Summer Holiday Side-Eye (with Juanita Tolliver & W. Kamau Bell) | Crooked Media
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June 29, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
Summer Holiday Side-Eye (with Juanita Tolliver & W. Kamau Bell)

In This Episode

Juanita Tolliver, MSNBC political analyst and host of Crooked Media’s What A Day,” joins Damon to discuss their complicated feelings about the Fourth of July and Juneteenth, and ask: what exactly are we celebrating? Then on Dear Damon, W. Kamau Bell returns to help Damon figure out at what point it’s best to end a relationship in defense of one’s mental health.






Damon Young: I still feel odd about Juneteenth being a national holiday. There’s been so much whiplash from people not even recognizing what it is. And now it’s a day where most people have off now. 


Juanita Tolliver: I don’t want people to point at a national holiday and think that we just have all the freedoms that we should have as Black people in this country or say, well, this is a step towards more freedom. Like, it’s no it’s that I don’t know what gives you the most feeling of a chafing, but that’s what gives me the most feeling of being chafed about Juneteenth and it being a national holiday. Because I don’t want you to think this is like the end of a push or the goal has been reached or that apogee has been hit like, no, no, no, no. It’s not that. [music plays]


Damon Young: Welcome back, everyone to Stuck with Damon Young. The show where we don’t celebrate shit on the 4th of July. I mean, sure, we might be off of work and you might eat a grilled hotdog. We might watch some fireworks, which I guess does sound like a celebration, but still, we need celebration. So my relationship with America, the concept of patriotism, and even a celebration of these summer holidays has evolved as my conscientiousness about our country has. But I still carry some really deep ambivalence about what celebration even means. And to attempt to get to the bottom of this bottomless ambivalence. I’m joined by Juanita Tolliver, host of the Crooked Media podcast What A Day. And then for dear Damon, W. Kamau Bell comes back to help answer a really difficult question about when it’s time to end a friendship. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] Juanita Tolliver is a political analyst for MSNBC and also the host of the Crooked Media podcast. What A Day. Juanita? 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Damon Young: All right. So I got a question for you. 


Juanita Tolliver: Fire away. 


Damon Young: Do you celebrate 4th of July?


Juanita Tolliver: As an adult? No. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Juanita Tolliver: But I did as a kid because I’m a Navy brat. So both my parents were active duty Navy until middle school. And when I tell you it was on the base with the other military families. Flyovers and fireworks. Right. Like that was it. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm 


Juanita Tolliver: But all that kind of immediately disappeared when they left the service. Right. Like, I don’t know if that was like them having to be respectful to their units or their commanding officer or whatever. But we were there all the time, especially on the 4th of July as a kid growing up. 


Damon Young: And you say you don’t anymore. You don’t celebrate the fourth anymore? 


Juanita Tolliver: No. 


Damon Young: Okay. When did you stop? 


Juanita Tolliver: When did I stop? I think it was definitely with the transition of my parents out of the service. We just stopped as a unit. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Juanita Tolliver: Add that on to the fact that most summers I was away from home, so it was like prep schools or cheer camp [laughter] or whatever. And it just wasn’t a a thing. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: But also, that transition with my parents leaving the service, we were in Memphis, and middle school was also the first time I transitioned from predominantly white schools to all Black schools. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: And it was just like, not a thing. It was not the thing to do or celebrate or really take part in. And being at those, you know, predominantly Black environments there was just like no, we ain’t about that life, you know. So my friends weren’t doing it. My parents were no longer doing it. Like no external forces were pushing me that way. 


Damon Young: I feel like, you know, any conscientious Black person, I don’t want to say person of color because I don’t want to speak for everyone. But I think any conscientious—


Juanita Tolliver: I appreciate that because it’s different. 


Damon Young: Yeah, it’s a different relationship with America, but I feel like any conscientious Black person is going to have an answer that’s similar to yours, where, you know, I celebrated when I was a kid. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right.


Damon Young: Maybe when I was a teenager. But once I became an adult and once I just became more aware of America and what the 4th of July actually means and what it means to be an American, what it means to be patriotic. You know, my feelings about all of that have kind of waned. That’s been my experience, too. But I guess my follow up question is, so you don’t celebrate on the 4th, but I’m presuming you don’t work. So what do you do, during that day? 


