The Pageantry of Reaction (with Panama Jackson & Simone Polanen) | Crooked Media
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May 04, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
The Pageantry of Reaction (with Panama Jackson & Simone Polanen)

In This Episode

This week on Stuck with Damon Young, “TheGrio” author Panama Jackson debates Damon on the validity of the general public’s social media reactions and efforts to align themselves closer to tragedy and celebrations that dominate mainstream pop culture. Then, on Dear Damon, Simone Polanen, host of the “Not Past It” podcast, assists Damon in advising a woman torn on how to navigate her young child’s hair journey; to cut or not to cut.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Panama Jackson: This is why your joint is called Stuck with Damon Young [laughter] you’re in your head. You are literally stuck on some shit nobody else cares about and it is giving you fits. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: Welcome back to Stuck with Damon Young, the show where we just don’t take pictures with celebrities because, well, we don’t actually have any good reasons why. Just bad reasons. But still. No pictures. So the recent death of Harry Belafonte and the reactions to it has reminded me of some of my deep and dark cynicisms and doubts about the way we engage with our social media platforms, particularly that through line of intent where I wonder if we share pictures of recently deceased celebrities with reverence or just for engagement to help unpack some of these cynicisms. I’m joined by Panama Jackson, columnist at TheGrio and my brother from another mother. And then for dear Damon, I’m joined by Simone Polanen, host of the Spotify Original podcast Not Past It. And she helps me answer a question from a parent who’s unsure about whether to allow her baby boy to grow his hair long. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] And joining us this week, Panama Jackson, columnist at TheGrio, co-founder of VerySmartBrothas, one of my best friends. Panama Jackson what’s good man? 

 

Panama Jackson: Ain’t much man, what’s going on with you brother?

 

Damon Young: You know, same old. I need you to help me with something. 

 

Panama Jackson: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: With a thing that I’m struggling with. Okay, so. Harry Belafonte, actor, philanthropist, activist died recently, right? 

 

Panama Jackson: Singer. 

 

Damon Young: Singer. Multi-hyphenate. 

 

Panama Jackson: Absolutely. 

 

Damon Young: And you’re on social media just like I am. You saw that many people had either images of Harry Belafonte on their profiles or pictures they had taken with him, and they posted them with some words and a remembrance. How much he meant to them, etc., etc.. And that happens whenever a beloved person passes away. So where I need your help [laughs] I look at that, before I even get in. I know this is my own cynicism. My own. My own dark heart. 

 

Panama Jackson: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: Right. This is the fault of my dark heart. 

 

Panama Jackson: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: But I look at that stuff and I’m just thinking these niggas is just doing this for engagement. That it has nothing to do with, like, a remembrance or memorial or eulogy. This is just straight. You know what everyone is posting. Everyone is getting their Harry retweets, their Harry likes you know their Harry shares on. So I’m going to get into this pool and get my easy retweets, get my easy likes, get my easy comments, too. Again, I know [laughs] again that I [laughs] I have a dark, cynical heart, but whenever I see that happen, that is my first reaction. My primal reaction to this is y’all niggas is bullshit. And so can you help me with this Panama, can you help me get past, or do I not need to get past this? Is there some truth to this deep, dark belief? 

 

Panama Jackson: Well, I think all things can be true at the same time. I’m surprised. Your first thought is that they’re just doing this for the quick likes. When my first thought is, how in the hell do so many people have pictures with everybody who dies? Like, how did the hell did everybody have a picture with Harry Belafonte? Like, I start looking through my phone. I’m like, where’s my picture? Like, where was I the day when Harry Belafonte was like [laughs] everybody gets a picture. This was my concern. Like, how did I miss that? 

 

Damon Young: And again, that’s part of my cynicism. That’s part of my dark heart , part where I’m thinking, you know what? These people, you know it. I got this photo op with Harry Belafonte, and I’m just going to keep it. [laughter] I’m just going to table it until he dies. You know what I mean? So there’s so they get the pictures. Not necessarily so they can have the picture, but they get the picture so that they can use it whenever they want to use it to get more engagement on their social media platform. 

 

Panama Jackson: I’m going to push back a little bit on that. 

 

Damon Young: Please do. 

