WTF is Wrong With Atlanta? (with Dr. Saida Grundy & Antonia Hylton) | Crooked Media
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November 09, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
WTF is Wrong With Atlanta? (with Dr. Saida Grundy & Antonia Hylton)

In This Episode

Dr. Saida Grundy returns to help Damon understand some of the cultural and economic nuances of the Black Mecca, in response to the response to TikTok restaurant critic Keith Lee’s unpleasant experiences with some popular Atlanta restaurants. Then, author and NBC correspondent Antonia Hylton discusses her upcoming book Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum, which leads to a revealing conversation about the racist roots of mental health care in America.





Damon Young: Where can nigga’s find you? Where can people find you? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: That’s a great question because, you know, I’d be— 


Damon Young: You be in the street, you be places. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: I do occasionally be in street, but like the nerd side of the street. 


Damon Young: The nerd side of the street is the sidewalk. Is the sidewalk.


Dr. Saida Grundy: The nerd side of the street it’s definitely the sidewalk. [music plays]


Damon Young: So welcome back, everyone. To Stuck with Damon Young, the show where we have to admit we actually do want to try some white Hennessy lemon pepper, lamb chops. So popular TikTok food critic Keith Lee’s less than great experiences while attempting to eat at some popular Atlanta restaurants has spawned weeks of conversations. Articles in the Washington Post. Rolling Stone, Slate and numerous other publications, and has even led to a meta commentary on the city of Atlanta. And while Lee’s presence seemed to be so disruptive there and to give a context on why Atlanta is the way that it is, I’m joined today by friend of the pod, Dr. Saida Grundy, who went to school there and also has a Ph.D. in Niggadom. And then later, we’re joined by NBC News correspondent Antonia Hylton, whose new book Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum, will be available in January. And we talk about the depressingly and unsurprisingly, racist roots of mental health care in America. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] Friend of the pod, Dr. Saida Grundy, is professor at Boston University and is available to us for so many podcasts because she’s on sabbatical now. Sai, got the Chewbacca fur on. I see. What’s good with you?


Dr. Saida Grundy: This is my Matthew Henson. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: And yeah, I’m the king of the North, bitch. [laughter]


Damon Young: Yeah but you’re inside. Wow. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: This is a summer mink. See, you never lived in Michigan. See, I lived outside Detroit. 


Damon Young: That’s a different type of boujee. Niggas talk about summer mink. Come on, stop It. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: It’s a mink vest. You wouldn’t know that—


Damon Young: For people who cannot see. She looks like Frank Lucas [laughter] at the at the boxing match. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. 


Damon Young: The shit that got the feds and the cops on them. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? You got the Chewbacca. [laughs]


Dr. Saida Grundy: Absolutely. 


Damon Young: All right. How you doing today? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: I’m doing good. You’ve asked me on today to speak about a number of things Atlanta related, and I’m going to speak about this as a person who was, like so many Black people, a visitor to Atlanta for a long part of my youth, otherwise feeling good up here in Boston, Massachusetts. 


Damon Young: Okay, so before we get started with the Atlanta stuff, I want to ask you. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had in a restaurant? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: What comes up for me and it might not be the worst, but it’s one the one I’m remembering is when I was a grad student in Ann Arbor, we took a whole group of grad students out to happy hour. It was like postdocs, a whole bunch of grad students. And this place is empty. I mean, empty. There’s like, maybe like two tables seated. And happy hour, you know, like most happy hours ends at a certain hour and we’re like, not getting seated. And it’s like bro the joint is just you could hold a whole bar mitzvah in there. It was empty. [laughter] Time keeps ticking. And finally we get seated after happy hour for some reason. And by that point, I already knew what it was. I was like, this white boy manager is not seating a group of young Black people. Our server was a young Black male, and I think I told him like, baby, you need to get out. Like, this is not a healthy workplace environment for you. 


Damon Young: Hmm. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: I remember one of the other people in the group asking, are we tipping? I said, Tips are for service and we were not served. We never ordered anything. It was outrageous to realize like, oh, he’s really not going to seat us. I think that might have been my worst besides maybe food poisoning, which I could not pin down which restaurant [laughs] ever made me sick. But yeah.


Damon Young: It’s funny because my worst also had to do with service, not food. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: I used to live in this apartment in this neighborhood in Pittsburgh called Shady Side. Right. So down the street, there was this restaurant called the Harris Grill, which is on Ellsworth Avenue. It’s no longer there. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Okay. 


Damon Young: But when I lived on Ellsworth, I would go to brunch, I would go to the happy hour, etc. I knew the servers there I knew the manager there, you know, it was just like a spot where I was pretty much a regular. So on some weekends, Saturday or Sunday, I took I took my parents there for the for the brunch and they had a brunch buffet and it’s, you know, it’s usually pretty nice. Not super lit, but it’s good food, right? And so we got the worst fucking service that day. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Wow. 


Damon Young: Like the server was rude, standoffish. She was like, forgetting shit. It took her a minute, seat us, and then also, like, get our orders and get our food. It was like every way that a server could be bad. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: This server was bad. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Right. And it’s like I can be non-confrontational when it comes to restaurant shit because, you know, you don’t want to fuck with the people who make your food. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Absolutely. I live by that rule. 