Juanita Tolliver: It’s so funny you framed it that way because I legit told my boss I was like, I don’t know what our recording schedule is, but I’m available cause I ain’t doing shit. [laughter] Like I said it just like that. And the rest of the team was like, well, I don’t know if we available, I was like, this is for me, I’m around. So I have offered my services on the 4th of July. [laughter] I’m not intending to not work, but it’s not just me running my show over there. But yeah, I mean, usually even still, 4th of July, I just go about my business if I’m writing or scheduled to write or scheduled to do TV or scheduled to do media, I still do that stuff. Like it doesn’t disrupts any of my workflow. But yeah, I’m not grilling out or nothing. [laughs]


Damon Young: So I guess that’s what I want to get back to. There’s the, I guess the big macro idea of celebration capital letter celebration of the fourth. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Damon Young: It’s flags. It’s fireworks. It’s America it’s you know. 


Juanita Tolliver: The timber in your voice just captured the boom. [laughter]


Damon Young: Yes it’s America it’s hot dogs hamburgers all that. And so I was talking to my producers about the 4th last week or maybe the week before and about like you know, also I don’t celebrate, but I’m also usually off now if I still have a work thing that I need to do, I’m going to do it. But it’s summertime. I like to grill. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Damon Young: So I’m very often grilling. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right.


Damon Young: Or I’m around grilled food and if there are fireworks present, I do not buy a fireworks. I do not set off fireworks. But if there are fireworks present, I will watch the fireworks. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 


Damon Young: I will have an appreciation of the fireworks, right? 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And so I am still celebrating. [laughter] Right. So even if I don’t— 


Juanita Tolliver: But see, present participle is like, are you present during a celebration or are you actively celebrating? I think there is a difference. All right. Like, I think you can appreciate a firework. 


Damon Young: I don’t know. We think of celebration as like this capital C celebration of America. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And. Okay. And so you subvert that. You don’t do that any more.


Juanita Tolliver: Right? 


Damon Young: But I’m still doing all the things that I was doing before. Like, I still might have people over. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Damon Young: Or I still might go over to someone’s house. If there are fireworks, you know, at night, you know, I might get up on my deck and watch the fireworks. Yeah, I’m not buying any flags. I’m not pledging allegiance to anything. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean I’m not inviting over, you know, the nearest Republican— 


Juanita Tolliver: God. [laughter]


Damon Young: So we can, so we can have a debate about civics. I don’t know what, whatever the fuck they do on this day, invite a Republican. I just made that shit up, but I [laughs] don’t partake in any of that. But it’s like I don’t celebrate. But I do all this shit that is associated with this particular day and the celebration of this particular day. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible to make a distinction there. And I don’t really think that there is. 


Juanita Tolliver: But do you need to? Like I think when we talk about 4th of July is like it clearly represents something very different in our minds. It also makes us feel whatever we feel when we reflect on the history of this country and, you know, the genocide that occurred and the horrible, horrible things that happened to Black people who were enslaved in the process of building it. But I don’t think you need to parse out anything different if you don’t want to. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: And my mother would always say that she’s like, I mean, my service was for you to do what the fuck you want. Like [laughter] if you feel like being around grilled food and it just happens to be the 4th of July. That’s fine. [laughter]


Damon Young: I agree that it’s fine, but I just. I think that this is maybe, you know, maybe something I need to work out in therapy. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 


Damon Young: And you’re just a stand in for a therapist that I do not have yet because I’m between therapists. 


Juanita Tolliver: I mean I’ll take the hourly fee of whatever you know a therapist charges. [laughs]


Damon Young: I could Cash App you. I could Cash App you when we’re done with this. [laughter] I just think of it as a form of like activism in a way that is more performance. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mhm. 


Damon Young: I don’t want to suggest that you’re doing this because again, I don’t know what you do. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Damon Young: But there’s the performance of like oh fuck the 4th, fuck America. But it’s also. Okay, let me grill these hot dogs. [laughter] Let me eat these burgers, let me, let me not work and let me watch these fireworks. And I think that that’s sort of ambivalence that I’m trying to express right now. It’s just indicative of existing while Black in America. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Particularly existing while Black and somewhat conscientious in America. Cause there’s a lot of us who don’t give a shit. Who— 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Damon Young: Yeah 4th of July, oh America. Great. Celebration. But I think that I was getting progressively towards that. But things get even more severe, like around 2015, 2016, because I remember even watching the Olympics, you know, 2012, 2008 and cheering. 


Juanita Tolliver: Okay. 


