Started From The Bottom with Justin Richmond - Transcripts

March 16, 2023

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Today, we dig into the fascinating life of someone Malcolm knows very well: fellow Pushkin host Justin Richmond. Malcolm and Justin talk about being the product of biracial marriages, surviving racist bullies, and Justin's chance dinner with a megastar that changed his life. 

Justin created his newest show, Started from the Bottom, to talk with successful people who grew up as outsiders about how they made it against the odds. Origin stories of mostly men and women of color and brilliant people who others counted out. How they climbed their way up the ladder, and the obstacles they overcame along the way.

If you’d like to keep up with the most recent news from this and other Pushkin podcasts, be sure to sign up for our email list at

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But now Justin has his own gig. He's the creator and host of a new podcast called Started from the Bottom. It's a show about origin stories, particularly the origin stories of men and women of color, how they climbed their way up the ladder, the obstacles they overcame along the way. And for this episode that I'm about to play for you, I turned the tables on Justin and I interviewed him. We did it in front of a group of students and faculty at Medgar Evers College on the side of the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. As someone of West Indian heritage, let me just say how gratified I was at the heavy West Indian turnout for this. And in good West Indian fashion, they asked some pretty good questions at the end too. So here we go. My conversation with my good friend, Justin Richmond.

Hello, hello. Is this on? Check, check. Yep. Let's take a look. Great. So welcome. This is the first time I've ever done anything like this and it is certainly the first live taping of Started from the Bottom.

So thank you so much for coming. Yep.

Let's take a look.

Great. Malcolm, thank you so much for doing this. Not at all. It's my pleasure, Justin. I've long dreamed of being on a stage with you. I can't imagine that's true, but it's very nice of you to say. No, I think I hope this is the start of many of these, Justin, but I think the premise of today's is that I'm interviewing you, right? Isn't that our plan? Yeah. We want to get the Justin, we want to get the Justin Richmond origin story. It's a little introduction in me, I guess. Yeah.

Yeah. Which I, you know, I love these things because I've often, I'm a firm believer that if you want to get to know somebody, even if they've done a lifetime of interesting things, if

you just do the first 20 years, you get a little introduction in me, I guess.

Yeah. Yeah. Most of what you need. Right. That it's a surprising how much you can glean from. So let's start. Let's do the Justin Richmond analysis and I wanted to start with a thing we have in common. Now you might look at us and say what on earth do they have in common, but we do have one very significant fact in common, which is we're both the product of biracial marriages. Yeah. And I wanted to start with that. First of all, you're more obviously biracial than me. I don't know how that happened.

You I'm a little more subtle. You're yours. My dad would say it's his jeans. So you're, tell me about your parents. Let's start with those two. How did they meet Justin?

Start with that. Yeah. My dad would say it's his jeans. They met at Compton community college. So he grew up in Compton and my mom was there for, I don't even know why she was there, but she was there. I thought she was friends with someone there and so she was there. They met. Where did your mom grow up? My mom grew up in a city called El Monte, which is by Pasadena. My mom grew up on the racetrack. Her dad was a racehorse trainer. So she grew up on the racetrack and yeah, they're very different people even to this day and it's might be because they've never seen them together, but my kids still cannot wrap their heads around that.

My parents are my, you know, there's any relationship between them or ever was, you know, uh, they were never together. They were never married, but, uh, yeah, like they liked, they just liked each other, you


So how long were they together?

Off and on about five years, four years.

So you have very few memories of the two of them as a couple. Very few. So early on, like I remember being over at his house cause I have two half brothers. So early on, I remember being over there with them going to Disneyland on occasion.

But yeah, the memories are very sporadic early on, you know, of them being raised by your mom and you're raised a bit by both, but primarily by my mom. Yeah. Yeah.

And where are you growing in Long Beach or? Yes. In Long Beach. And then at five, my mom moved to the city of orange, which is in Orange County, which

is about 20 minutes south of Long Beach.

What is orange like? Orange as far as places in Orange County go, it's pretty diverse. There's a large Latino community there, but aside from the Latino population, it's overwhelmingly white. And that was it. That was a change from even, even having white parent, like even having like my mom being white and having that whole side of my family be white, I'd never thought of it that way until I showed up. You know, she moved there right before I started month before I started kindergarten. And I remember my first day at kindergarten, I rolled up and I had a, this is 94. So I had a power ranger shirt on thought I was real cool power rangers lunchbox. I really thought I was nervous, but I thought I was fresh. I thought it was good. Right? And I'll never forget this kid who was in line in front of me, like look back at me.