Damon Young: Exactly. But even I was like, yo, this is fucked up. Shit is fucked up. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: My parents, you know, recognized it too. The service so bad that I’m considering, like, do I want to even come back here ever, you know? I mean, so a month passes and I do go back, right? I forgot exactly what for, but I decided to go back to the restaurant. I see the same server, right? White woman, young, probably like in her early twenties. She sees me and when I walk through the door, she immediately comes over and starts apologizing. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Was it just a very off day for her? 


Damon Young: She’s just she said, You know, I remember you came in with your parents about a month ago. I was having a really, really bad day. I’m so sorry. I will comp a meal or whatever for you, etc., etc.. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: That’s good. 


Damon Young: That was like, oh right. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Everybody has a bad day. 


Damon Young: Yeah, okay, I get it. And I appreciate you remembering because again, this is a month out. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And she still remembered. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: It, that’s how you know, it was not her characteristic service. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: She remembered it. 


Damon Young: And so again, as I mentioned before, I started talking, it’s funny how we both went thinking about, like bad restaurant experiences. We both met in service. Not food. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. 


Damon Young: It was had to do with a service. Now did you have any of these wonderful restaurant experiences in Atlanta? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Atlanta has some fantastic restaurants. I don’t think they are the places that are necessarily the popular places. In terms of before Instagram, these were just like the scene, right? Atlanta was known for restaurants with the scene. So more famously, right, The Shark Bar, Atlanta. And Justin’s. And like, these were restaurants where I’m pretty sure the food at Justin’s was fucking terrible. [laughs] But people went there because there was a solid chance you were going to see, you know, Mace or something. You know, it’s like. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: But I’m pretty sure that Atlanta has many tiers of restaurants. Some restaurants are popular because they are a place to see and be seen. Some restaurants are staples because of their food. And there’s also along with that, there’s many tiers of restaurants in terms of what they provide, service wise, etc.. Like some of the best places in Atlanta are just walk up, you know, takeout spots. Like as a young student there, I mastered every under $5 meal in Atlanta, and some of the most legendary spots were like fish market in the hood. You walk up, you know, the glass doors all like, you know, caked over and you can barely see through it. You know, you put down $3.75 and you got you a whole whiting fish. You know, like these are like places that. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Were legendary to me. 


Damon Young: And I think most cities, you know, have like a tier like that. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Where you have the places, the restaurants that are more to be seen. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And you have the restaurants, they’re like, Yo, I’m trying to eat where can I get the best food. And so Keith Lee, for people who do not know who he is, he is a popular TikToker. He is from Las Vegas. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. A former MMA fighter, I learned today. 


Damon Young: Yes. And he does very straightforward reviews where he gets the food, in fact he’ll have a family member go inside, get the food, they’ll bring it out. He’ll eat the food in his car. And then he does review the food on a simple 1 to 10 scale. Nigga and if you’re not familiar with him, just to give him like an analogy in terms of who he is most similar to. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: He is not like an Anthony Bourdain type or like a Stanley Tucci type. He is more Guy Fieri free from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and also the types of places that he frequents are more aligned, you know, there are more like community spots. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know, greasy spoons, diners, you know, places that have gotten recommendations but aren’t necessarily like the most popular places in the city or whatever. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: And I tweet for the people who did not know who Keith Lee was before he appeared up all of our feeds. There was a tweet that came by said, whole time I thought Keith Lee was the dude who keeps having Thanksgiving with the white woman he accidentally texted. That’s where I am in this [laughter] is like and I had no idea. But the bro has so to the point, you know, he sends his family in to get these orders. That wasn’t always the case. It’s only because he’s become so famous—


Damon Young: So popular. Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: —has 14.5 million followers. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: And he was very well known for basically saving restaurants during the pandemic. Right. So, yeah, your mom and pops, you know, they were saying, you know, our sales exploded. We have lines out the door because of his ability to just just sort of do the the common everyman type of restaurant engagement. Right. Where and, you know, much like the Siskel and Ebert was doing a rating scale that people could understand where Bourdain might talk about, you know, the suppliers and the, you know, the profiles and a much more sophisticated technique, I think. And Bourdain was much more about there was a there’s a Democratic aspect globally to Bourdain stuff, right. Which was like, no, we’re going to go to Vietnam. We’re going to, you know, you know, we’re going to eat what the people here eat. Restaurants aren’t supposed to be necessarily comfortable experience. Food is not supposed to be a comfortable experience because most people in the world don’t have a comfortable relationship with food. Thanks colonialism. But Keith Lee was for doing this. Every man type of like, I’m just going to give it, you know, A, B, C scale. But he does do this 1 to 10, right? 


Damon Young: Mm. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: And that is part of the the story. Now in terms of he’s so powerful with this follower ship that he can make or break, you know, restaurants in a way that they would get so much spotlight from them that if they were bad and boujee. [laughter] That they would actually they would create a great deal of public backlash. And he’s very you know, I watched a couple of his videos and he was very accessible, just a very like a nice dude, you know, speak in the every man’s language. 


Damon Young: Yeah. He’s one of the people you know, if you’re talking about like approval ratings among Black people. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Like in terms of people who have like a 100% approval rating, there’s like six people. It’s like Courtney B. Vance. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah, yeah. Angela Bassett. 


Damon Young: Like Kelly Rowland [laughter] Angela Bassett. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Right. 


Damon Young: Keith Lee and Savannah James. But like, that’s it. [laughter]


Dr. Saida Grundy: And Savannah James. 