Damon Young: For all the American teams and also feeling not necessarily a national pride, but feeling like, you know what, I know these niggas [laughs] my countrymen. 


Juanita Tolliver: Because I was going to say I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the Olympics, we watch the events that Black people are in. Well, I did growing up, so. 


Damon Young: Well, yeah, yeah. So basketball. Basketball and track. Yeah. So I’m watching basketball and I’m watching track. 


Juanita Tolliver: Track and field, period. 


Damon Young: Yeah mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: A little bit of figure skating. [laughter] 


Damon Young: Gymnastics too. 


Juanita Tolliver: Gymnastics for sure. 


Damon Young: And that same feeling, I guess doesn’t really exist the same way. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mhm. 


Damon Young: And it’s something that again I’m trying to just one acknowledge and also acknowledge my own complicity in it because again, what am I doing if I’m saying I’m abstaining from celebration but I’m actually doing the exact same shit that I was doing before, I said I was abstaining from the celebration. 


Juanita Tolliver: Well, let’s also get into the context of the timing of the pivot. You said 15, 16. Let’s think about what was happening in those years. You had. 


Damon Young: Yeah.


Juanita Tolliver: A white nationalist leading the Republican ticket. You had—


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: Let’s be real. Targeted violence still against Black and brown communities. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: You had a lot more Republicans feeling comfortable just being racist every day, blatantly in a way that let’s be real. Being from the South, I’ve seen a whole lot of racism. It’s just different now because zero fucks are given like few fucks were given before, but zero are given now. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: It’s a platform. It’s a standard bearer of one of the two major parties in this country at this point. And so with that in mind, you said the ambivalence gets at you. Now. What were you experiencing in that moment that triggered it? 


Damon Young: Well, the same. The same. And I think that the ambivalence about America and about just the acknowledgment of— 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: What America is and who America has been and what America is to me, that’s something that was 2016 wasn’t the first time I experienced any of that. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. Right. It was a pivotal moment, though. 


Damon Young: Yeah. But, yeah, there are certain events, certain times that could serve as a catalyst. And, you know, the 2015 2016 time did, I guess, exacerbate our journey to that was already on. So we had the 4th. And you know, also this year, earlier this year, we celebrated Juneteenth. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Which is now a nationally recognized holiday. I’m curious what your relationship with Juneteenth has been. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, I remember the first Juneteenth event I went to. I was in high school and I went with a couple of friends and it was just Black people vibing, Black people being happy vendors selling Black owned products and goods. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: And so I was excited, but I was embarrassed. I was like, I’m in high school. Why am I just now learning about the event, learning about the moment, learning about the community, learning about— 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m in Memphis and just now getting, you know, like it felt like, embarrassed to be late, essentially. [laughs]


Damon Young: Yeah.


Juanita Tolliver: Right. And unaware. And of course, that has a lot to do with the subpar education system in this country and how it erases [laughs] key components of history. 


Damon Young: Of course. Yeah.


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. And we’re still even this year figuring out the explicit background of Juneteenth, because there’s the reality that, you know, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t actually free slaves. You know, like it’s layered. And I just remember being like 15 maybe at that event and just feeling very embarrassed, like, I’m so fucking late, y’all. I’m sorry. Educate me, help me get me up to speed. You know? 


Damon Young: [laughs] 


Juanita Tolliver: That was the vibe for high school version of me recognizing Juneteenth. 


Damon Young: Juneteenth is something that I was always aware of, or at least I’ve been aware of for as long as I can remember. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And I didn’t learn that in schools. It was more my parents just, you know, telling me about it, teach me about it. But I didn’t. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah.


Damon Young: We didn’t recognize it as, like, a day to celebrate. It was just like this day recognizes the day that slaves in Texas were emancipated. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Damon Young: Because, you know, my parents explained. Yeah. It’s not like they had the internet back then. And. 


Juanita Tolliver: Ain’t nobody texting nobody. 


Damon Young: You know, once the Emancipation Proclamation, no one was texting is not like the slave owners were like, you know what? 


Juanita Tolliver: Right.


Damon Young: Y’all are free. So y’all are free now. I mean, it took a while. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? For that shit to happen. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Damon Young: You know, I still feel odd about Juneteenth being a national holiday. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: You know, there’s been so much whiplash from, you know, as you’re saying, people not even recognizing what it is or why it is. And now it’s a day where most people have off now. 