And this is the first time like, again, I'm like, I'm not really realizing the differences between us yet. But he turns around and he looks at me and goes, are you poor? Poor? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I was like, like, what do, what do you mean? And he's like, you look poor. Are you poor? And I was like, what the. You know, I was just deflated. I didn't know exactly what to think about at the moment, but I was, I was just deflated just cause you know, your five year old, you're going to kindergarten and you're trying to how we had just moved.

And I thought it looked good, but apparently I looked poor. That's the remember his name. Did you tell your mom? Yes, I did. That I remember. That I remember. I remember going home and talking to my mom. And yeah, I mean, that's when, I think her hope was that it would take a little bit long for those dynamic, for that dynamic to set in, right? But that's when we had like, you know, when she started talking to me about the fact that I am now at this overwhelmingly white place and many of the people I'm gonna be around are likely growing up, you know? If not out and out racist, racist things being said in their household, they're gonna be parroting those things back.

At that, if I asked you in, say middle school, to how you would describe yourself racially, what would you have said? Black, I knew I was black.

You just, because of my experience, because of that experience going to the, so, you know, off, I would say off and on between kindergarten and ninth grade, I was going to overwhelmingly white schools and you know, these are places where I would get called a nigga, you know? So when you're getting called a nigga, you know what you are, you know? And then I'd go talk to my dad about it and go, oh yeah, well you are a nigga, so, but you know, that was like his way of trying to be like, yeah you are a nigga. So, you know. So I definitely knew what I was. I knew I was black. And where it got, well I'd say where it got difficult was when, probably in junior high, when it was teachers who I think sort of interacting with me differently because of my color, you know, like I had, I got in a lot of trouble because I grew locks. And I remember they wanted to kick me out of school. There was a, there was a neo-Nazi kid named I'm gonna name it.

I love how your name and all these people like on the bulletin board, where are you, man?

Right, and every day with him go, you know, it was go back to Africa. I mean, it got to the point police got involved, you know? And he never got kicked out of school somehow, but. But I would say the point in junior high is when teachers, I started getting just weird comments from teachers and weird, nothing I did was ever good enough. There's always a perception that I was lazy. And that's when I think, cause I was always a smart kid and because my dad played football and because I was so tall, I was always tall. The perception was always that I was gonna go and be an athlete, but from an early age, I realized I wanted to cut against that. Like, I didn't want, okay, cool. Yeah, I can play ball, I can do that. But what I realized I really wanted was to show people. Like early on, I kinda got this need to prove people wrong in me. And so I felt like I always wanted to be, I always wanted to be the smartest person in the room at that point as a young kid.

And I didn't always have the confidence that I was, but I deep down somewhere I wanted to be. And by the time I got to junior high and the teachers were sorta, I had these odd interactions, I think that's when I started to, that's when my interest in education started to wane

and I would say my pride and myself started to wane. How many black teachers did you have

in your public school experience? Zero.


Think it's something to do with it? I think it has a big part to do with it, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, you got it. And that's the premise of my show. if you're not around, if you're not around people who look like you, who are successful, and my dad, god bless him, he was in the NFL to degree he was a success, but my dad, and I love him, but he also has a very small way of thinking

and so I never really felt like I had someone.

What do you mean by a small way of thinking? For him I was always like, yeah just go be a cop, that's your money, you could go be a cop, You can get a hundred grand a year. With overtime you can make like 120, like, what are you doing with this college thing? What are you doing with school? You know, like, they didn't, he couldn't get that I wanted to be, that I wanted to be an educated brother. You know, he couldn't get it. I say, and a lot of my family didn't. It's difficult to talk about because I like, in so many ways they were successful, you know? But at the same time, I knew there was a level of life that I wanted to achieve that no one in my family had achieved, you know? My dad wanted me to go be a cop Because he's like, that's guaranteed income, and you can do it. But I just had other aspirations. So it was a weird thing between growing up in a white world that didn't necessarily believe in me and growing up in my black family in a black world that kind of had a way of thinking that didn't understand what I was trying to do.


Yeah. Yeah.

Your dad's not 100% wrong.