Damon Young: That’s it. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: We love some Savannah. 


Damon Young: Yeah, that’s it. Those are only people that have like a 100 who had a 100% approval rating—


Dr. Saida Grundy: For minding they damn business. Yes. Mm hmm.


Damon Young: And so Keith went to Atlanta. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Mhm. 


Damon Young: Right. And now I want to say before we get started that he, he had some really great experiences in Atlanta. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: And he has said that. 


Damon Young: Yeah. And he reviews some restaurants. Food was great, service is great. And again this was a part of his TikTok, a part of his tour in Atlanta. So it wasn’t like something that he didn’t talk about. He talked about this also. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: But the reason why we are talking about this today is because of the less than great experiences he had. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: In a couple of Atlanta restaurants where he didn’t even get a chance to eat the food. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Because the service was so weird and the rules were so nebulous. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. 


Damon Young: And it’s like, well, you can’t order pass five, but if you get there at 4:30, we’re not seating anybody anymore and you can only order online. But if you call online, the phone is too busy. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. 


Damon Young: And so in doing all of this and again, context matters because Keith Lee has gotten so big where he sends his family in, someone from his family, or his friend or whatever, to go in and get the food. And so he had multiple experiences where he sent someone else in to like get a reservation, to get food. They were rejected. But then when the people at the restaurant found out it was Keith Lee, they were oh, oh, okay. You know, red carpet, you know what I mean? We got we got a table right here for you. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. And just to be clear, I mean, I think that he hit a basically struck a chord and sort of the zeitgeist that had been growing in which all over the nigga net that they have been talking about Atlanta restaurants and how, you know, I’ve even heard it described as, no, these restaurants are a scam. Right. That, you know, you know, charging, you know, exorbitant prices for a valet or valet is required. You know, any you know, the the joke I loved was any restaurant with a grass wall right where the Instagrammable restaurant is sort of your red flag, that this is going to be scammy, you know, exorbitant prices, exorbitant cocktails. The the idea that these were price gouging ventures all based off the idea that Atlanta restaurants, much like L.A. restaurants for white people, became this scene. Right. So L.A. restaurants, very famously who got put on the map was who the paparazzi was, you know, outside. Right. So there were people who, you know, today is like these sort of celebrities who are only famous for being famous. Right. The Kim Kardashian’s of the world actually strategized which restaurants they were going to be seen at, because that puts you on the map in terms of having your photo taken. So Atlanta has just sort of come up in, you know, 20 years later. In that L.A. tradition of some restaurants just being really known for not what we think of restaurants are known for everything else but the basics of food and service. 


Damon Young: Yeah, it’s been a fascinating situation to watch, you know, from afar because. Okay, so Atlanta is known as the Black Mecca and you have all types of Black people that live there. There is no singular Atlanta. There are every type of Black person that exists. You could find them in Atlanta. But in the last like five or ten years, particularly, Atlanta has become known for a certain like egality, ostentatious, pretentious. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. 


Damon Young: Pursuit of wealth, like LLC ass. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. 


Damon Young: Nigga capital. Right. It’s like Atlanta is the place like, okay, that question would you rather have brunch with Jay-Z or $1,000,000? Atlanta is the place where everyone would choose brunch with Jay-Z [laughter] everyone who chooses that answer from Atlanta, right? Or it’s, it’s—


Dr. Saida Grundy: That’s true. 


Damon Young: And again, it again, it’s become known for it and just because Atlanta is known for this thing doesn’t mean that’s all Atlanta is. But Atlanta has this, you know, the grass wall, the lemon pepper lamb chops [laughs] you know what I mean, the White Hennessy French toast. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. And what niggas love most crab legs. I have my best friends always say niggas love seafood, makes them feel fancy. 


Damon Young: White Hennessy crab legs. You know what I mean, I would definitely try some White Hennessy crab legs.


Dr. Saida Grundy: It is because you have such a large Black clientele. So I mean, think of it as if you’re a restauranteur. A restaurant lives and dies on its regulars, right? 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: And. So because you have such a large clientele of Black people, Black people aren’t choosing between one or two restaurants. And they’re also they’re easy to access because they’re all over the city. So Atlanta, of course, they would have this huge cadre of Black owned restaurants, as we can discuss. That was part of the plan for I represent, you know, my friends in college who were old Atlanta. Right. Old Atlanta. 


Damon Young: Also, just for context, Saida, you went to Spelman College? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes, I went to that. I’m a proud alumna of Spelman College. 


Damon Young: Which is in Atlanta.


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yes. You know anything you know about Atlanta? Part of the reason that Atlanta has this exploding Black population has a lot to do with those colleges themselves. So Atlanta University, which is now Clark Atlanta University, was really one of the most important research institutions for Black people, you know, south of Fisk and Howard, as I said, the old Atlanta, which actually people don’t realize this, Atlanta and Birmingham used to be equal population, very similar cities. And in fact, Birmingham was far more high profile than than Atlanta, because Birmingham was the the sort of hotbed of the civil rights movement. My mother’s people are from Birmingham, but what happens in Atlanta in the oh, as early as the fifties, if not slightly before, is Atlanta is a place where, you know, there’s this great that famous speech, the Atlanta compromise, the Booker T. Washington speech. But the real Atlanta compromise was that white political power in Atlanta understood that the only way they were going to hold on to the city’s economic power was to concede political power to Black people. Very famously, Hartsfield, the mayor, who after whom the airport is named, he says, you know, he didn’t he’s not progressive, he’s not anti-racist. But he says, look, these Black people are going to vote and they might as well vote for me. The unofficial Black mayor was John Wesley Dobbs. And so this racial parallel city, there was a Black Atlanta in terms of its politics with its unofficial mayor, its economics, everything. And there was a white Atlanta. That’s how you get this emerging Black middle class in which we can critique therein which has a demand for all the lifestyles and accouterments that come with being middle class, including. 