 

Panama Jackson: So let’s say you’re out and you see Harry Belafonte and you recognize him. You know who that is and this is a big deal. You take that picture, but let’s say it’s not a great picture. So you don’t immediately think to post it because he’s looking the other way. You’re looking the other way. So it’s just in your phone because it’s a picture with that person, but it’s not a great picture. So you just kind of you keep it in the stash, right? It’s an I have like 40,000 pictures in my phone. Harry Belafonte passes away. And you remember that you did take a picture with Harry Belafonte and you’re like, damn, when did I take that picture? That was in 2008. Let me go find the picture. There is no better time to post that picture in remembrance than when he has passed away. This picture you probably never used or had a reason to. So I can understand that. Yes, most people want to be a part of the conversation, but there’s actually nothing wrong with that. Right. Like, this is somebody we should be celebrating. Harry Belafonte lived a full life. He literally did everything you could possibly do with that life. If you got a picture of somebody like this, there’s never going to be a better time to post it than now anyway. So your cynicism is understandable, but it’s also just kind of par of the course for this is what happens when a famous person passes away and you just so happen to have a picture, you should share that picture. Listen, I love you, bro. When you pass away, it’s going to be a flood dog. Like, I don’t care if we’re 90, it’s a wrap. 

 

Damon Young: Oh, thank you for that morbid turn. 

 

Panama Jackson: Please live a long time. 

 

Damon Young: I appreciate that, but. Okay, so we have a relationship. 

 

Panama Jackson: Fair. 

 

Damon Young: And also, too, we have the sort of interactions with each other where we take organic pictures. It’s not like, oh, I saw Damon Young at this thing, so I’m a take a picture of him and then when dies. [laughs] I’m a post that motherfucker. 

 

Panama Jackson: But there are a lot of those pictures that exist. I have been with you, you and I have been a party to pictures with the most in the most random of circumstances with tons of people. So if something happens to either one of us, there are going to be pictures everywhere. And as there should be, it is a tribute, in passing, it is the momentary thing that we do as a culture where even if we’re not that connected to the person or not invested past the day that the news hits us. Jerry Springer passed away. Right. If I had a picture with Jerry Springer, I might be inclined to post it. Now Jerry Springer was the 4 p.m. slot of almost every day of my life, my freshman year of college. But it’s a random picture, right? But if I had it, I would post it because I want everybody to know that I was a Jerry Springer person. People need to know this, it’s important history. 

 

Damon Young: If you had a picture of Jerry Springer, you would post it following his passing, you would do that? 

 

Panama Jackson: I probably would, because I don’t know that I’d ever have an opportunity after that. Like, there’s a no good reason to just randomly post your picture with Jerry Springer. You know what I mean? Like, because there’s no more opportunities for him to do something to be in the news. 

 

Damon Young: Is there any good reason to take a picture with Jerry Springer? 

 

Panama Jackson: If I saw Jerry Springer out— 

 

Damon Young: You would run up to him like, Jerry. 

 

Panama Jackson: Bro, wouldn’t you do? Dude. Jerry Springer was a part of the cultural zeitgeist for years. Like this dude mattered. 

 

Damon Young: I don’t deny that. But I think we’re getting even deeper into, like, a fundamental flaw that I possess in that I just look like that part of you see Jerry Springer in the streets. You would take a picture with him? I would not. I would just be like, oh, that’s Jerry Springer over there. 

 

Panama Jackson: Okay. The reason I would, though, is because, like I said, so freshman year of college, Jerry Springer Show, 4 p.m., all the homies would gather in one of my boys rooms. We will watch Jerry Springer. We love to see chairs fly across TV screens. We love to see baby m— Cam’ron did the most amazing, like rehashing of a sketch, right? Like he became part of the thing. So I would take a picture with Jerry Springer just so I could send it to my friends. Right? Like, yo, I just saw Jerry Springer. When Jerry Springer passes, I would then post that picture like, yo, R.I.P. to a real one. Jerry Springer. You might have the picture for personal reasons, but you just so happen to have the picture that you can share. Stevie Wonder came to the club. I took a picture with Stevie Wonder and sent it to my mom like, yo, Stevie, I met Stevie Wonder. 

 

Damon Young: Was that for your mom? Or was that for you? 

 

Panama Jackson: I would take the picture for my mother. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Panama Jackson: But I would keep it. And something happens, though, when you realize you have these pictures, you utilize them in a social capacity for the sake of being a part of the convo. I don’t know man. Just seems kind of normal nowadays. 

 

Damon Young: I acknowledge that how I feel about this is probably abnormal, right? Or uncommon because it’s just again, I can’t get it out of my head. 

 

Panama Jackson: Wait, so are you saying you wouldn’t do this? You wouldn’t post pictures with celebrities when they pass? 

 

Damon Young: Even as we’re having this conversation, I have to admit that I am talking about engagement around this sort of thing. We had our blog, VSB. We’ve worked together at The Root when something terrible happens in the news. One of our jobs was, okay, let’s figure out a way, a unique way to write about this thing, right? 

 

Panama Jackson: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: I think that we might not have decided to write about if it wasn’t for this terrible thing happening. 

 

Panama Jackson: Absolutely. 

 

Damon Young: We have to write about it in that unique and irreverent or, you know, personal way or whatever to get that sort of attention. 

