coverage of him in the airports, you know, walking with police escort, all of this stuff. It was like, unbelievable. [laughs] I mean, funny on the level of like, you know, the friends narcing to The New York Times about what was going on. But, you know, on the serious note, I think speaks to when politicians just think that they like, they play by a different set of rules. It’s like the Chris Christie thing when the beaches were closed and then you have this insane aerial photo of him like hanging out on the beach.

 

Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Totally.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s just, it’s just like, why would you, why—even if you didn’t care, like, let’s just say you didn’t give half of a shit.

 

Akilah Hughes: I mean, let’s say he doesn’t. Right? [laughs]

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. But why would you do it? Like why? Like, so yeah. It’s, it’s stupid and, and crazy. It’s insane.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Yeah. I, I co-sign on everything you just said. [laughs].Yeah.

 

Gideon Resnick: It just like, if you, like, the least you could do was just chill at the house, just hang out of the house.

 

Akilah Hughes: Right? You don’t even have to be like a charitable person giving out water or anything. You could just sit at home.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, just don’t make news. Do not become the main character of Twitter when your state is in an enormous crisis.

 

Akilah Hughes: But he’s so thirsty. He loves it. He loves being the, you know, the villain, but he’s just not a good one. Like usually villains are at least a little competent.

 

Gideon Resnick: No, he’s, he’s not the good heel in wrestling. But same question for you, Akilah. How are you watching this unfold?

 

Akilah Hughes: You know, in ways, very upset for the people of Texas just because I’m like, wow, like as a resident or a former resident of Kentucky, a person who grew up there, I know what it’s like to have a piece of shit Senator [laughs] who doesn’t give a crap whether you live or die. And I can’t imagine how bad it must feel. You know, we talked about yesterday on the show how Ted Cruz even acknowledged that he was being hypocritical, criticizing California’s response to the wildfires. So to even have like, the, the clarity of mind to say that, and then be like: but also I got to bounce, you know, my kids want to go to Mexico and who am I to say no in a pandemic to taking my children to a country that I have belittled publicly? I mean, the levels to his asshole’ery, are just endless. Like, I thought the worst might be, you know, inciting the insurrection. Before that, maybe, you know, liking the porn on 9/11.  But this is just—

 

Gideon Resnick: Amazing, amazing moment.

 

Akilah Hughes: Right. Defending the man who called his wife ugly, you know [laughs]. Having that gross spit on his lip every time he gave any sort of interview. But now [laughs] this is just like, how can you not resign after this? And, you know what? He won’t. He has literally no moral center. But if I was him, I would resign because I do have one. And I think it’s just so shameful it’s embarrassing.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I just like I can’t, it’s also just crazy that he walks through life and even the people on his side don’t like him. Like Lindsey Graham had that quote where he was like, yeah, like if he died on the Senate floor or something like that, like none of us would call the police or, like something along those lines.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Right.

 

Gideon Resnick: And it’s just like, well you, man, you are, you are doing it to your damn self because you get caught being a jackass.

 

Akilah Hughes: Right. And he fights with everybody online—which like, OK, I do that as well—but he fights with everybody online [laughs]. And then I’m like, you can’t give them opportunities to dunk! Like AOC’s like: I’m raising money right now for Texas. [laughs] Seth Rogan is like: hey, we knew he was a piece of shit. [laughs] Like, just stop giving them fodder. I mean, gosh, it’s like, is he good at anything? It’s a real question.

 

Gideon Resnick: And, and memes, too. And also just a play-by-play. Like an unbelievable—I have never been so interested in the minutia of, like: who is in this group text? You know, like: what’s the situation with the dog?

 

Akilah Hughes: The dog he left at home.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yup. Yeah. There’s, it’s, there are a lot of threads here and it’s, it’s fascinating.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. All roads lead to Ted Cruz being a total asshole. But just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe, especially if you’re in Texas, stay warm and sorry about your shitty senator, but we’ll be back after some ads.