Damon Young: Accouterment. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Accouterments. 


Damon Young: Where nigga’s wearing fur indoors. Right. [laughter] Summer, when nigga’s got summer furs. [laughs] Right. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Exactly. 


Damon Young: All this is to justify your summer fur [laughs] And again, thank you for that context, because it helps also explain why someone like Keith Lee, who he seems to be a little introverted a little, you know, somewhat maybe a little socially awkward. He’s mentioned before he deals with social anxiety. And so you have someone like that who has all of this clout and power and who is uninterested in abusing it. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Absolutely. 


Damon Young: And that is like foreign to be like what you have all these followers and you’re not trying to like, you know, pull your dick out all the time and, you know, have a pissing contest every everywhere you go is like, no, I’m a man for the people. I just want to eat good food and I just want to talk about this good food. So you have someone like that who is sincere, who seems to be sincere, who seems to be just this has some integrity. And I think that this ecosystem of clout, which is what Crystal called it, I’m paraphrasing, is like you you put like a drop of hydrochloric acid in like some water right you just see, what it does to the water. And, you know, the response to Keith being in Atlanta. Right. Okay. He has got an overwhelmingly positive response, but there has been some he’s gotten death threats. He’s gotten like his fam has gotten death threats. Some of the restaurants he has reviewed, people there have got death threats. So it’s just like this really outsized negative response to someone who was literally just trying to eat some good food and tell people about it on its TikTok. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. And honesty really is his currency. I think that’s why, you know, if one were to explain why his following has ballooned is because he doesn’t believe in the. Oh, well, you know, I was paid for this endorsement, you know, by, you know, such and such, you know, chicken and waffles. And therefore, I’m going to deliver on that endorsement. I think the whole idea is that this is the experience you every day, you know, person would have coming into these Atlanta restaurants. I’m going to represent your interest here and I’m never going to lie to you about what my experience has been. And that is some sort of a bleaching of the Atlanta, the cloutasphere in which the idea is, yes. 


Damon Young: The cloutasphere.


Dr. Saida Grundy: It really is. The idea is no, the whole point of this, this sort of Black Hollywood. Type of lifestyle that Atlanta has become so known for is that we absolutely treat people differently. Based on how. [laughs] Important we feel they are. 


Damon Young: Yeah. And so I’m curious for your thoughts on how exactly Atlanta made the transition from being like, okay, it’s the Black Mecca. It’s the place where you have this Black middle class, also this thriving Black upper middle class. But again, I feel like at least in the last decade or so. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: It’s also become known as a place for, like, scammers and a place where people who just operate. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Absolutely. 


Damon Young: Solely on clout. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And on the performance of that with nothing else, because there are scammers everywhere. You know what I mean? There are scammers in Philly, scammers in Pittsburgh scammers in Seattle. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: But, for whatever reason, Atlanta is kind of become known as also the place for the scam. And so—


Dr. Saida Grundy: Absolutely. 


Damon Young: How did that happen? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: So first, I want to tell all of our listeners today that if you really want to understand what I was talking about with Atlanta and its transition from sort of a medium sized southern city to this global metropolis, you really need to read Kevin Kruse’s White Flight, right? Kevin Kruse talks about this this this racial compromise made in Atlanta. He breaks down all the figures, all the playmakers who created that. And, you know, and how we get the Atlanta that we have currently. I think it is, you know, the scammer thing. I’ve been hearing about this for maybe the past 15 ish years. And to use some Texas lingo, not that I’m a Texan. Atlanta is like the capital of like big hat, no cattle. Right. [laughter] So you have to understand this Atlanta, then this is a critique. I’m not doing this to big up Atlanta. My critique and as as many people would say this is Atlanta’s laudability is that they are almost synonymous with Black wealth. And so if you are a transplant to Atlanta and remember, the demographics for Atlanta, like many southern cities, is growing, right? Northern cities tend to be losing population. Southern cities are game population. That is due to Black reverse migration that is due to immigrant populations. Right. As we saw with this last election with Stacey Abrams flipping Georgia. Atlanta had this huge change in demographics in the sort of tiering around the city that these counties that used to be, you know, pretty solidly white were now increasingly Southeast Asian. They were increasingly Middle Eastern. They are increasingly Black. And so there’s this real effect about the greater Atlanta area. But still, I think for Black people in particular, because it has seen as a place where a disproportionate number of Black celebrities live. Remember, I went to college in the heyday of like, you know, L.A. Reid and LaFace records. And like, I feel like I got there on the tail end of the heyday. It was synonymous with like Black people just living in mansions in every Cribs episode. And like, it really was the Hollywood hills of Blackness. And so this idea that if you are in Atlanta, you have to keep up with that idea of the expectation for Black Atlanta. And, you know, Atlanta is has grown significantly in the number, particularly credit card scams that are based in Atlanta, Miami. You know, I’m sure Miami is mad. I think they got unseated by they [laughter] used to be the capital of scam. And you can understand Miami because it’s highly international city. You’re also dealing with a huge cash flow of, let’s be honest, drug cartel money. 