 

Panama Jackson: To get the likes. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Yeah to get the likes and you get the reading, to get the page views and whatever. And so I have done it right. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: And again, I think that this feeling is a self indicting feeling, because even when I would do that, I did feel like, you know, what am I doing this just for the likes, am I doing this just for the retweets? Is this a person dies, a Black person is killed by the police. And I hurry up and I write a take about it. Yeah, maybe I’m articulating it in a way that other people and maybe there are people who like. You know what? I wonder what Damon Young has to say about this. So I’m going to read what he has to say. 

 

Panama Jackson: Probably. 

 

Damon Young: But I always question, I guess, how genuine my intent was. Like, am I really this devastated? Am I really this hurt? Am I really just angry or am I performing devastation? Am I performing anger am I performing hurt? And I’m putting it in a very stylistically unique way in order for it to be palpable, in order for people to read it, retweet it, share it, etc., etc.. 

 

Panama Jackson: That is a lot of thought about writing an article [laughter] that you’re going to write regardless. Right? Like. That’s a lot of time spent on something that you’re going to do anyway. It doesn’t even matter why you did it. You’re going to do it right now. If that has somehow stopped you from doing it in the social media sphere with pictures of celebrities. Okay. But at the end of the day, nobody’s going to like nobody who sees that you posted a picture with X, Y, Z celebrity who was passed on. It’s going to be like, man, I bet he only did that shit because that dude died and he just trying to get likes. I mean, most people, it’s what people do. Like somebody passes, you just post it, right and everybody moves on. People don’t even post it permanently. Some people’s stories, 24 hours from now, nobody will even know you posted it so it don’t even matter. So you spend a lot of time. This is why your joint is called Stuck with Damon Young. [laughter] You’re in your head. You are literally stuck on some shit nobody else cares about. And it is giving you fits. It is getting you fits. Meanwhile, I couldn’t care less. Like our job at VSB was to write those articles so people could come and say, I’m at VSB commenting on this thing and talk, and that’s where they wanted to have the conversation, right? So we created the space to have the convo there and we were expected to do it, but the mental part of it never once crosses my mind as a hurdle of any sort, because the truth is that was our job. And too, that’s what people do. Like, if you don’t, nobody will notice if you do nobody will care in 24 hours anyway. 

 

Damon Young: I don’t disagree with anything that you’re saying right now. Right. I don’t know why people say I don’t disagree when they could just say I agree. It’s a way of like hedging your agreement. 

 

Panama Jackson: Of course it is. Yeah. I do it all the time. We do it in text all the time. Like I don’t disagree with what you just said. [laughter] 

 

Damon Young: You just haven’t figured out exactly how we disagree yet. [laughs] So you’re just putting it out— 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: —as a placeholder. Right. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: I think what’s at the bottom of this right now was at the center of this is just a general general cynicism, more about how we engage on social media and what it means and and things we do that are only for engagement but we do it under the veneer of care or under the veneer protection or under the veneer of like grief. And, you know, this is changing the subject a bit, but. Okay. Simone Biles, world class gymnast, maybe be the best gymnast of all time, just got married. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yep. Congrats to her. 

 

Damon Young: To her boyfriend. I think her boyfriend is either was a college ballplayer. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yeah he’s an NFL player. Houston, Texan. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yep. 

 

Damon Young: And beautiful wedding photos, you know, hit the Internet and like, three people with, like, a thousand followers between them started talking shit about her hair, saying that, you know, she was nappy headed, and how come she didn’t get lace front for her wedding and etc., etc.. Okay. Because niggas is going to hate. That’s fine. 

 

Panama Jackson: Of course. 

 

Damon Young: Right. That’s par for the course. 

 

Panama Jackson: Part of the package. 

 

Damon Young: But then people with hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of followers found those tweets and then made it a thing like how dare you talk about Simone Biles. How dare you? She is just, she got married, you’re going to go home to your broke ass house, your broke ass boyfriend, your broke ass life, she’s a millionaire, etc., etc. She has her own Wikipedia page. You pay for Twitter, all that [laughter] right? 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. Elon didn’t ante up for you. 

 