Juanita Tolliver: That’s the part that gives me the rub, because they don’t know why in most cases. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: And I don’t want people to point at a national holiday and think that we just have all the freedoms that we should have as Black people in this country or say, well, this is a step towards more freedom. I’m like, no, it’s not that. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: That’s not the same [laughs] at all. And so I don’t know what gives you the most feeling of a chafing, but that’s what gives me the most feeling of being chafed [laughs] about Juneteenth and it being a national holiday. Because I don’t want you to think this is like the end of a push or the goal has been reached or the apogee has been hit like, no, no, no, no, it’s not that. 


Damon Young: Yeah, we are maybe three or four years away from people on the right using Juneteenth the way they use MLK and MLK Day. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Damon Young: It’s like, you know, on this Juneteenth holiday as we celebrate the magnanimity of white people. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh gag. 


Damon Young: Of Texas white people freeing all the slaves. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh, God. 


Damon Young: We need to remember. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh.


Damon Young: That race based policies— 


Juanita Tolliver: I’m having convulsions. 


Damon Young: Should not be in schools. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh. No. But that’s the line. Did you see the map? Did you see the overlapping map of where Juneteenth is not recognized and where there are bans on teaching Black history? It’s literally the same places. It’s already happening. And I’ll take you to the other end of the political spectrum. You remember a couple of years back, House Democrats taking a knee with their kente cloths around their shoulders. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Juanita Tolliver: And how like it goes both sides, it’s not just exclusively on the right of using such information. It’s just like harmful from all directions. And as a Black person in politics, I’m standing around like everybody’s wrong here. Ain’t nobody getting it right. 


Damon Young: Yeah, I feel the way about Juneteenth that I feel about words that existed that were intra community terms, right? 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Damon Young: And then someone let someone into cook out. 


Juanita Tolliver: Not invited, not allowed. [laughs]


Damon Young: Someone left the gate open. And then someone from outside the community heard this term and then, you know, brought it back to outside of the gate. And then other people from outside the gate started using it. And it become such a thing where I don’t say twerk or swag or, I don’t see that shit unironically anymore. These shits, they’re gone. They left. 


Juanita Tolliver: Co-opted, appropriated, taken. [laughs]


Damon Young: They’ve been co-opted. It’s done. And so I envision the same thing happening with Juneteenth, where maybe even like 15, 20 years from now when the equivalents of us are podcasting about how they feel about Juneteenth. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? And someone’s like, yeah, you know, like, I used to celebrate when I was a kid, but, you know, I don’t. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh. 


Damon Young: I don’t really celebrate that anymore. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yikes. Hell of a bleak picture Damon. [laughter] I’ve got to put out a positive alternative universe where, you know, God, I can’t even say because it feels so unrealistic. Black people actually being free. Like. [laughs] Like it feels unrealistic. And I’m talking about free in the sense of who said it? Nina Simone, I guess, was like, freedom is no fear. I can live how I want, where I want, when I want, who with whomever I want with no fear. I don’t I don’t even think that’s possible for Black people in America. 


Damon Young: Yes. I’m also curious, you know, I guess, about your relationship being a Black person, working in a predominately white space. And, you know, you had these different feelings about the holidays and about so much other but particularly about these holidays that perhaps your coworkers do. And I’m curious if that has ever been a thing where you know, someone, you know, maybe at a job was like making a big deal about the 4th and this and that, and you’re like, yeah, actually. [laughs]


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, I’m that asshole. I have that rep [laughs] like and let’s be real. I don’t care anymore about the reactions when I do say it. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: And that took a lot of growth, but also confidence in my own career and my own self to be able to just be like, I don’t give a fuck. Like, even yesterday, I told the team I’m available to record on July 4th, and everybody’s looking to me like, oh, I don’t care. Like, I think what’s important though, to keep in mind for me in particular is that I was a Navy brat, born in Virginia, started school in Bermuda, got to Memphis, Tennessee, still going to predominantly white schools all the way up to middle school, high school. Right. I’ve been doing this since day one. And what I appreciate about my own experiences caring less and less about the reactions and caring more about just speaking up for myself and what I care about. So I’ve been developing that muscle since the beginning, you know, and I hope more and more people can because who cares? 


Damon Young: Well, for someone who has worked in predominately white spaces, how did you develop that confidence? Was it a product of you becoming more advanced in your career where you could like, you know what, I can say these things without the same consequence of me saying this thing like five or ten years ago that. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was probably a factor. 