He's not 100% being a police officer. I'm not saying you should have done it. I'm just saying, from his position, being an LAPD officer, assuming that's

what he's talking about, that is a good job. That is a good job. It's a great job. I mean, in terms of if you look at just income

and what you could provide for your family, it's a great job. It's the means of there's an entire generation of largely black men who grew up in LA for whom the LAPD was the stepping stone. I mean, you got a job in the LAPD, and then your kids got to go to college. And that was like, he's reflecting something that was real, right?

No, it was a real thing. And at the time, I was always upset when you bring it up. Now I understand why he did. But when you have a dream and something you want to accomplish, hearing things like that don't instill confidence in you, because I don't have to hear these questions like, well, what if school doesn't work out? Well, what do you mean? By the time I get to college and I'm meeting people, I'm like, I can very much tell that this isn't their experience that they had, like what if school doesn't work out?

It was just expected, you know? Is it your dad? Does he not think you're smart enough for college? Or does he think the obstacles facing a young black man are too high?

What's his theory? I don't know, my dad thinks he's the smartest man in the world. And I think based on he also thinks he has the greatest gene pool in the world. So I think based on that, he knew I was very smart. That was his belief at least. But with my dad, I think it very much had to do, again, with his perception of what was possible in the world. He grew up in a place called Ujima Village in Compton, which was a housing project that closed down because the soil was toxic. They didn't know it at the time, but the soil was toxic. So people were getting sick and cancer and dying, babies being born deformed. And I think it was also a sense of maybe his dreams were limited too, or his dreams were big. But I would say his dreams were at some point, I'd say his dreams were crushed as well. My dad did get kicked out of the NFL.

The story, as it's been told to me, is my dad got drafted by the Colts in 84, I want to say, 85. And the team captain, a white dude, called my grandmother a nigger. That's my dad whooped his ass. He got reprimanded. They had a team dinner that happened again. My dad whooped his ass. And he was kicked off the team. And I think when that's what happens to your dream, I think you start to worry, in some way, about- Was it his dream?

Was it his dream? Absolutely. Does he still have regrets today?

I'm sure he does. I'm sure he does. I don't think he regrets that. I don't think he regrets whooping the team captain's ass or anything. But yeah, I think he wishes it turned out different. Absolutely.

You know, absolutely. You know. Yeah.

Does he understand what you're doing now? Yeah, you know, the first time he really got it, whoa, he got it. When I got in to Berkeley, he was shocked. I was shocked. My whole family was shocked. I couldn't believe it too. So much so, I remember I drove up, I spoke to the counselor, I was like, listen, I gotta talk to you. I didn't want to do it over email. They wanted to do it over phone. I needed to look this lady in the eye. So I was like, hey, can I meet you. And she's like, yes, sure, sure, sure, come down this day at this time.

Drove up to Berkeley, and yeah serve with her. and I was like, look, I got this deferred emission. This is real? Yeah, yes. This is real. Hold on, hold on. Jess, Jess. You're living in Orange County. At the time I'm living in LA.

In LA?

Yeah. Yes, I was like, look, this is real. Hold on, hold on, Justin, Justin. In LA? Yeah. You drove six hours to Berkeley. Yeah, six, seven, eight. To ask a official of Berkeley

whether your acceptance that it was real. To ask- I came that far, I wasn't gonna lie. And then also try to figure out how to run a place up there and pay a mission just to not, so I drove up there. And you know, so I'm, is this real? And she goes, yes, this is real. So I go, so I can start January 15th. Yes, you can. As a philosophy major, yes. Okay, and I can switch my major if I want.

Once I get in, yes.

Once I get in. Right. You know, and then, and I'm kind of trying to work up too also like, so then I ask her, I say, listen, I'm gonna be honest with you, okay? Like, I don't have a high school diploma. I don't have a GED. I don't have an equivalency. So based on that now, already said this was real, but based on now, but there's new information based on that, is this really, can I really come here?

We skipped a step. The step we skipped was you didn't graduate from high school?

No, I left at 14. At 14?

Yeah, I left at 14. I also didn't graduate from high school, but that's because my mom called the principal and said, Malcolm, won't be coming in. He's more productive at home. That was it. So everyone was like, okay, fine. Like that's, you know, that's a very, that's the world I grew up in. It was sort of forgiving, understanding, do what you want kind of world.