Damon Young: And so this this sort of thing happens. And again, it’s one of those things where it’s done to quote unquote “protect.” Right. The person who is under attack or being criticized. But this shit has always made my teeth itch. It’s like Simone Biles was not going to even know that those three motherfuckers with five followers between them were talking shit about her hair. Unless she’s the type that searches for her name. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: In Twitter, she was not going to see that. But now, after people with these large accounts are retweeting it or talking about it or writing stories about it, now it’s a thing. Now it’s a thing that she may even have to respond to. And it’s like, is it really protecting her? If all you did was brought attention to a thing, she would have never, ever, ever, ever, ever known about or heard about. And so this protection ends up just being an excuse to increase engagement, because you know that if you go at these people who are going at her, you’re going to get a whole bunch of likes, you’re going to get a whole bunch of retweets, you’re going to get a whole bunch of shares, all of the social capital that comes with that. You know, and I think the greatest example of this and one of the most tragic examples of this is when Gabby Douglas was in the 2012 Olympics. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Right. And doing her thing, she what was her nickname, The Flying Squirrel. This was supposed to be her Olympics, where she was supposed to win everything, do everything, etc.. And so she’s on her way to doing her thing and like three ignorant motherfuckers on the Internet, start talking shit about her hair, and then 300,000 of us. Came out to defend her against those three motherfuckers. And it got to a point where it became an actual story. A story that when they were interviewing her after one of her meets, they actually asked her about it. And if you would have saw the look on her face. And she was just like, I’m just out here trying to compete, do my thing and people are talking about my hair. And she was never the same after that. From that point on, she was never the same. 

 

Panama Jackson: That’s right. Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And again, we came at those people who were going at her because, you know, we got to circle the wagons, we got to protect her, etc., etc.. But how much protection did that really do if all it ended up doing was creating this bigger story? You know what I mean? And again, this is something that she wouldn’t have known about these three or four motherfuckers who were talking shit about her. But when 30,000 people are defending her against those three people who are talking shit. It becomes a thing. 

 

Panama Jackson: I mean, that’s the dark side of the Internet, though, right? Because I think the Harry Belafonte thing, for instance, at least it’s a tribute to a person who lived a life that added significant value to almost all of us. If you know who he is, he impacted your life positively. Right. But the other side of this is one, there’s a ton of people on the Internet with nothing better to do all day. I’m dumbfounded by how many people clearly have nothing else to do with their days except spend all day on social media and amplify and re amplify and retweet all these things that nobody would be thinking about if it wasn’t for that. Right. So. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: But it comes with the territory now. Are we protecting anybody? Yes. It’s just that you can’t in it’s most sincere initial ideas. Sure. But you also do not know what’s going to happen once you decide to weigh in on something. Right. Like, once you weigh in on something on social media, it all takes on a life of its own. Now, you’re probably right in the sense that a lot of people do this because they’re looking to get the likes and the ret— Like you do. You’re right. Like if I’m supporting her, everybody who sees this is going to share this because, like, man, you’re on the right side of history on this one. And sometimes that works out. Sometimes it has negative consequences. I mean, it’s really no fix for it, though, right? Like, there’s no way to tamp down on this. There’s no way to make that better. I mean, even if you as a person of stature in this world decide, you’re just not going to engage in that, somebody else will like you. You know, if you don’t sell it, somebody else will, You know what I’m saying? So. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: I don’t know. I mean, that part is the question about whether or not it’s worth creating another echo chamber for something that nobody would care about. Like I remember when the Gabby Douglas thing, I think you wrote an article about that, right? You wrote an article about nobody was talking about this until we all started talking about it. Something along those lines. I might be getting that a little bit off. 

 

Damon Young: I might have. 

 

Panama Jackson: But it was something along those lines. But it was on VSB we did address that right. It was addressed on VSB. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: Which we like to think that we’re doing that in the way that actually lends value. 

 

Damon Young: It’s the same thing. 

 

Panama Jackson: But it’s the same thing, right? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Panama Jackson: At that time it was the same thing. It was the article was going to be shared thousands of times or whatever. And, you know, because it’s the thing that everybody’s talking about, we’re talking about it in the right way and everybody’s like, yeah, look at this. They’re saying the right thing, but you’re still putting that thing out there, right? So it’s difficult. I mean, your cynicism there, I think, is completely justified. But also there’s just nothing to be done about that, which is sad, I suppose. But it’s also just the nature of the beast, right? Sometimes that can work positively, right? Like it does have positive impacts on occasion. It’s just when is negative. It just seems to have the worst possible outcome that you wish didn’t happen. 

 

Damon Young: It’s positive sometimes when someone does some fuck shit and when someone like in the world is captured doing some fuck shit, or someone like Tucker Carlson, whatever does whatever he’s doing. But even then, even then and you know, you take all the pot shots and you do all the things that you do to dunk on them. It’s like, isn’t that engagement what they want? Ultimately, Like I think about one prime example, it’s Jason Whitlock and it’s a lot of fun to talk shit about him because there’s a lot of spaces where he could be talked shit about. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: But again, he seems to be a person who is just shamelessly after engagement and is going to do anything possible to get people to click on his Twitter page, to click on his articles, etc., to click on its name to get his name trending. 

 

Panama Jackson: Skip Bayless. 