Damon Young: Or was it divorced from your own status in those spaces? 


Juanita Tolliver: I think that was probably a factor. But let’s be real. Like I’ve had three different iterations. We can start with the politics and strategists. Advocacy lead and campaign director was a different stage from my media work. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: I will say I had an even harder time in the media landscape because the shit I was combating was a makeup artist telling me, oh, your lips are so full, you shouldn’t wear a red lip. So I was like, oh, you’re give me the racism to my face in the chair before I go on air. I haven’t even touched the set yet. Oh. Or the makeup artist underlining my lips, saying, oh, they’re just so large. And I’m like, bitch, you know, like, how dare you? Fast forward to the host on set looking at me and saying, Juanita, you’ve worked for politicians, isn’t it like slavery? And I said, I’m Black. Nothing compares to what my ancestors experienced. And then him turning to the other guest, who was also a white male and saying, but you know what I’m talking about? It’s like slavery. And I’m like, oh, like from all directions behind the scenes in front of the camera, I course correct you and check you in person, and then you do it again. Right like [laughter] so that in my very nascent media career at present, I just didn’t care. I was like, I can’t let you say this to me. Like, I can’t let you disrespect me like [laughs] this in private or in public, and I’m going to do what I want. So I’ll wear my red lip. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Juanita Tolliver: I tell people they’re white supremacists and fascists on camera. I don’t care. And I don’t think that’s about the length of my career, because my, again, my media career is pretty new, but I think it’s about just being my grandmother’s granddaughter. I’m a Aurelia’s granddaughter, and I’m going to say it. [laughs] Like.


Damon Young: Juanita, thank you for joining us today. Greatly appreciate it. 


Juanita Tolliver: Of course. Thanks for having me Damon. 


Damon Young: This was a lot of fun. 


Juanita Tolliver: Truly vibes. [music plays]


Damon Young: Up next for dear Damon, we’re joined by the homie W. Kamau Bell. But first, Damon hates. [music plays] So I’ve started eating oatmeal for breakfast. Not every morning, but many mornings, I’d say like three mornings a week. And this makes me very depressed because breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, like bacon, eggs, all the pancakes, all the French toast, all the waffles, all the grits, all the things that make a good breakfast, a good breakfast, Like I love breakfast so much that we actually had a brunch wedding with bacon, eggs, pancakes, a waffle station, omelets station. All that. All right, we did that. And so it saddens me, it deeply troubles me that because of some health concerns, because I’m getting older, because I need to be more mindful of this motherfucking shit, I have to put away that delicious bacon and put away the juicy eggs. I don’t even really like juicy eggs. I like my eggs to be fried over hard. But anyway, I can’t do the eggs and the bacon as much as I used to. As much as I want to, because I need to eat quote unquote, “heart healthy foods.” So motherfucking oatmeal, which every time I go somewhere and ask for oatmeal, people think I’m asking for oat milk. And I don’t know if that’s an issue of my pronunciation or just the fact that no one goes in the places and ask for oatmeal except for 44 year old niggas who want to stay alive. So anyway, I’m hesitating because I actually don’t hate the taste of the oatmeal I don’t like oat, you know, you could jazz it up. You could put some granola in it, you could put some, like dried fruits in it, like a dried apricot, a dried blueberry, maybe even an actual blueberry. You know, if you have some actual blueberries, with you. So it’s not the experience of eating the oatmeal that I hate, but it’s the fact that I have to do it because I don’t want to be forced to have to disregard my breakfast, my bacon for motherfucking oatmeal. But it is what it is. And you just got to do some things you got to do. So. [music plays] W. Kamau Bell is the host, the award winning host, of United Shades of America. And a few other shows, few other things. Morgan the producer, what we got going this week? 


Morgan Moody: Dear Damon, have you ever been in a situation where you had to end, leave a deep, longstanding friendship in defense of your mental health? 


Damon Young: All right W. Kamau Bell, thank you for coming back for another episode of Stuck with Damon Young. This is a bit different. You know, usually these questions for Dear Damon are lighter or have space for lightness. This is a tough one. Have you ever experienced a friend break up? 


W. Kamau Bell: Yes. It’s funny. [laughs] It’s much easier for me. Yeah. I’ve definitely left friendships where it was like, our friendship is not healthy anymore. Yeah. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


W. Kamau Bell: And it could be that you’re in a very unhealthy place, not only to get drug into your unhealthiness. Or it could be that, like, I don’t like the way we friend anymore. So, yeah, I think the older you get, the more often that happens, especially if you’re if you’re just going into different areas where your friend isn’t going into and there’s sort of a pull back or a lot of this also happens around like I find in my life is having our issues of substance abuse. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: So, yes. 