Wait, you left high school at 14 to do what? Yeah, nothing good. Yeah, nothing good. I would say I was pretty beat down by that point, you know, like confidence wise. I just didn't know what I was doing. So yeah, I left and I was,

I was just doing my own thing. What's your mom doing when you're doing this?

So here's, so what happened was, so like basically my freshman year of high school, I was so rock bottom with my confidence. Like I had basically like a zero point something GPA. Like I had like no GPA. It was literally zero point something. And the only, the highest grade I got was a, I thought it was a C, but it turns out it was a D. I got a D in journalism. Yeah. And the teacher pulled me aside, he's like, look Justin, you're too smart to fail. You deserve an F. I'm not gonna give you an F, I'm gonna give you a D. I was like, oh, thank you Mr. Muller. But it was like a zero point something.

So they said, you're gonna have to go to continuation school which was just like a school like, you know, for fuck ups. And my mom was like, yeah you're not a fuck up. So you're not gonna go there. I go, okay. She's like I'm just have you stay home and I'm gonna go there. It sounds crazy, but I gotta give her credit because it didn't work for a bit, but then it really worked. She's like, I'm just having you stay home. You're gonna read the paper every day while I'm at work, I'm gonna come home, you can have a little report on a couple items you read. And of course, you know, for the longest, like, I just took advantage, I didn't do it, you know? Like I just didn't, she didn't want me being with fuckups cause she already could see, I think, that my confidence was shot and that was just gonna be worse. So she pulled me out, I took advantage of it. I didn't do much until I was like almost 16.

Common story, I feel like for a lot of people, I got a copy of the autobiography of Malcolm X and it really reignited my ambition. So then at that point, I enrolled in community college cause I didn't really want to deal with, like trying to start over from my freshman year of high school. So I enrolled in community college and just did that for about four or five years and so I could transfer, I transferred. So I started that at like just before I turned 16

and I transferred to Berkeley at 21. Oh, I see. Back to Berkeley and how things turned around

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Learn more at slash consulting. Back to my conversation with Justin Richmond at the Edison O. Jackson Auditorium at Medgar Evers College. Justin was finding his place at Berkeley. So you have a kind of loss of confidence

and do you get it back in Berkeley, at Berkeley? Yeah, a hundred percent. Gabrielle Williams right here. I met Gabrielle at Berkeley. She was doing her PhD. We met at the black student lounge or was that the, that was like her student job thing and she was listening to music. I heard, so we connected and there was a professor there by the name of Ricky Vincent. He was like the preeminent funk music scholar and was writing a book on the black Panthers. And I had a strong interest in the Panthers. So like between like Gabrielle and Ricky Vincent and all these other black folk that looked like me that I could relate to and for Gabrielle coming from LA, Southern California like there was just a lot in common. It definitely a hundred percent helped me but she also has helped me through a lot because as many times I've called Gabrielle including when I took this job at Pushkin like should I really do this, it's just a smart move and she'll have to talk. When I got into grad school, man, should I really take out these loans, Gabrielle?

I don't know. It's a lot of money. Like I don't wanna be in debt. And Gabrielle was like, Justin, just come on, that's what you're supposed to do. So you're going to school. You gotta pay, unless you can afford it, take the loan out and go. So yeah, I definitely got a ton of confidence back there. Not that I'm, you know, and then slowly along the way ebbed and flow like as new situations arose and I sort of fell into journalism because I couldn't really, I couldn't get a job after college and I kind of went in wanting to be a professor. By the time I got to Berkeley, I was like, I kind of want to do my bachelors, get a PhD, then teach. But then I sort of fell out of love with higher education just because of the bureaucracy element. Sorry, Alexis and Peter, you guys are wonderful to have us here. But I would talk to Gabrielle, I would talk to my guy, Ricky Vincent and sort of be like, well, what is it that I like to do?

Well, I like the idea of writing and connecting with people, communicating with people, I like the idea of researching. And so that's when like the idea struck to do journalism. I started getting involved with radio around town, KPFA, which was the Pacifica station in Berkeley, the campus station, I took a journalism class. So I kind of, and it just snowballed from there where I fell into journalism. But by the time I get a job, I'm 25, I'm at NPR. And my girlfriend got pregnant, who's now my beautiful wife, Danielle. We now have two beautiful kids, Corinne and Ella. And I was making like $30,000 a year, NPR, paying back loans, about to have a kid. My confidence, I'd say at that point, sinks back to all time low. And I have a friend named Drew who took me to Cuba. It was just like, I sense you're kind of going through it. Let me take you to Cuba.