 

Damon Young: Skip’s another one. You’re right. I don’t know if there’s a solution because the nature of the social media platforms that that we have, you know, it becomes like the symbiotic sort of, you know, relationship. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yeah. It eats itself, right? Like their engagement, their literal credibility depends on creating that span of conversation. Right. Like Skip hates LeBron James. Right. And he can’t stop himself from hopping in there and making terrible takes on any and everybody. Right. It’s annoying. But that’s also his brand. Like if he stops doing that, you know, like what happens to his career, you know what I’m saying? So it’s there’s no fix. Like, that’s the one thing. And I’m not even 100% sure that the world becomes a better place without all that stuff. Like I want to think it does, but I feel like there’s some kind of unintended consequence, some kind of butterfly effect, kind of something. But you got to take the good with the bad, because I do think on occasion you get people out of there. I mean, Bill Cosby, right? That’s Hannibal Buress making an offhand joke in a nightclub. It spins up into what ends up becoming the downfall of Bill Cosby. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. So that was an instance where you get a positive outcome, I mean, unless you’re part of the Cosby family. [laughter] But, you know, that’s all I’m saying. Like the good with the bad. I don’t [laughter] I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that one man, that one’s a struggle. [laughter] But if I had a picture of Harry Belafonte, I would have shared it. You know what I mean? And, you know, hopefully Simone Biles just takes [laughter] a swim in her money whenever she sees another tweet that mentions her hair or whatever. You know, hopefully the people who were the subject of that stuff, who are above the fray anyway, like you’re giving space to people that nobody would ever remember. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Panama Jackson: If they disappeared tomorrow, like, hopefully those people can move past that. But, you know, what are you going to do? 

 

Damon Young: I think this is just unresolved trauma from when I was like 12 and like, this girl told me that this other girl said that I was ugly and I was like, I didn’t need that information. You could have kept that. I mean, you didn’t need to tell me. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yeah, it definitely didn’t help. 

 

Damon Young: She feels that way. That’s fine, right? But she didn’t need to share that information with me. I don’t even know if she felt that way, and I think that’ still. [laughter] I think I need to go to therapy.

 

Panama Jackson: Can I tell you a real quick story? As a matter of fact. This is about me being coerced into somebody I could be accused of bullying had an opportunity to get back at me years later and fumbled it. And I felt so bad for her fumbling and I almost wanted to help her out. When I was in eighth grade, I got I don’t know how I got talked into telling this girl she had bad breath. It was a terrible thing to do. I’m the class president and all this stuff. And somehow I got talked into doing this, embarrassed this poor girl who had a crush on me too, from my understanding. I feel guilty about it even today. And this happened when I was like 12. Anyway, some years later, I’m in Huntsville, Alabama, and I walk into like the military base PX, like the little mall shop type thing, and she’s literally there, the one checking IDs at the front. And I’m like, holy shit. Like, and she was so stunned when she saw me that like, you could tell, like, she was just like and my sister was with me. I was like, yo, I got to go talk to I got to give her a chance to get, get me. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: I walk back. I linger a little bit longer than I should in front of her. And she takes the shot. I was like, how you been? Yeah. You know, I’m doing really good in life. You know, I got my degree in this, and I went to the University of Georgia Tech. And I was like, oh, that’s not a place. [laughter] Was it University of Georgia or Georgia Tech like? And like, I’m like, and I’m just so I told my, I look at my sister who looks at me like, wait, what? And I was like. And we walk away. And I’m just like, yo, I feel like I got to go give her an opportunity to fix that set. And so she can say when she tells the story that she accurately got a chance to get back. But I didn’t. My sister convinced me that it wasn’t worth it, that she’s going to have to live with that for the rest of her life. Hopefully she’s not listening if she is. I’m sorry. Find me on social media. Feel free to correct that sentence. [laughter] This has nothing to do with what you just said, but it reminded me of somebody doing something they shouldn’t have done and the opportunity to get that person back later [?] heart, shouts out. 

 

Damon Young: Panama Jackson [laughter] thank you for joining us today. Appreciate it. People looking for you, where can they find you? Where you be at?

 

Panama Jackson: Ah man. You can find me on social media without a picture of Harry Belafonte @panamajackson everywhere. And on my podcast, Dear Culture, which is available wherever podcasts are. And,  at TheGrio where I write insightful, funny things mostly about parenting nowadays, as it turns out. But yeah, Panama Jackson, everywhere. Dear Culture.

 

Damon Young: All right man. [laughter] 

 

Panama Jackson: Appreciate you. 