Damon Young: I appreciate how you use friend as a verb there. I just want to acknowledge [laughter] it reminds me of the people who use summer as a verb. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yes. Yeah. [laughs]


Damon Young: Right. Like where did you summer last summer? [laughter] Have you ever had a friend break up with you? 


W. Kamau Bell: Have I had a friend break up with me? 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


W. Kamau Bell: I mean, I definitely have friends where it’s like, whatever happened to that friend? And so I feel like it is a break up, but I feel like friend breakups often don’t happen that like, I have to break up with you. It’s just like. Huh, you don’t really text me back anymore. So, yeah, I would. I would imagine there are people out there who had to break up with me for some reason, because there are definitely people that you think about. Like, I thought we were going to be friends forever. [laughter] And then you suddenly realize I don’t talk to that person anymore. 


Damon Young: Well you know, it’s funny because I guess there are two distinct types of friend breakups. The first is what you just mentioned, where and I’ve had this happen before a few times where maybe I’m looking to text someone, right? And I go and I look and I’m like, oh, we haven’t actually texted each other in like, seven months. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And then you have, like, the receipts, you have all the old text exchanges or whatever is like, oh, we used to be, you know. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: If not daily, weekly checking in on each other, you know, sharing a joke, doing this, doing that. And sometimes life happens. And sometimes it’s the relationship. It’s, you know, someone has maybe outgrown the relationship. Someone maybe hasn’t grown enough. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And, you know, there’s some times when people particularly, unfortunately, when you have, you know, a friend who is like an opposite sex friend, then, you know, sometimes when a person gets in a new romantic relationship. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yep. Yep. Yep.


Damon Young: Or new partnership, then their opposite sex friends kind of fall to the wayside. And I get that. I get that on both ends because sometimes it’s not even necessarily like an intentional thing, but, you know, it’s like, well, I only have this much space in my life. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And I have to sacrifice some space I have to sacrifice some bandwidth. And unfortunately, you have you didn’t make the cut. [laughter] You’ve been cut. 


W. Kamau Bell: You’ve been sacrificed. 


Damon Young: Your scenes have been cut. [laughs] Right. You’re on the call sheet, but you didn’t make—


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: [laughs] —you didn’t make the final version. 


W. Kamau Bell: I’ve thought since I was a kid that I think people define the word friend too broadly. Like, you may know a lot of folks. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


W. Kamau Bell: But you should only have, like, a small handful of friends. I think by the time you get past three, you’re starting to really pretend with some of those people. 


Damon Young: [laughs] Three. 


W. Kamau Bell: It’s not that you can’t be friendly with people or hang out with people, but for me, friend means like, I call you up at three in the morning, and if you get that call, you just pick up. It’s not about like, who? Why is he calling me so late? It’s like, oh, he’s calling me. Something’s going on. 


Damon Young: Well, you know what? I actually called someone out about that a couple of years ago. A person here in Pittsburgh who wrote an article or maybe a big email. Anyway, it’s something that was seen by a lot of people were they refer to me as like their friend. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm. 


Damon Young: You could have said friendly. We’re friendly. We have a good relationship, but we are not friends. We’ve never spoken outside of like a professional context before. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah, people say they’re your friend because you’ve had a lot of professional encounters. Like, dude, I don’t know you. 


Damon Young: I feel like also when someone says that person is a friend. 


W. Kamau Bell: Oh, yeah. 


Damon Young: I feel like that is kind of a hedging. You’re not calling them your friend. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: But you are saying that you’re not just acquaintances, you are friendly, you have a good relationship. 


W. Kamau Bell: We’re regularly in community with each other. 


Damon Young: Yeah, they’re they’re a friend, but they’re not you’re not friends. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: But they are a friend. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. I mean, I feel like it’s like that scene in Donnie Brasco where it’s like he’s a good fella [laughs] you know what I mean, like, there’s a difference between, like, I know this guy and this guy is in my Mafia family. You know what I mean? Like, I feel like there’s a difference. 


Damon Young: I mean, he’s a good fella. Isn’t that from, like, Goodfellas?