This is when Cuba opened up. He said, I was like, I can't really afford it. He's like, I'm gonna pay for it. You just send me back whenever. So me and Drew went down. And this is the most random incident in my life. This is the most random thing that ever happened in my life. It's we're in Cuba, in Havana. I've driven to Mexico twice, but other than that, I've never left the country. And I run into Quincy Jones in Havana. And Quincy Jones, like I'm like, damn, that's Quincy Jones. I run out, I go, hey, Quincy, can I get a picture?

And he goes, yeah, and he doesn't get up. So I was like, okay, I'm gonna sit down and take a picture with Quincy. And he just started asking me, what's your sign? I go, Leo. I go, Leo. He goes, oh, I'm Leo rising. Cool, I don't know what that means. He just starts talking to me and we have like a three hour conversation.

We have dinner. You never told me that.

Because you and I met Quincy like five years ago. Yeah, that was a full circle moment for me because we ended up going to Quincy's house. But I had like a three hour dinner with Quincy Jones in Havana. At my lowest point, I'm making like no money. I'm broke. My wife was looking at me crazy because it was like, why are you in Cuba? Running around like, she didn't know if I was maybe not gonna come back or what. But I met Quincy. And from that, he was like, oh, you're a cool brother, man. Gave me his card. And normally I wouldn't have reached out, but I felt, I was like, okay, this man discovered Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Ray Charles. So I was like, you know, what am I gonna do?

Now I reach out, now I reach out. So he's all the help I could get. So I reached out to Quincy and was like, look, Quincy. I realized I didn't wanna reach out with nothing. So me and my friend Sonari Glinton, one of the few black men at NPR that sort of took interest in me right away, sort of noticed when I was there that I needed, I needed his guidance. We decided I shouldn't just go to him with nothing to offer. So I was like, look, I'm a journalist. I work in NPR, I work in audio. Everyone, you know, it's 2016. Podcasting is sort of new, but people are starting to have them. You've done everything from, you know, everything across media that you could possibly do, except for podcasting, like we can make you a podcast. And he was like, great.

So, you know, it wasn't that easy, but was a couple of meetings, finally got into a great, got to sign some paperwork. I still have it framed. It's like me and Quincy Jones' signature, which is the craziest thing in the world to me. But what happened was I couldn't sell the thing. I realized I didn't know the first thing about business. I've been flying blind my whole life, just trying to figure things out. I'm taking out loans. I don't know what I'm doing.

And that's when the idea for this show,

podcasting, like, occurred to me. It was like, if I could just talk to, if I could talk to someone else, some other black man who I was like, Money, Magic Johnson, Byron Allen, who at that time just bought the Weather Channel. I was like, I bet they could tell me what to do. Cause I was in these rooms just like, realizing like, I don't understand this jargon. I don't understand the speak. And I'm failing, you know? And so it really occurred to me at that moment, how important having people who look like you, who you can point to in your life, you can point to are successful at this particular thing, how that can really be, it's not the only way to figure things out,

but it's, man, it makes things so much easier, you know? Let's go back a moment and say, what's the version of your life where you wouldn't have suffered that kind of crisis of confidence? I can't imagine. Give me a version. Give me a version where it's easy.

Version in the United States. I don't know. I don't think you can have it easy being born black in the United States. I don't think it's, I don't think it's possible. I would say best case scenario is, you're like a Carlton type or something from Fresh Prince or something, you know? We're like, okay, you're successful, but like, are you really, how successful are you if you're not acknowledging the whole part of yourself? So it's hard for me to answer, but I guess in a scenario where there is no, and this is interesting, cause I'm also thinking about this from my kids now, like they're getting a much different life than I had, access to different kinds of people and education and two parents who are supportive of each other and supportive of them together. But I mean, I guess it's hard, it really is hard for me to imagine, but maybe I guess the best case, it was funny, I used to dream that I was like a, as a kid that I was like a huckstable, which is maybe a little controversial now, but like maybe that would have been a best case scenario. Dad was a doctor, mom was whatever and the brownstone

and give me the worst case scenario. So you don't get into Berkeley, what happens?