 

Damon Young: Up next, for dear Damon, we got Simone Polanen, host of Not Past It, which is the Spotify Original podcast. But before that, Damon hates. [music plays] I mean, this hate is very specific. I guess all my hates are very specific. I don’t need to qualify them, anymore. So I have interesting dimensions down low. And I know that sounds like euphemism for something else, but just stay with me. Where my pants size is 36/32 but I also have pretty big thighs and a big butt or whatever. And so finding jeans that fit me the way I want them to fit has been a bit of a struggle. Also, I try to be mindful of fashion and what’s in and the type of jean, the type of cut that is in. And when I was growing up, slim jeans were not in and then within like the last ten years, they became more popular. I mean, back then the only people you saw with skinny jeans were Jamaicans. Right. But now you see all types of people like Jamaicans and like only Black people, because you would see white punks or people with skinnier jeans, too. But the only Black people you saw like you could spot a Jamaican from a mile away. If you could see the veins in the sties, then you knew that that was a Jamaican. [laughter] Right. But anyway, now skinnies are not really in, but my closet is full of them. And so we’re at this space where I’m not sure what type of pants to buy because I don’t want to be so hype beasty, so fashion forward that I start just rocking the cargoes look like motherfucking garbage bags on your legs right now, which is what I see the super uber fashionable people doing right now because I don’t know those things are still going to be in next season, but I know that slim jeans are not in anymore, so I don’t know what to do. I think I just need to hire somebody, maybe like a personal shopper, maybe a stylist, maybe something. Maybe I just need to talk to my nephews. I have two 20 something nephews who could help me out with this and give me tips or whatever. And maybe I just need to accept the fact that at 44, I’m not supposed to know any of this shit [laughter] right? Maybe I just need to retire into my motherfucking chinos and khakis and the fucking Under Armor sweatsuit and the Bluetooth that you know niggas over 42 I guess comes in the package right before you get the AARP card. They give you the Bluetooth, they give you the white linen suit you’re supposed to wear on cruises. And when you go to cabarets and then they give you the sweat pants and the sweat suit. So maybe I just need to accept that. Just stop trying to be hip and move forward. I don’t know. [music plays] Up next for dear Damon, I’m joined by Simone Polanen, host of the Spotify Original podcast Not Past It. Morgan the producer. What do we got going this week?

 

Morgan Moody: Dear Damon, I decided before my one year old son was born that I was not going to cut his hair until he asked me to. I had no idea how much blowback that would cause. Initially, my reasoning was because I don’t want to impose gender norms on a pubescent child. When he got a little bit older and his curls started to grow, people continue to ask me about cutting his hair. I still felt strongly about not cutting it, but I rationalized it as being based on our Black hair journey. He’s biracial. I’m the Black parent, and I feel strongly that the Black hair journey should be up to the person who’s head on which Black hair rests. I, like many children of the eighties and nineties, suffered many nights with my head over the kitchen sink and to the burning on my scalp became so intense I knew I had gotten as close as possible to white beauty standards, but my son’s hair clearly has that smooth curly texture and I don’t think he’s going to have that Black hair journey and may likely even be white passing. The fact is, I can’t quite put my finger on why cutting off his beautiful curly locks before he even wants me to just feels wrong, even like a violation. It also seems so absurd for me as a mom to do something that feels wrong for no other reason than people are saying to. It’s not as if I think one year old’s should make their own choices. Obviously, he takes baths against his will. He gets vaccines against his will, diaper changes against his will. Most of his life is me forcing him to do things he does not want to do. But this seems different. 

 

Damon Young: Simone. How are you doing? 

 

Simone Polanen: I’m doing well. How are you Damon? 

 

Damon Young: I’m good. I’m good. That question it. That question felt like one of the questions that you get on the panel. And when it’s like the audience turn for, like a Q&A [laughter] and the person is like, you know, I have more of a comment than a question and they go on for like 5 minutes and you’re just waiting for them to ask actual question. All right. So I felt like there were two questions in there. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: So, one, you have the mom who is deciding whether or not to get her son’s hair cut and her feelings about, you know, not wanting to do that. And then I think that the biracial angle throws, like, I don’t know, throws a curveball in there, because if she doesn’t specify if it’s the Black side of the family or the white side of the family or whichever other race that this child is, she doesn’t specify which side of the family is the one that’s pressuring her to get the child haircut. 

 

Simone Polanen: True. 

 

Damon Young: And so if it’s the white side, then that that’s a whole different conversation. But let’s just presume for the sake of the answer that it’s the Black side. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: So what would you advise her? 

 

Simone Polanen: Yeah. I mean, I have like, a very simple initial reaction, which is, like, it’s nobody else’s business what you’re doing with your kids hair. First of all, and like, why would anyone get to have any say? First and foremost, that would be the case. Like, regardless of who was pushing back against this, this particular choice. And I think she has like totally justifiable reasons for not wanting to cut her child’s hair. I think like using it as a way to teach bodily autonomy. Like that’s totally valid. And if she feels uncomfortable, like crossing that line, like that’s totally valid. And yeah. So that’s [laughs] just one in terms of actually how to communicate that to your family and how to sort of put up a boundary when it comes to commentary. You know, that’s maybe that’s maybe a little trickier and maybe requires just like a little bit more patience. But I think it’s fair to, if she hasn’t already, to communicate the reasons why she doesn’t want to cut her child’s hair, I don’t know. And then if it’s like either they respect that and will keep their comments to themselves moving forward or [laughs] they won’t, in which case like that becomes a, you know, a separate issue. Ooh. I’m like, do I even have that figured out in my own life to be able to offer advice. I’m like, I don’t know. 