Damon Young: Racist.


Dr. Saida Grundy: I mean, yeah, it’s a it’s. [laughter] It’s one of these. I’m wearing a mink. I get to say that. Let’s be clear. Miami is a glass castle built on cocaine. Even everything from the lawyers to I’m talking about legit money. All that shit was built on cocaine. Pablo Escobar had $35 billion circulating in the economy. You think that all stayed in an underground bunker in Colombia? No, it was. You have to. You have to flood that through every bank, every real estate. 


Damon Young: I appreciate the fact that this entire podcast was a vehicle for you to eventually get to cocaine because you’re dressed like Frank Lucas. Right. 


It’s a brand name. Okay. Blue Magic. It’s a brand name. This was just an entire podcast. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: This was a long roundabout advertisement for my particular brand of heroin. [laughter] 


Damon Young: Yeah, you’re a tenured, tenured professor. Now you’re switching careers. You already conquered academia. And now you’re, you know, you’re about to start doing you’re about to start doing some coke. [laughter]


Dr. Saida Grundy: Exactly. But all that to say we understand Miami as a very. Cash. Flow, heavy economy does that wink wink. 


Damon Young: Uh huh. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Miami really bred a certain type of scam because there was already all the infrastructure to funnel money anyway, right? 


Damon Young: Yeah.


Dr. Saida Grundy: Atlanta. You know, I think really technology is just what allowed Atlanta to become a place that, you know, scammers like everyone can work from home now. And so it doesn’t matter if you’re in Miami and you want a credit card scam, you can do this all over the world. The dark you know web is accessible everywhere. And I think that Atlanta just has a gravitational pull for you know, when I was there, it was just we used to have this joke of like, BMW’s grow on trees here. Mind you, there were men I dated who were living out of those BMW’s. They were actually houseless. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: But the idea that, like, you were all with no matter who you were, you were always going to pull up and remember when I was there. The other thing that was going on, speaking of of cocaine, which is what I’m really here to talk about, is the Black Mafia family. That’s how you really got the strip clubs. The clubs all became vehicles for the transactions and Empire. That was the Black Mafia family. 


Damon Young: You know, I’m glad you brought up the Black Mafia part because, you know, Keith Lee has been getting death threats too and I’m looking at this, I have to admit to feeling some incredulousness about that. And I say this as someone who has gotten doxxed before and who’s gotten—


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: —death threats before. But I’m just thinking, like, who is really going to threaten to kill who is really going to actually step through and do this? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah, because I don’t I don’t know the quality of these threats myself, are these just comments?


Damon Young: But then, you know, when you when you peel back the layers of the onion and you see like some of the people who might be owning. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 


Damon Young: These restaurants. You know some, some of that. Some of the laundry. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. Restaurants are great for laundering.


Damon Young: And so there could be other layers. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Here that we just are not privy to. You know what I mean? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: Yeah. And even if they aren’t the classic criminal, you know, element that we’re thinking about restaurants when you have heavy investment, right? You have, let’s say you have an investment group. Let’s say there are multiple people that you owe money and restaurants as anyone who’s ever been in them will know, the profit margins can be very, very thin. Right? Because still the overhead for labor is significant. And let’s all pay restaurant workers a better back of the house and front of the house. But even if you are not yourself affiliated with any sort of seedy element. The pressure of a restauranteur is tremendous in terms of the people you owe money. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: From payroll to your investors. 


Damon Young: Saida Grundy. Thank you again. Coming through. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: You’re welcome. 


Damon Young: Friend of the pilot. I know you’re on sabbatical. You don’t want to be found. [laughter] But just in case you do where, where can nigga’s find you? Where can people find you? 


Dr. Saida Grundy: That’s a great question, because, you know, I’d be— 


Damon Young: You be in the street, you be places. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: I do occasionally be in the street, but like the nerd side of the street. 


Damon Young: The nerd side of the street is the sidewalk. [laughter] It’s the sidewalk.


Dr. Saida Grundy: The nerd side of the street. It’s definitely the sidewalk. Definitely the yellow in. In the side of the yellow lines. Yeah, I guess you can. You can find me on Twitter @SaiGrundy. But be patient. I only check my follower request, like, once a year. I’m not. I haven’t been that interested in a new following. 


Damon Young: All right, Sai. 


Dr. Saida Grundy: All right, dear. Thank you much. Bye. 