W. Kamau Bell: I think it is, but there’s something in Donnie Brasco [both speaking] where there’s some and somebody’s going to correct me where there’s some sort of version of that in Donnie Brasco. It’s all part of the same vernacular, obviously. But like. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


W. Kamau Bell: I mean, here’s the thing. I’ve recorded a ton of VOs on the United Shades of America. I probably called you a friend in my VO. But it was a way to say to the audience that, like, trust this person, if you trust me, trust this person but me and you aren’t friends. [laughs] I hope it’s no surprise. 


Damon Young: Well, yeah, yeah. And that’s what I would pin that is like I would refer to you as a friend. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: But we’re not friends. We don’t talk to each other on a regular basis. I’m not hitting you up to talk about, like, you know. 


W. Kamau Bell: Well, even if you called me about a big career decision that you thought I had. Like, if CNN was like, we’re going to hire you [laughter] you know and you were like, I know somebody who did this. I’m going to call him. I would accept that call. 


Damon Young: Yes. 


W. Kamau Bell: But to be friends is like there’s got to be repetitions over time. That creates a thing where it’s like— 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


W. Kamau Bell: I got no reason to call you other than help me waste my time. 


Damon Young: You’re right. A friend is someone that you interact with when you do not have a reason to. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You just want to connect with them. You just want to talk to them. You just want to check in on them. And sometimes, you know, like, my best friend lives in Luxembourg, right? And we don’t get a chance to talk that often. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: But when we do check in and when we do talk, we check in and we talk. But that’s a relationship that has been developed over, I guess, at this point like 30, 35 years. 


W. Kamau Bell: Same with me. My best friend lives outside Chicago. He owns a bookstore. His name is Jason. Even my other good friends know that Jason’s like the top ranking friend, like [laughter] and they’re not threatened by that because, you know, I see Jeremy a lot more often, but Jason’s the guy I’ve known since high school. 


Damon Young: All right, so you have the friend breakup where it is like you weren’t necessarily great friends to begin with, and you just drift away. 


W. Kamau Bell: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Two ships drifting away in a sea. But then you have the friend breakup where it is an intentional, where there’s a conversation, where something traumatic happens, where there’s an impetus, there’s an event. And I think this person is asking, how do you get over something like that? And I’ve had that experience with a friend, a very dear friend who broke up with me, essentially. And it’s hard. One thing that makes it distinct from like other sorts of breakups, like a romantic breakup, for instance, one there isn’t a lot of literature or content that you could just drown yourself in to help get over, like songs and movie, and— 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: All that that you could like, oh, I’m inhaling all of this. Other people have experienced this and so I’m going to cry. I’m going to do all this. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Well, you don’t have that for friend breakups, really. 


W. Kamau Bell: There’s no breakup songs for friends that go to the top of the charts. 


Damon Young: And then also with a romantic breakup, most romantic relationships still exist under at least like the veneer of monogamy. Even if they’re not monogamous, they exist under like, whatever. You need to have one person, right? Whereas with friends, you can have as many fucking friends as you need. [laughter] And so if a friend breaks up with you, it’s not because oh they see another better friend that they no, they they just don’t want you. And you’re like—


W. Kamau Bell: They don’t want you.


Damon Young: At all. Right?


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: There’s no, it’s you it’s me. No, it’s you motherfucker. [laughter] 


W. Kamau Bell: It’s you. It’s you.


Damon Young: Yeah. So that realization does make things a bit harder. And I guess for the person who’s experiencing this. I’m sorry if you know, the breakdown kind of retraumatized you. But at the same time, it’s like, well, I think the first thing to do is to try to understand what caused this. And maybe you’re not in a place where you can even reach out to this person to ask. And if that’s not possible, then, you know, some reflection, some self-evaluation some self-awareness is necessary. And I think that if this was a person who was a good friend and, you know, had decided for whatever reason that, you know, they no longer want to be in your life, maybe you need to trust that they had a good reason. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Maybe you need to trust that they did it because whatever the dynamic of your relationship was, it wasn’t healthy for them to continue. 