Is that the key moment? No, I probably get in the Malcolm X autobiography because I was in a pretty bad spot there. But I'll say before I came to Pushkin, I almost gave up. Again, when you don't have examples of success around you and you don't have people who can teach you about money and how to, not even like in a gross like Uber capitalist way, but just like how to accumulate it so that you can have the things you want and need in life. I didn't have that. So I almost left journalism, even though I love it and I wanted to be in it, I almost left it. I had a job offer with ADP, the payroll processing to do outdoor sales with ADP. Cause I was like, well, I'll just go do sales. I'll just, I'll make some money doing sales. And I almost took that offer. And that was maybe six months before I got an email from you, from me, LaBelle and from you to come up from Pushkin, which I would say changed again, my trajectory thanks to you, Jacob Weisberg, you know, me, LaBelle, yeah, man, cause it was also bleak

then a little bit, you know, it was also, it was tough then.

We'll take a quick break and get back to Justin's story. Buying a home, rocket mortgage will cover 1% of your rate for the first year at no cost to you, saving you hundreds, even thousands with inflation buster. For example, if you lock a 7% rate today, you'll only pay 6% for a year. That's more game days, more girls trips, more family gatherings every month for a year. And your rate is secured for 30 years. Plus if rates drop within three years of your home purchase, you'll get exclusive savings when you refinance with rate drop advantage, more kitchen upgrades, more room to grow, more cash in your pocket. Say when you buy today and refinance tomorrow, call 8337ROCKET today, or visit to start saving. That's 8337ROCKET, or go to

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Learn more at slash IT dash automation. We're back with Justin Richmond. In making sense of people's life stories and trying to figure out what's the difference between a, in America, between a black life story and a white life story. One of the things and it's very, very difficult to convince persuade white people of this fact is it's how many strikes you get or how many chances you get. If you are an upper middle class, well educated, white person, you get like 10 chances. You can screw up nine times and the system will catch you every time and start you over again. And if you're in the same position as a young black person, you maybe get two. And I remember, this is a weird example of this, but there's an incredibly interesting book that was written about a suburb of Buffalo, a wealthy suburb of Buffalo. I think it's Williamsville, I'm not sure, Amherst. The book I think is called The Safest City in America. It was about how there's no juvenile delinquency in Williamsville. And the reason is not that there's no misbehavior among juveniles, it's that they just call it something different, right?

It's hijinks, it's so in the wild oats, it's oh, so and so just has to learn to be, everything is getting, everyone gets so many different chances that no one ever looks, never comes to the definition of juvenile delinquency. And like that thing, this question of how many chances you get is it sounds, listening to your story,

that you are very close to running out of chances.

It's even like more than that, it's like I didn't even know that I had chances. And maybe I didn't, I never knew I had chances. There's a point where, I guess in your example, the difference would be in those instances, those kids in Buffalo, they're thought to be behaving badly, whereas when you're a black kid misbehaving, you're bad, you yourself. Oh, it's defined, absolutely defined differently. You're a terrible person, you can't succeed,

you can't do, none of this is for you, you know?

Oh, it's defined, absolutely defined differently, yeah. And so that's where I was at, which is a pretty bleak place.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. My, speaking of, so my father, who passed away a couple of years ago, but actually today, weirdly, is his birthday. My mom always says to my dad that his motto was, nothing bad will ever happen, which I've thought about a lot. Partly that's a function of his personality, he had this kind of unstoppable and thoughtful personality. But he was also a, came from a stable English family, he was well educated, he was very intelligent. The system always worked for my dad. He was a nice person, he was dependable, he was charming, he was people like them, blah, blah, blah. So it made sense that his theory of life was nothing bad will ever happen. My mother would imagine, you know, she's a mom, she would imagine all kinds of horrible, and he would just, he would look at her uncomprehendingly and it's like, no, no, no, no. Nothing ever bad is gonna happen, right? And it was essentially true of, like in that message, I was just thinking as you were talking about your dad, the difference in messages sent to the two of us at a young age, I have this dad who just thinks, it doesn't even occur to him that there's ever gonna be any detour off the runway.