Damon Young: Bye. [music plays] Up next is just a really deep and nuanced and honorable conversation about Black mental health care in America. With Antonia  Hylton. But first, Damon hates. [music plays] So this Damon hates this week is something that has been building for my entire adult life as I’ve gone to people’s houses for birthday parties, for game nights, for day parties, for other sorts of activities, maybe to celebrate a holiday, maybe just to have a gathering of adults in a space more than one night. And there are, unfortunately, some real distinct racial distinctions. Okay. When you attend these parties and the one that I have noticed over 20 years of doing things like this is that if you go to a Black person’s house at nighttime for a party, there is a 99.9999% chance that there will be food there. And by food, I don’t mean like lettuce and pretzels. I mean something that could be your dinner. There’s always going to be food. Unfortunately, I’d say at 60%. 60% of the time when I am over at a white person’s house who’s invited me to their house to celebrate a party, the food present might be a pretzel, might be some chips, might be a couple of drinks, some beer. There definitely will be drinks. Look, food is expensive, and sometimes it costs a lot of money to buy food for 15, 20 people in your house. And again, sometimes if you have a thing in the evening, there’s like an implicit expectation that people eat before they come. Right. So you’re not expecting always to feed people, but it’s become a thing that the lines are too distinct. Right. And this is something that has been an ongoing conversation amongst Black people that I know and an ongoing thing that Black people I know know. Right. It’s like, okay, if you’re going to an event and this doesn’t even have to be a party, this could be just like a panel discussion. It could be any sort of eating activity, and you know that white people are the planners or the hosts. You also know that you should probably eat beforehand [laughs] because there will be food there, but the food might be some Cheez-It’s, it might be some celery, might be some, I don’t know, some cucumbers with ketchup. There are other like distinctions and behavior where if you get like down to the bottom of it is like an easily understandable why like, okay, I understand why this happened. I understand why that happened. I do not understand why there’s a racial divide here, but there definitely is a racial divide and I hate it. [music plays] Antonia Hylton is NBC News correspondent and also the author of the upcoming book Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum. Antonia,. 


Antonia Hylton: Hey. 


Damon Young: What’s good. How are you doing? 


Antonia Hylton: I’m good. Thanks for having me, Damon. 


Damon Young: I have to say, I was taken aback by how patriotic [laughs] you seem to be. 


Antonia Hylton: Let me explain. 


Damon Young: I did not know. [laughs]


Antonia Hylton: Let me explain. This is an NBC conference room. This is not how I would have decorated my home. 


Damon Young: I mean, you don’t have to be ashamed of loving the country so much that you would paint your house the entire color scheme of the flag like you can admit that. 


Antonia Hylton: You got me. You got me. My whole apartment scheme is actually red, white and blue. 


Damon Young: Yeah. So you’re either very American or very Dominican. One of the two. 


Antonia Hylton: Cuban. 


Damon Young: There we go. Boom. [laughs] So we were talking, like, right before you got on about how doctors, like, 40% of them are sociopaths. I don’t know if we want to continue that conversation, but that was a conversation that we were having before you hopped on. We were just talking about this. Doctors not necessarily being the best people. 


Antonia Hylton: You know, I have some thoughts on that. So I feel like doctors are either actually some of the best people in the world or they are the worst. They tend to be on extremes. And again, I don’t know the full context here, but I feel like I’ve either had doctors who I feel like they’re my best friend and I have like a weird level of affection for them, and I’m so grateful to them and I feel like they’ve saved my life or something. Or I have doctors who every time I see them, I feel like the second I open my mouth, they have like one foot out the door and they’re trying to get somewhere else. And I can barely finish like introducing myself or asking a question before, like they’re making clear they have so many other clients today or something else that’s more valuable to do with their time. And I’m still going to be charged whatever I’m going to be charged to get, you know, blessed with 90 seconds of their presence. 


Damon Young: I would agree with you. I would say even my experience with doctors that I know, like personally, they’re either like amazing, amazing people, like just genuine, thorough, you know, some of the best people that I’ve ever known, or they are pieces of shit. Like [laughter] like there’s just no way. There’s no one who’s just like, aye aye aye, they’re a doctor. It’s either basically Jesus or they’re basically Ben Carson, one of two. So, Antonia, you [laughs] you have a book dropping soon? 


Antonia Hylton: Yes, I do. 


Damon Young: Madness. 


Antonia Hylton: Madness is the story of a segregated asylum in Maryland. And I kind of use the hospital, the asylum, as a place to explore what the hell happened to our mental health system in the United States. Why is it so bad for everyone, particularly, of course, for people of color in the whole founding of this hospital in Maryland called Crownsville begins in the early 1900s with a white doctor named Robert Winterode, who basically becomes an overseer, and he brings 12 Black men into the middle of an empty forest who are supposed to get mental health treatment. And he makes them build their own asylum from the ground up. 


Damon Young: Oh, my God. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah, in the cold. And they build this whole hospital, which already raises questions, right? Like, how unwell can you be if you are physically capable of building, like, massive brick buildings? And and then they have to move in to the place that they just built as patients. And that’s how the book that’s sort of like the beginning story. And then the book involves oral history and all these documents that I’ve acquired over the last ten years to tell the story of like all these families and people whose lives were impacted by all this all the way up until it closed in 2004. But it really begins with one kind of evil doctor who is informed by all these, like, really racist beliefs about Black people. And one of the things I explore in Madness is how that founding and the ideas that white psychiatrists and white doctors have about people of color, that was really the foundation of the and the construction of our mental health system in the US and the effects of all of that, like the culture of that time, continued to reverberate through the system all the way up until its closure in 2004 and maybe arguably till right now. This doctor and the people like him in this field have like forever altered Black people’s relationship to mental health, to therapy, to psychiatry. And working on this book actually, like, really changed the way that I talk to some of my elders in my family who are like very anti therapy or used to like, say things like mental health isn’t real. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Antonia Hylton: And now knowing more about how many of them or their community members were treated in the system, I’m like, oh, this isn’t some, like, weird, like conspiracy, they believe. Or, you know, it’s not a reflection of them being, you know, unsupportive of young people in our family who maybe have a different view on these issues, but they’re actually traumatized by what happened and they knew more about this history than I did. So that’s really what the book is about. And my hope is it helps a lot of people, not just Black people, although certainly Black people are the center of the story. You know, reach out for help if they need it. Look at the system differently. If they have beliefs about it and maybe inspire people to do something so that people can actually get help in this country when they do need it, which we so often do. So that’s my book. 