W. Kamau Bell: I just would imagine this person is probably on the younger side. But maybe not. I just feel like the longer you live, the more you understand that some friendships have cycles. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


W. Kamau Bell: And that cycle may end earlier than you want it to. But that’s why it’s important to really understand who your real friends are. Like, for example, if my friend Jason called me today and was like, I’m tired of this, that’s enough. [laughter] I would be like I would be I would be super sad. I would also understand two things. One, something’s happening on his end that is not about me. Or if it is something I’ve done, maybe it’s something that I want to do, that I’m gonna continue to do. The second thing is, maybe in a year you guys will be friends again, because that has happened to me too. Hari Kondabolu, who’s publicly I’m very good friends with, and we are really good friends. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


W. Kamau Bell: We had a moment where I was like, this friendship is over, it is done. And, you know, time heals some wounds. It does not heal all wounds. And we came back together. We acknowledge what happened in that moment. And, you know, we realized we enjoy each other’s company more than we enjoyed not hanging out with each other. And then there’s times where, like, I’ve worked really hard to figure out why a person has stopped hanging out with me. And I keep sort of trying to like, extend myself and extend myself. And then at some point I stop and then at some point a person will reach back out to me like, I’m ready. And I’m like, I’m good. Like, if you live long enough, you will find ways to fill the friend hole. So you don’t have to always have that one friend. 


Damon Young: And a funny thing, too. And I guess this goes for romantic relationships when you are on the end, when you’re a person who’s being broken up with and you are curious about why you think you want to know it, sometimes maybe you don’t. Maybe sometimes things are better left unsaid, better left unknown. 


W. Kamau Bell: For sure. 


Damon Young: Because maybe they might say a thing that hurts you that you weren’t expecting to hear about yourself. 


W. Kamau Bell: That you didn’t need to hear. 


Damon Young: Yeah, maybe the breakup is them protecting you [laughs] so they don’t have to say that to you [laughs] right?


W. Kamau Bell: The question is, do you enjoy yourself? Do you think you’re a good person? Do you think you’re a good friend? Now, your other friend might define all those things differently. And so you realize, oh, they don’t think the way I’m being a friend is a good friend, but as long as I enjoy myself, I think I’m a good person and I’m a good friend. Then you got to like, understand that, like these things just sort of ebb and flow when you have kids. A lot of people you thought were your friends sort of disappear because they don’t have kids. They don’t know how to be around kids. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


W. Kamau Bell: And, you know, you go, wow, I thought you were going to be my kid’s uncle or aunt, that sort of play uncle or auntie. And you just bounced, you know. [laughs]


Damon Young: Well, you know, my version of kids is Pittsburgh. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: [laughs] Basically, I’m still here. And all of my friends have bounced.


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? 


W. Kamau Bell: It’s why you got to keep your Luxembourg friend around, because you can’t rely on all your Pittsburgh friends. 


Damon Young: [laughs] Having kids didn’t make anyone go away. But living in Pittsburgh. Definitely. Everyone has exodused. Exodused. Wait. Is there plural for exodus? 


W. Kamau Bell: I think it’d be exited. I don’t know if exodus has a verb? 


Damon Young: Exited. [laughs]


W. Kamau Bell: You can do it because we’re Black and that’s what we do. [laughs] But not common, not in the dictionary yet. 


Damon Young: Thank you for coming back on the show and again for the person who wrote in, it’s tough not going to pretend that it ain’t, but it will probably get better with time. 


W. Kamau Bell: It’ll evolve as long as you still remain here and in community with other people. Lean on the friends you have left who are still your friends to figure out a way to sort of navigate this difficult time. But things will evolve. 


Damon Young: Lean on other friends. 


W. Kamau Bell: Yeah, that’s how you know someone’s your friend, where you can come and say, I’m here to lean on you. And if that person’s like, ugh, then they’re not your friend. 


Damon Young: All right. Again, thanks for coming through. Appreciate you always. 


W. Kamau Bell: Same, always appreciate being invited. We’re still not friends, but we are friendly. 


Damon Young: Not friends, but a friend. [laughs] All right man. 


W. Kamau Bell: Bye. 


Damon Young: Again I just wanted to thank Juanita Tolliver, W. Kamau Bell coming through today. Great topics, great guests, great people, great conversation also. Thank you all again for coming through for another week of Stuck with Damon Young. And remember you can find Stuck with Damon Young on every platform, any platform where podcasts are available, you can find us also if you happen to be on Spotify, if you happen to be on the app, please take advantage of the interactive little things we got going, the questionnaires to answers, all that. It’s really fun. So just take advantage of that. And also if you have any questions about anything whatsoever, hit me up at All right y’all. See you next week. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Madeleine Haeringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Spotify our executive producers are Lauren Silverman, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam and Krystal Hawes-Dressler. [music plays]