Meet B.A. Parker — our new co-host! : Code Switch Fam: We finally have a new co-host of the Code Switch podcast! And we're just a *tiny bit* excited. So today on the show, we're introducing you to B.A. Parker. Gene chats with Parker about who she is, what drew her to the race beat, and how her encyclopedic knowledge of Oscars trivia will be an asset to Code Switch listeners.

Meet B.A. Parker — our new co-host!

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GENE DEMBY, HOST:

What's good, y'all? You're listening to CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Gene Demby. All right, so boom.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: It's a couple of years ago. I was in the house cleaning up and wasting time listening to podcasts, you know, as you do. And I got sucked into this story on "This American Life." This story was called "The Miseducation Of Castlemont High," and it was about a bunch of high school students in Oakland going on a school field trip in 1994, which, OK, what's the story there? But that field trip went sideways, like, real, real sideways very quickly, like, national scandal sideways.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: So in this story, you have about 70 or so students who all descend on a stately old movie theater. All these kids are Black and Latino, but the other theater patrons, they were white, and they were old. And the students can see the other patrons looking at them. Some of the other patrons were asking why they were there. Like, you know the why are you here question I'm talking about, right? But it was when they got into the theater that everything went off the rails because the movie that those kids were there to see was "Schindler's List."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SCHINDLER'S LIST")

BEN KINGSLEY: (As Itzhak Stern) It's Hebrew, from the Talmud. It says, whoever saves one life saves the world entire.

DEMBY: It had come out a few months earlier, but by then it was already probably, like, the most acclaimed, the most high-profile Hollywood movie about the Holocaust, not that the kids from Castlemont High had been prepped by their teachers or by their chaperones about any of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

B A PARKER, HOST:

They walked into the theater. It was chaotic. The teacher had made arrangements ahead of time, but no one remembered him calling. So the 70 teenagers just sat where they could - a lot of them in the back. The four chaperones sat in the front - four of them for 70 kids.

DEMBY: That voice belongs to B.A. Parker. She was a film professor and then a producer of "This American Life." But Parker tells the story of this train wreck, this mess of these kids who had not been appropriately briefed by their teachers about this heavy, artsy movie and what it was about. They didn't tell them that it was going to be three hours long, that it was going to be black and white. It was going to have subtitles. It was going to be long stretches of nobody talking. It was also going to be full of, like, sex and nudity. It was a very weird film to take a bunch of teenagers to without, you know, giving them the lay of the land first. And it's a film whose main plot, which is as heavy as plots can get - right? - doesn't actually kick in for a ways into the movie. So it just - it's a recipe for boredom and mischief. And so all these Castlemont High kids were acting like kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PARKER: They were restless. They talked and horsed around with each other. Some went out to get drinks and popcorn. Others even snuck into other movies. "House Party 3" was also playing that day. Those who stayed in the theater were shushed several times by the other patrons and also an usher and chaperone. When one of the moviegoers told them to be quiet, they reportedly bombarded him with popcorn.

DEMBY: During one particularly harrowing scene in this movie, the kids start to laugh real loud at what they see as this woman on screen, overacting. And it was just after her character, who was Jewish, had been shot by a Nazi. Like, are you cringing 'cause I was cringing when I was listening to this story? And Parker was, like, ladling out the details, like, OK. So you have these kids, but the thing that they didn't know was that a lot of the other people in this big theater watching that film with them were actual survivors of the Holocaust, and they were pissed. They went to the manager, and the audience clapped as these young brown kids were being escorted out of the building. And one of those white people allegedly told a Castlemont student to go back to Africa.

It was just a mess in every direction. And it became front-page news. All these high school kids would become examples of, like, antisemitism. And Steven Spielberg, who directed this movie, would even, like, weigh in and get involved at some point. And Parker managed to track down a bunch of those kids, who were all in their 40s at this point. And you know what? Look, like, I'm not trying to ruin the story for you. You should go listen to it. It's called "The Miseducation Of Castlemont High." We'll put the link on the CODE SWITCH web page. But I remember thinking, when I was listening to this story, this is a wild-ass story about race and misunderstanding, and it has so many threads. It was just really, really chewy. And Parker, the person who was telling the story, was just, like, leaning into all the things that made this story really uncomfortable. And I was like, damn, I really wish this was a story on CODE SWITCH. And I went on Twitter, and I found B.A. Parker. And I hit the follow button.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: So that was a lot of preamble, y'all, but I need to just set it all up. So you know that we've been looking for a long time for a new co-host. So today on the show, I want to introduce you to my new co-host. She's been a film professor and produced and reported for podcasts like "Nancy" and "The Cut" and NPR's "Invisibilia" and, as you just heard, "This American Life." Her name is B.A. Parker. Can we get some welcome music for B.A., y'all?