Damon Young: Thank you for that context. This is news to me about some of the foundational tenets of mental health here in this country are like so many other things. Centered in racism, right? Or have racist origins. I’m thinking of James Marion Sims who is commonly known as the father of Gynecology, who got his status by doing experiments on enslaved women. Right. With no anesthesia. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And again, there are fuckin monuments statues for him. Still, today. It’s mind boggling when you think of just all of the things that exist today here in this country that have like these and not just like soft racism, not just like I can’t get a cab or someone was weird to me when trying to fucking sit in my first class seat. Sort of racism but like, oh shit, you’re doing experiments on people. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Like you are taking these Black people, sending them out in the woods and telling them to build a thing that they are going to have to live in. It’s basically build your own prison or dig your own grave, essentially. And it’s just again, when you think about it that way. 


Antonia Hylton: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And when you think about just all the different things that are connected in this way, it just. It’s unforgivable. And it’s also something that makes you know, and you spoke about some of your elders and their feelings about mental health. And it’s like, you know, now there’s a context there. Now you understand a bit more about, okay, well, this is why they feel this way. 


Antonia Hylton: Absolutely. 


Damon Young: Can you share a little bit about just the genesis of it, like why this topic? 


Antonia Hylton: So I was in college and I became obsessed with the history of science because I wanted to learn more about psychiatry, and that is because I come from a family with a number of loved ones who have severe mental health challenges. I have loved ones who have been institutionalized in the U.S. My father’s one of his cousins who he was close to growing up was killed by a white police officer in Alabama when he was in the midst of a psychiatric episode. He had schizophrenia and he was killed on the steps of a federal building in the middle of Mobile, Alabama. And that incident changed my father’s life, traumatized a lot of my father’s side of the family. And I had so much trouble talking to people in my family about it, I could see that they were hurting, but they wouldn’t get help. And because I knew that there were these secrets or these aspects of the story that I couldn’t find out when I was in college. And I kind of had the freedom for the first time in my life to learn about whatever I wanted to learn about and not really follow someone else’s path or curriculum. I joined this department and I asked them, Can I look into the history of the treatment of Black people in mental health systems? And they really had nobody doing that. But they said, Yeah, we support you. We’ll give you, you know, funding. They gave me an amazing set of mentors who helped me learn how to do archival original research, and I found this hospital in Maryland. It was one of the few segregated asylums that still had records and actual buildings still standing to this day in right outside Annapolis in Maryland. And I just became obsessed with it almost as like a proxy or just like a way for me to try to understand like, well, what might have happened to my great grandfather when he was in an asylum just like this. But that asylum has been turned into like an amusement park. So you can go take like Halloween tour rides there. You can’t actually do real research there. A lot of the records haven’t survived, so no way for me to find out what it was like for him. But if I can try to understand what it was like for these people in Maryland, this will help me. And not only did it end up helping me, but over the last ten years, working on the book, sharing chapters with family members, it’s inspired our family to have conversations people refuse to have before in the past. And it’s actually even inspired some people who would have told you a few years ago, I’m never going to do therapy. I don’t trust psychiatrists to go to the lengths to find Black doctors, Black therapists and people who are now supporting them and helping them. And it’s helped them kind of do a 180 on on their life and manage kind of suppressed stress and anxiety that they used to have. So I kind of just stumbled into it as a teenager, as random as that sounds, but I’ve kind of brought my whole family along with me on this ride now. 


Damon Young: I’m curious about your own relationship with your own mental health, right? Have you, I guess, experienced any mental health challenges? Also, has the research you’ve done for the book put your own mental health in like a different context? 