Yeah, man, yeah, some about opportunity and something about the way in which society asks you or demands that you think about yourself, you know, it's like, sometimes I don't get an option

in how you wanna think about yourself, you know. I feel like the one thing that I don't, maybe it's fine this way, but the transition is still really the way that your life kinds of turns around, now, I don't mean turns around. It's not like people are living a life of crime, but, you know what I mean? I'm not Ukrainians. from this. Something happens, it's really kind of interesting and mysterious to you

in your 20s. Something happens. I'm not incriminating myself from this. It was like yeah between, it was just building up my confidence I guess between 15 and now. I'm still trying you know like from that time I did drop out of high school to like just getting through college like what motivated me was a sense of failure. I was like man if I don't get a high school if I don't get a college diploma like whatever 8th grade certificate like what is that gonna do for me you know so that was kind of like this real like it wasn't like a caret type of motivation was like you know and then I was like well then I couldn't get a job and then I went started interning and I've gotten to grad school and then I gave me another okay now it's grass when I got to figure out grad school is a big scary thing and do that and then I get out of there I get right into this job in PR and within two months like my my girlfriend's pregnant, you know? Now it's like, oh I gotta figure out how to, so, I feel like every step of my life up until recently has been about how do I just, how do I not, how do I not fail, and that's sort of been my motivation to succeed. And I'm trying to figure out a way now to be motivated now that that, like, that's why I'm on this journey of just trying to talk to successful people. I've been lucky enough to be, you know, first time we met in Santa Monica, 'm gonna go meet Malcolm Gladwell, that's crazy! And, you know, we had a very lovely conversation, I can't get out of here without asking, how did you get comfortable having money to do that? What did I say? You're like, I just wanted to build to do my own thing.

I wanted to have my freedom. I never wanted people to sign things to me or to be told what to do. And so, and I was like, damn, that's a great answer. And but that's largely why I'm still trying to figure out this world and this life and navigating different things. So that's why I'm doing this and talking to people like Charlamagne the God and people like Susie Orman and just different people who, you know, against the odds, against all odds, like figured this thing out, you know? And my hope is that people listening to it, it inspires them not only to take big swings, but also to seek out real world, real life mentorship. You know, like obviously I want this to be a platform of mentorship for people, so hopefully you walk away having learned a lot and feeling boosted, but also like I think, you know, you need to have real life mentors and I've been lucky enough to have so many, Gabrielle, you, Jacob, all kinds of different people. I'm hoping as I try to figure this out,

people will figure it out along with me, you know?

Along with me, yeah. That's lovely. Well, thank you, Justin, and we'll, let's do some audience questions.

What are you, what are you, audience questions? What are you, what are you? If there are any questions,

they could be for me or Malcolm.

Here comes someone, yeah. Thank you, my name is Kevin Nesbitt. I'm an educator, one of the administrators that create the blockages you talked about. No, but thank you so much for the way you presented this. You're a bureaucracy, I gotta say. I'm a good bureaucracy, a good VP, as I call myself. I've had many friends that come from biracial families, and I think as someone that does not come from a biracial family, there's always this belief that there's some sort of protection that you might receive from your whiteness if you choose to adopt it, or if you choose to embrace it. Because I appreciate the way that you said you understood immediately you were a Black man and that you had no choice, because even if you wanted to imagine something other, society told you, you know, you're a Black man, right? And you gave many examples for that. But I have other friends that, throughout their journey, they'd been able to say, well, it's not that it's a choice, but it's a little messier than that for them because they were both Black, they're both white. And they grapple with what that means. Did you have any moments where you felt that having a parent that was white actually enabled some moments of protection or other, as Malcolm described it, maybe one more choice, right?

One more set of options.

That's my question. You're a good bureaucracy, I gotta say.

I'm a good bureaucracy. Yeah, I guess I don't wanna speak for other people, but my belief is when I talk to, when I hear these stories, it's just that there's a bit of them deluding themselves, perhaps, you know, but hard to say. I don't wanna speak for anyone else, but I didn't feel that. Maybe if I'd had a different mom, maybe it would've been different, but I was never allowed to think that, anything different, you know? Good, thank you. Yeah, yeah.

This is my grand theory of biracial marriages. There's a big difference between black father, white mother, and white father, black mother. Which would be your... Yeah, we are actually very different kinds. Historically, what a biracial marriage was, was a white man and a black woman. That was the acceptable form for society. Goes back hundreds and hundreds of years. That's what it was. It was never the reverse. And only, really recently, have you seen black men marry white women. And I think the road is a lot harder both for the marriage and the children. It's a lot harder when your father's black and your mom is white.

It's societal looks at it. Yeah, and I think if I reflect on the cases, I'm thinking about my friendships. It was largely what you described, where I think that the traditional, and maybe the household of the fathers, whether it's separated or not, later on there was some sort of protection that dad would... You'd have another outcome, right? You have another choice.