 

Damon Young: That was gonna be my next question. Has this been an issue for you? You know, in terms of maybe people close to you expecting you to have a certain hairstyle, you having your own anxiety about your hair and whether or not it was work or school appropriate. That’s been an issue that a lot of us have had to deal with. And so what has been your relationship with this conversation? 

 

Simone Polanen: Yeah, that has been something that has been very present throughout my life. You know, growing up was often in schools where there just were not a lot of Black kids attending. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Simone Polanen: And so, like, my hair texture was usually like, if not a novelty, like definitely in the minority for people. So I got a lot of attention for my hair, positive and negative. But regardless of the nature of the attention, I found it to be incredibly like overwhelming and very othering as a kid. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Simone Polanen: When I was really little. Usually my mom would braid my hair and I’d have kids, you know, tugging on the braids and being like, oh, your hair’s so bouncy, like that kind of thing. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Simone Polanen: And then I got to a certain age where I just was like, begging my mom to let me straighten my hair. And so I did that for a good chunk of my adolescence. And then when I got to college, that is when I started to wear it naturally and was also learning how to take care of my hair, really for the first time and [laughs] to mixed success. But I was always, always very aware of my hair just walking through the world and how well it did or did not fit in with the other people around me. And so it was like this huge source of angst and, and, you know, at times insecurity. But I did I did have a lot of hair anxiety and. You know, I think I just got to a point where, I mean, part of it was just a an exhaustion thing of like, I’m just tired of thinking about my hair all the time. Like it was a thing. Like any time it rained, anytime I got invited to a pool party, it was just like an additional variable that I had to keep in the back of my head. And that’s exhausting. And I think after a certain while I was like, I just can’t I can’t devote this much brain space. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Simone Polanen: To my hair and had to go through like a journey of learning how to take care of it and learning how to keep it healthy. I like cut my hair and grew back out like a few different times. Like it took it took some time, but I think it was getting to this place of like, it’s just not worth it to me to be this anxious about my hair all the time. So I need to start figuring out how to have a different relationship with it. I think it was probably a gradual process over several years of just like showing up with my natural hair, regardless of the situation, like putting aside how it would be received and just being like, I’m going to show up how I am. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, I think that today, 2023, it’s a more friendly space. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: For Black people, you know, to have their hair in a natural fashion. There are more you see just a more universally accepted the diversity of hairstyles that we can have. It’s just one of those things that has progressed and has evolved, and I’m talking not necessarily about like mainstream culture, but specifically about Black people, where there are still Black people who believe that, you know, if you have locks, if you have long locks, particularly if you’re a young boy with long locks, and that means you look like a thug, you know, and that having your hair cut closer, it’s more professional, it’s less threatening. It’s something that a young man should do. Now, when you get to be an adult, you can do whatever with your hair. But when you’re a young man, you’re a young boy. You need to keep it cut close because again, that’ll that’ll make you less threatening. That’ll make you less likely to get stopped by the police. And it’s all of this respectability fuck shit that I think a lot of us still have and still internalize. It’s funny, as you were talking, you know, I was thinking about my own, I guess, quote unquote “hair journey” and how I guess I used to think that I was above this notion of respectability, where my hair was my hair. And I never, you know, I never. Did anything wild to it I never felt that sort of anxiety about it. But that’s wrong because when I was in high school, I remember how pressed I was, how obsessed I was with having waves in my hair. 

 

Simone Polanen: Hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right. [laughs]

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: I was the kid who carried the brush to class, who carried a brush in his book bag, who had the brush in his pocket and was brushing in conversation. I was brushing in class, was brushing at the locker, was brushing before and after basketball practice because I wanted wavy hair. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And I did eventually get the waves. I did eventually basically force my hair to growing a certain way. But again, that desire of having waves, it is connected in a way to wanting my hair, my appearance to have less of a unambiguously Black appearance and to adopt some measure of like a Eurocentric or whatever beauty. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Like I was known as the nigga with the waves. Like people knew me. [laughs] People knew me by my waves, by my brush. They knew the saw Damon you’re going to see his waves. Also, I had have a really big head. So you were going to see my hair from blocks away. And you can see my waves from a block away. Right?

 

Simone Polanen: [laughs] Those must have been some gorgeous waves. 