Antonia Hylton: It’s interesting because writing the book was this bizarre combination of devastating and heartbreaking, but also inspiring at times, because as much as there are people like this doctor who was like an overseer, there’s also all these people who arrive later in the story who are some of the most loving and heroic people who are now quite elderly, most of them Black women living in Annapolis who came to the hospital after it started to desegregate and did everything in the little bit of power that they had to save Black patients, to give them support, to listen to them when nobody had listened to them before. And so meeting them and having the honor of being invited to their home was also so healing and cathartic, but also finding out the ways in which so many Black people had been treated by the system, the way that white doctors had like professionalized their racist view and like codified and like wrote journal articles about it and sent memos around about their beliefs about Black people that undoubtedly impacted the entire founding of the system across the country. It shook me to my core. And so there were times when I was really depressed writing the book where it brought me to a very dark place. And then also, as I was writing the book, a loved one who I write about in it was in the middle of a psychotic episode, and every few weeks I was going back home and going on walks with this loved one, and they were telling me about what they were going through and the sort of. Visions and hallucinations that they were having. This was around the time of January 6th, actually. And so they had this belief that white supremacists were on the march around the United States and that any minute now they were going to be lynched. And it was so it was like the most bewildering, difficult time in my life to be offering that person as much support as I could while they were going through that and then writing the book at the very same time and writing about people who back in 1910 and 1920 and 1930 were having the exact same beliefs. And you start to wonder like there’s this line between delusion and reality and fact and fear, and this idea that, like some of these Black people had actually seen these things, so they weren’t really delusions. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Antonia Hylton: And then here I am with a loved one in present day who I’m telling them, No, this isn’t going to happen to you. But they’re pointing to the TV and being like, No, see those people? That’s what I’m talking about. So I was having so much trouble figuring out like, how do I tell this person they’re safe when they can point to all these very real things that I, as a journalist know. And, you know, it almost felt like I’m I’m not letting them live in their truth If I actually shut them down or try to tell them that what they’ve seen or heard isn’t real. And so that was probably one of the lowest points of my life. But finishing the book was probably one of the highest points in my life [laughs] because it was like just the greatest sense of accomplishment I’ve ever felt. The people that I’ve met along the way have changed me. I mean, so many of the elders I got to meet in Maryland who were touched by this place, they’re now like surrogate grandparents of mine. And so I feel like I have this, like richness and support and love in my life now that, you know, I already had a wonderful family, but just has transcended everything and given me more than I can even articulate to you. And so it’s just that duality there. And then I also feel like I should be honest, too, like I do therapy. I think everybody should do therapy. I love my therapist. He’s the bomb and dealing with writing this book and family stress and like intergenerational trauma all at one time I needed an outlet to just talk. So.


Damon Young: It’s a lot. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. I mean, that is a lot to put on you right there. But that’s the truth of what it was like. [laughs]


Damon Young: No, no. I mean, I asked and I just got a new therapist. So that’s happening. And, you know, you made a point earlier when you were talking about the loved one you would take the walks with America is like neurosis inducing, anxiety inducing, psychosis inducing for Black people. And I think sometimes, I don’t know, maybe people who have achieved a certain level of status or whatever might sometimes forget that part. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: About the country is constructed in a way where, yes, it can make us crazy. It can make you unwell. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Like you can be a person who is fine. And just when you take in all the things that we’ve been socialized to think and believe and all the things that we see, just turn on the TV and he sees motherfuckers storming the Capitol, like. Like it’s almost like the same reaction is to be paranoid. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? If you are Black in in America. And so that’s another part of like this historical context with Black people, mental health, where, you know, we’re living in a country that is not healthy for us. 


Antonia Hylton: One Black psychiatrist who I interview in a chapter of the book who worked at the hospital, he described it to me like this America has never yielded Black Americans a complete conscious like you can’t be Black and be American very safely in your mind is kind of what he was saying to me, that you receive all these contradictory messages. You’ve been here forever. You founded this country. But you’re never really the best American, the right American, a true representative of this nation. You’re never really professional enough to deserve the best jobs or opportunities. And so you are less than American. But also you’ve been here all along like none of these things match up. And he said that one of the reasons that was so important to his practice is that he particularly would do psychotherapy with Black men and try to, like, repair or meld their sense of self because they had developed these sort of like multiple views of their place in the world and none of them made sense together. And that that cognitive dissonance was kind of killing them. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Antonia Hylton: And the way he put that to me just like changed everything for me because that description described so many people I know in my family who like, live with the sense of like, I’m lucky to be here and this place is killing me and I’m the most important American and the most loyal American, and I’m the least loyal American. And I, you know, who am I? And will I ever know my place here is kind of the foundational. Issue he found in Black people’s mental health here. 


Damon Young: Yeah, it’s like a perpetual paradox where, you know, we’re just existing in. You can’t really reconcile the two parts because they’re not like symbiotic. They exist in contrast to each other, but they still exist and again, you could drive yourself mad trying to make sense of it, trying to reconcile these things because they’re not meant to make any sense. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: They’re not meant to be understood. Antonia, thank you for coming through. 


Antonia Hylton: Thank you. 


Damon Young: Madness will be available in stores January 23rd, and you will be on tour?


Antonia Hylton: Yep. Starting that week. New York. Atlanta, D.C.. Baltimore. Annapolis. Boston. 


Damon Young: It sounds like you just went down the list of cities that have Black populations over 50%. [laughter] Atlanta. Baltimore. Memphis, Charlotte, Cleveland. 


Antonia Hylton: Wherever I was saying to my friend the other day, I was like, wherever Keith Lee goes to do restaurant reviews is where I’m gonna go promote my book. That Venn Diagram is a circle. 


Damon Young: Is a circle. [laughter] Okay. 


Antonia Hylton: Yeah. 


Damon Young: I love it. All right. All right. Thank you for coming through. 


Antonia Hylton: Thank you. 


Damon Young: Appreciate you. 


Antonia Hylton: Appreciate you. 


Damon Young: [music plays] Again, just want to thank the homies, Sai Grundy, Antonia Hylton for coming through. Great conversation. Great, great, great, great guests. Thank you all again for coming through. Also, you know, you could have been anywhere else in the world, but you chose to be here with us at Stuck with Damon Young. Also Stuck with Damon Young’s available wherever you get your podcast but if you’re on Spotify, particularly if you’re on the Spotify app, there are all types of interactive questions, answers, polling. Please go and do it. Have yourself some fun, knock yourself out, tell a friend and again 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]