INTERVIEW: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall Says ‘Blackness’ Is Indefinable

by | February 3, 2014 at 9:46 AM | BE Original Interviews, Black Entertainment, Black Entertainment Originals, General, The Today Show, TV News

Tamron Hall, host of MSNBC's "NewsNation with Tamron Hall." (Photo: NBC)

Editor’s Note: To help celebrate Black History Month XFINITY has scheduled a series of celebrity guest editors who will discuss a variety of topics related to black culture and entertainment news. They also will curate TV and movie collections and answer your questions.

Ask anyone familiar with local TV news in Chicago, and they will tell you that Tamron Hall’s success is no fluke. Prior to joining MSNBC in 2007, Hall spent 10 years at Fox affiliate WFLD, most of that time as a popular morning show co-anchor.

“I love Chicago. I wouldn’t be where I am now and I certainly wouldn’t have the confidence that I hope that I project if I’d not lived in Chicago,” Hall said. “It’s a tough town, it’s a loving town, it’s a supportive town and that’s why so many great news people, journalists have come through Chicago or are from Chicago.”

Though her mother wants her to move back to the Windy City one day, Hall’s busy schedule isn’t likely to include moving vans anytime soon.  The 43-year-old works as an NBC News correspondent, frequently fills in for anchors on the “Today” show and “Weekend Today,” and anchors her own daily show on MSNBC, “NewsNation with Tamron Hall.”  Last September, she also began hosting “Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall,” on Investigation Discovery.

Hall, one of XFINITY’s guest editors, opens up about her favorite TV shows and movies, why who or what’s considered black “cannot be put in simple words or terms” and whether she’ll wear her natural, curly hair texture on air.

“NewsNation with Tamron Hall” airs weekdays at 2 p.m. EST on MSNBC. The show will move to 11 a.m. EST when Joy-Ann Reid’s new show debuts in that time slot on February 24.

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Do you have any plans for black history month?

Other than staying black and proud? No, I don’t have any particular festivities planned but that is a good idea. I haven’t thought about it. Maybe I’ll have a little party and my friends will tell me who inspired them. It should be a celebration that goes beyond what we see on TV, maybe in our homes. Maybe I’ll talk to my nieces and nephew about something fun for us to do. We talk about lots of things, including the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, and it never occurred to me until now how much we actually do discuss these things regularly.

It seems that people—black and nonblacks—have taken to defining what it means to be black. What does “blackness” means to you? It is something that can be defined?

I hate that question because it’s not one thing. We’re not monolithic. What is blackness? To me, how do you define that? And when we try to define it that means that we’re labeling it. So if you don’t reach or you don’t meet this criteria, does that mean that you’re not black? So is blackness if you’re Southern and black? Is blackness then if you’re a black kid in Atlanta but a black kid in Oregon doesn’t meet the bar?

I’m saying that the notion that it’s something that can be defined is silly. If we define it then we allow others to define it. When their definition is insensitive or hurtful then what are we left with? What if another person’s definition of blackness is something that is hurtful or something that is ignorant, like this assumption if you speak a certain way then you’re not black?

Back in September, “The Talk” co-host Julie Chen shared that she had eyelid surgery to look less Asian to help her advance in her career. Have you ever made a career-related decision about your physical appearance?

No not all. Do you mean like straightening my hair? I don’t straighten my hair to be on television. I’m sure there are cultural references there just like any other African American woman who relaxes their hair, I grew up under the notion of get straight hair, that straight hair was the look. I think when I first straightened my hair I was a teenager. I don’t believe that I was consciously doing it to look white or to be on television. It never crossed my mind. All of the girls in my neighborhood got perms and their hair straightened. But I know that historically it was to assimilate and there are some people who do it for that reason. I had a conversation with a friend not terribly long ago who has natural hair and thought she thought, “Well, let me straighten my hair out because I’m going to go on interviews.” And I believe she thought people would view her as less professional if she didn’t.

When I’m on vacation, I do wear my hair natural and then I straighten my hair out when I go to work. I don’t think that it’s assimilation but certainly I know that if I were to wear my hair curly on air it would likely be the most talked about thing that I’ve done that day no matter what I’ve done on air. I guess one could say, I keep my hair straight for “professional” reasons but I don’t think that I have to do that. And I’m sure there’s a day very soon that I’ll wear my hair natural on air. And I don’t see it affecting me in any way.

I’m going to switch gears a bit. I understand that you’re a fan of “The Walking Dead”? I know you’re excited about its return Sunday.

I am. I love “The Walking Dead.” I love it, love it, love it! I’m so happy that the Governor is dead—it’s such a good show. I watched from the beginning and I was skeptical because I was like “I don’t want to watch a show about zombies.” I’m kind of a chicken and thought it would keep me up late at night. But I watched the first episode and realized that it really wasn’t about zombies. It was one of those what would you do scenarios. If you were pregnant, would you have the baby? Or would you be a person who said “I can’t live,” and take your own life? Or would you have hope and belief that one day that a cure would be on its way? Oh, I love it!

Who is your favorite character?

Rick. I love Rick, I loved [Andrew Lincoln] in “Love Actually.” And Daryl, I love Daryl! And, of course, Michonne. I was very excited when her character was introduced. In the [season 2] final episode where she saved Andrea and she had zombies on the chain, I thought, “Who is this character, who is this character?” Then I started reading the blogs and that’s when my love of the show went from just what I was watching on-screen to pay attention to what all of the insiders were saying on the blogs and on the chat pages.

Some of your more recent favorite movies include “Fruitvale Station,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Prisoners,” “The Purge,”Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.”

I know, it’s like a hodgepodge of insanity. Basically what you get from that is that I travel a lot.

“Fruitvale Station” and “The Butler” are two movies people, including critics, thought would receive a few Oscar nods but got none. Why are they your picks?

The Fruitvale story, the case is something that we obviously covered on my MSNBC show as did everyone else here. This case unraveled before us with video and all of the components that turn a story from, at one point in time, what would’ve been a local story, to a national cry for justice. And you see, in this case, news and a real story and Hollywood, all meet. Not to mention that the acting was absolutely incredible. Michael B. Jordan—phenomenal, just phenomenal. The way the story was brought to life onscreen just reached into your soul and you see past the headlines and pat the protests. It captured, I believe, greatly in the coverage but for some reason that movie just takes you so intimately into his life. Even down to he called his grandmother that day. I mean, it’s just amazing. It is not lost on me that this was a real person and that his parent, his child and his friends live everyday with that loss.

For those who may be unfamiliar, tell us about your new show, “Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall.” 

We’re in our second season and it was a show that was born after a conversation I had about different kinds of show ideas with the team over at ID and Peacock Productions. As the case with many types of conversations, you talk about your background and the conversation turned to the fact that my sister had been murdered and the case was unsolved. And, just in an organic way, the show developed.

It’s an important show for me in that many of our cases, particularly in this new season, focus on unsolved cases. And the pain and the struggle that loved ones must go through daily seeking justice and there are a couple of cases, particularly, that I’m working on right now, that hit very close to home for me. One of them is an unsolved case involving a woman and the other is a case that was solved years later but it was a woman who was just living her life like so many of us and loved by her family like I hope we all are, and she falls into the hands of evil people.

What else can we expect from you? There’s been speculation that you could permanently join the “Today” show.

Just expect my life and career here in New York and at MSNBC and NBC, hopefully to grow and keep doing what I’m doing. Regarding the “Today” show, I think anything is possible. I would never say the doors here are closed on any opportunity. I came here doing MSNBC and over time I’m now regularly on the “Today” show and I do work with Peacock Productions. My runway has never been short here and I don’t expect it to change.