So I just wanted to hear a bit about that. I think society views a black man, white woman as being subversive. And in a way that they don't view the reverse as being subversive.

Thank you.

That's true. Hello. Firstly, thank you, Malcolm and Justin. You guys are... It's just been a joy to have you here. And I've just enjoyed this whole conversation. I just wanted from you just in a sound bite or maybe just a quick statement, words of advice from one biracial man to another biracial man. Just how to navigate the professional world and how to just keep your bearings

and keep yourself grounded. Man, I am not... Listen to my show, because I think there's people far greater than me that are gonna be giving advice. But I would say it's just, man... To this point, in the instances where I haven't code switched, I've always been much more successful. I don't know if that's because I've been lucky, but also some of it comes down to my... I also think you shouldn't capitulate. So also, if someone doesn't want you,

I do have imposter syndrome.

Yet, and still, it's like I do somewhere in me have this belief that I can't help but be myself. And I think as long as you just are true to yourself, whatever that is, however you view yourself, identify yourself, behave like yourself. I think that's all you can do. And I think in those instances, just knowing that you bring a lot to the table being you, then you do you being someone else. And if you don't, you'll find out, right? Sometimes it doesn't pay to be me in certain situations. I've found out, but okay, then fine. That one's not for me. Let me go to the next situation where it is good for me to be there. I was at NPR before I was at Pushkin with Malcolm. And that was a place that I was authentic to myself, but it didn't feel like that was... It wasn't appreciated, and so I got out.

To go where you're appreciated. To go where you're appreciated.

Thank you. Then go where you're appreciative.

Gentlemen, thank you so much. So you both meant a biracial, and I wanted to ask Mr. Gladwell,

Justin identifies as black and yourself? I don't think about it. I think that's sort of the difference between having, I have a West Indian mom, Justin as an African-American father. If you're a West Indian, you don't think about race in the same way. It's not this omnipresent thing in your life. So I was, I just think of myself as, I don't know. When I grew up, it was never forced, I mean, I was never forced to answer that question. My mom thought of herself as a Jamaican, not as a white person or a black person. So I don't have a kind of easy answer to that.

You had a couple layers, because Jamaican and then growing up in Canada, which I feel like is probably very different

than being here with a black mother. Yes, Canada again, I never got the racial experience of, as everyone in this room knows, the racial experience of living in this country is just profoundly different from the racial experience almost anywhere else.

Would life have been different

if you were darker complexion? Probably, I guess, although, well, black people always know that I'm biracial, white people don't necessarily know. So it would have made my, I have to tell my favorite story ever along these grounds is running down, went for a run one day in LA, and running down Ocean Boulevard, and this black guy in a gorgeous open Porsche 911, like one of those tricked out ones, like one of these incredibly handsome black men, looks at me, sees me running, and stands up, so he's through the roof of his car, raises his hand like this and says, I love what you do, bro. So I get a lot of love for black people. And that, so if I was darker, would I get more love for black people? I mean, maybe, but I can't see how I get even more than I already get.

Yeah, thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

All right, thank you so much, guys. And thank you to Medgar Evers College.

Higher education is wonderful. This was the perfect way to launch Justin's new show, started from the bottom. And I urge all of you to subscribe to it right now. And never forget, if you're a Pushkin Plus subscriber, you hear all story, no ads. Believe me, it's worth it. Thanks to everyone at Medgar Evers College for hosting Justin and me, especially Alexis McLean and Peter Holliman. Special thanks also to Kechel Williams, our associate editor, who is also a Medgar Evers alum and had the wonderful idea of bringing us there. Revisionist History is produced by Lehman Gistu, Amy Gaines, Kiara Powell, and Jacob Smith. Today's episode was produced by Kechel Williams, David Jaw, and Amy Gaines. Our showrunner is Peter Clowney, original scoring by Luis Guerra, mastering by Ben Toliday, and engineering by Nina Lawrence.

Special thanks to Julia Bart.

No, I'm Malcolm Glava. I wanna tell you about a show called Exchanges at Goldman Sachs. It's Goldman's weekly podcast, and you can think of it as a go-to podcast for all things finance. On every episode, you get sharp insights from Goldman Sachs senior leaders on everything from the risk of recession to how the metaverse will change our future. It's a show that helps you break down big topics and make sense of our fascinating complex world.

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