 

[ad break]

 

Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: The governor of South Carolina signed a law that would ban most abortions, yesterday. Fortunately, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights stepped in and immediately sued the state, effectively blocking the law’s immediate implementation. The Planned Parenthood lawsuit alleges that the law violates over 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and that the ban would disproportionately hurt Black and low income women. Passing unconstitutional abortion laws have been a part of a long con by Republican led state legislatures to bring the issue to the Supreme Court in the hopes that the court will overturn Roe v. Wade. Similar laws have been passed in several states, but they all are currently tied up in federal court. And Democrats in South Carolina say Republicans should focus on more pressing issues like health care and COVID-19.

 

Akilah Hughes: Bloop, bloop, bloop. Well, Walmart announced yesterday it would bump its average hourly pay for some workers while still keeping its $11 per hour starting wage. The raise, which is set to take effect next month, will bump 425,000 employees’ salaries to somewhere between $13 to $19 an hour, depending on where they work. These employees constitute more than one fourth of the workforce at Walmart, which is the largest private employer in the country. CEO Doug McMillon opposes a federal minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, and said keeping an $11 minimum at Walmart allows the company to create a, quote “ladder of opportunity and encourage employees to move up in the company.” I would love to get a few more steps on that ladder above the poverty line, just asking. Walmart’s decision ultimately falls short of wages paid by its competitors like Target, Best Buy and Costco, which already have $15 minimum wages.

 

Gideon Resnick: The failure of the New York Department of Health to accurately disclose COVID numbers last year has reportedly led to investigations from the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York underreported deaths of nursing home residents by nearly half. That’s because they excluded from the count thousands of nursing home residents who died in hospitals. State lawmakers, like Democratic Assembly member Ron Kim, have pointed out the Cuomo’s campaign received millions from a health care lobbying group and that he added sweeping immunity for nursing homes and hospitals into last year’s budget. He also directed nursing homes to readmit recovering COVID patients to make room in hospitals. And so this doesn’t look good and it could provide a motive for Cuomo’s administration to undercount nursing home deaths. Kim’s statements about Cuomo allegedly led the governor to threaten to, quote “destroy him” on the phone last week if he didn’t fall in line, and trash him in a press conference. There are reports of other lawmakers getting similar calls. Cuomo’s office said on Wednesday that, quote “Kim’s assertion that the governor said he would destroy him is false.” Look, if that’s true, that would be good for me because I set the bar for governor at doesn’t talk like the Joker.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, please, just one thing. Well, I missed my ride to a very exotic vacation. And in related news, a robot car landed yesterday on Mars! As thousands watched on live stream, NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down around 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time in a crater that was once the site of an ancient Martian lake. Oooh. This spot was chosen to give Perseverance a chance to find signs of life. It will search piles of sediment that might contain the fossil chemical signatures of ancient Martian microbes. Also, it should let me know if it finds one of my AirPods up there. Not likely but crazier things really have happened. Two other spacecrafts entered orbit around Mars last week: one from the United Arab Emirates and one from China. With Perseverance, they launched in July of last year, capitalizing on a narrow window every two years when the distance between Earth and Mars is shorter than usual. Good tip for those of us looking to book Mars tickets and hate long flights. The Perseverance joins fellow NASA rover. Curiosity, on Mars and I, for one, hear some very loud robot wedding bells.

 

Gideon Resnick: Ooooh. They’re gonna kiss.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, they look really great in a dress.[laughs] And those are the headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Quick announcement before we go. Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza is joining John Lovett—heard of him?—on Love It or Leave It, tomorrow. Make sure you subscribe to hear their conversation wherever you listen to your podcasts.

 

Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, avoid Joker talk, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just rover wedding vows like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And bring a good book for your flight to Mars.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah, you can bring mine obviously. [laughs] Akilah Hughes.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you can read it like 20 times probably.

 

Akilah Hughes: Yeah. You write it by hand.

 

Gideon Resnick: Um hum. The worst thing is it’s a long flight, you know. Make sure you get up and move around.

 

Akilah Hughes: What a day is a production of Crooked Media.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.

 

Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.

 

Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.

 

Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.

 

What A Day