 

Damon Young: [laughter] Thank you. And now I’m growing, I’m growing locks. For the first time in my life, I’ve been growing them for about I guess it’s been about three or four months where I’m a growing them out. Now. I’ve had a lot of hair, I guess, for about the last ten years. And I do want to note that there is a distinction between how cisgender Black men and how our hair is politicized and cisgender women and how your hair is politicized, where it is much more of a thing with you all. There’s no one to one comparison because it’s much more of a political issue. It’s much more tied to like, you know, notions of beauty, employment, and there’s like a colorism conversation in there too that I don’t know if we have the time to have again. I think this is the conversation that we all have a relationship with, even if we don’t necessarily have the experience of the anxiety, we at least are familiar with the conversation. And you know, my advice to this woman is the same as yours, where it’s like, you know, let the little boy have his hair. And if he’s of age, if he’s four years old, five years old and he wants to cut it, then cut it. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: But, I mean, but going to, in, going to the barber for the first time. It can be a traumatic experience. 

 

Simone Polanen: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Cause you’re going into the scary place. You got this stranger who has these sharp scissors and razors that making all this noise and are cutting parts of you off. [laughter] Right. Like it is. It’s not an easy thing for a kid that young to go in and experience. And so I think it is a good idea, at the very least to wait till he’s a little bit older, you know, and he’s able to handle that experience of going to the barbershop for the first time and just a much more mature way. So, again, you have. Yes. Wait till he is of age where he can make more of a concrete, you know, judgment or decision about his parents. And also wait till he is of an age where going to the barbershop and having that experience of getting his haircut won’t be as traumatic to him. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. Yeah. You know, hearing you talk too, it makes me think like when it comes to the family members who are making comments or whatever. That seems so clearly tied to some other significance that they’re attaching to this child’s hair. So I do wonder if there it’s like for the person writing in, if if you could. Try to understand, like what are some of those anxieties or what are some of those fears that they are attaching to hair? Because I feel like that’s really where you want to start having the conversation. It’s not really about the hair. It’s about, I don’t know, maybe it’s attached to respectability or, you know, it could, hair could be sort of taking the place for so many other things. So my thought is like, try to understand what that is and try to start the conversation from that place. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, I agree. I agree. And I think we also should account for the fact that, you know, this kid is biracial. He likely has what some people would consider a quote unquote “good hair” or I guess 4C hair, now, good hair is one of those terms that has left the zeitgeist, for good reason, because all hair is good hair. But there are still people who anachronistically refer to curlier “finer” quote unquote, hair as good. But this kid likely has hair like that. And so that that adds a whole nother layer to this conversation and also too, your hair, you know, you talked about your own hair journey, your anxiety, and how you were in predominately white spaces and how you were made to feel othered because of your hair. And just from looking at you now, I don’t see you in person. [laughs] I see you over Zoom. It seems like you have a sort of hair that in the Black community the conversation about your hair would be different. 

 

Simone Polanen: Totally, totally. 

 

Damon Young: And now it would be to sort of hair that was considered desirable or something that was meant to be like aspirational or whatever. And so I’m thinking about that in I guess the context of this kid too, who, you know, yeah, he’s a young boy, but the relationship he has with his hair is also going to be dependent on the sort of environment he grows up in. And that’s a part of this question that I think we should consider, even though the answer is going to be the same. 

 

Simone Polanen: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right. You still don’t cut this kids hair off until he actually expresses, you know, for that to happen. I think the relationship that people around him have with his hair is going to be dependent on is he in a predominately Black space or is he in a predominately white space? 

 

Simone Polanen: Yeah, like you said. Yeah. While the advice remains the same, like that changes the nuance of the conversation, it changes. Yeah, I agree, essentially. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. So if you are this mother who has written in, do not cut your son’s hair. [laughs] Tell anyone who was urging you, you know, quote, be Logan Roy. Just tell them to fuck off. [laughter  right. You don’t have to say anything else. Just when someone approaches you with that, just pretend like you’re Logan Roy and to say fuck off and that’s it. 

 

Simone Polanen: Fuck off is a complete sentence. Don’t forget it. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: All right. All right. Thank you Simone, for coming back. 

 

Simone Polanen: Thank you. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: Again, just want to thank Panama Jackson and Simone Polanen, great conversation, great interview, great guests, as always. Also, thank you all for coming through again, to Stuck with Damon Young. Could be anywhere in the world, but you came here with me. And again, remember, subscribe. Hit those buttons. Subscribe, Subscribe. [laughs] Subscribe. Tell a friend. Do whatever you want, but just make sure you subscribe. And also, if you have any questions about anything, hit me up at deardamon@crooked.com. All right y’all. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Meredith Heringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing sound 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 Gimlet and Spotify our executive producers are Krystal Hawes-Dressler, Lauren Silverman, Nicole Beemsterboer, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam. Follow and subscribe to Stuck on Spotify. Tap the follow button and hit the bell icon to be notified when a new episode drops.