PARKER: Oh, boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK GOD I'M A COUNTRY BOY")

JOHN DENVER: (Singing) Well, life on a farm is kind of laid-back. Ain't much an old country boy like me can't hack. It's early to rise, early in the sack.

PARKER: Don't play me like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK GOD I'M A COUNTRY BOY")

DENVER: (Singing) Thank God I'm a country boy.

DEMBY: Hi, Parker.

PARKER: Hi, Gene.

DEMBY: All right, you got to explain the song to me 'cause - what?

PARKER: No, you - don't play me like that 'cause you asked me to think of a walk-on song if I was, like, going up to a pitch. And the way my brain works, I immediately thought of "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" because that's the seventh inning stretch music for Orioles games.

DEMBY: And you're from Baltimore.

PARKER: And I'm from Baltimore, so that is just where my mind went when you said, pick a song. And now this is where we are, and you're going to make me lose audience members before I even got them.

DEMBY: No, they're not going to - this is a safe space. We are here to welcome you and affirm you. But I'm just - you know, John Denver as your chosen bard of Baltimore...

PARKER: That's not - I mean, we can flip it because, like, I mean, I am a Baltimore club kid. And so, you know, Rod Lee's "Dance My Pain Away" would have been my second choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE MY PAIN AWAY")

ROD LEE: (Singing) Dance my pain away. I got problems.

PARKER: Because that is more - I mean, that does sound like a country song if you take away, like, the booty bass. But if it's, like, dance my pain away, I got problems - you know? Like, I don't - this is not going well for me.

DEMBY: But you were born and raised, obviously, in Baltimore. You got the club music. You got the Orioles. You said Bmore is the El Camino of cities. Like, what does that even mean?

PARKER: I mean, well, first of all, like, an El Camino is, like, a coupe that looks half-car, half-pickup truck. And it doesn't really have - it defies definition. And so when I think of Baltimore, it's like, is it a car? Is it a truck? Is it the North? Is it the South? And, like, the answer is just yes.

DEMBY: It's neither fish nor fowl. It's like the Anderson .Paak of cities. It's, like, not a rapper, not a singer. It's all of those things - fish and fowl.

PARKER: Exactly.

DEMBY: So let's step back. You are also - importantly, this is the purpose of the conversation - the brand-new host of CODE SWITCH. You've been covering culture and art for all these big places, so now you're about to be covering race. Like, what drew you to the race beat?

PARKER: I mean, I don't know. Race beat always sounds weird because, like, some people, their beat is education; some people, their beat is politics. And I feel like mine is just about identity and survival. I think it always attracted me just because I am, you know, a Black woman in the world, just trying to figure out why things are the way they are, especially for marginalized people. And so I guess that's what's always compelled me about it. And being a part of this team full of other, like, like-minded, smart, talented, cool people just felt like a perfect fit, you know?

DEMBY: Aw, you're just saying - you're just gassing us.

PARKER: I am, but it's true, though.

DEMBY: All right, so now that you're here and getting settled in, what are the stories you're most amped about telling on CODE SWITCH?

PARKER: I mean, we've got a story coming up that I'm really excited about. It's about, like, the way that comedians talk about race. I feel like I've - in this world, know more racist jokes than thoughtful, nuanced jokes about race.

DEMBY: Oh, for sure. For sure.

PARKER: For sure. And so we're talking to comedians of color who are talking about their racial experience with, like, these really nuanced, thoughtful jokes about race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAZ JOBRANI: You can't get a cold during the coronavirus 'cause everyone thinks you've got the coronavirus, right? Getting a cold during the coronavirus is what it felt like being Muslim after September 11.

(LAUGHTER)

JOBRANI: It's what it felt like being white after January 6.

PARKER: So I'm really excited about that. I'm interested in doing a story about our treatment of Indigenous people when we're in a bind.

DEMBY: Wait, can you say more about that? What do you mean?

PARKER: I mean, especially with the recent nullification of Roe v. Wade and how one of the solutions people are talking about is, well, why don't we go onto Indian reservations because they're sovereign land and get our abortions there - and kind of putting the onus on Indigenous people who already have a very troubled history with their reproductive rights in the U.S. government and how we're somehow, you know...

DEMBY: Like, offloading.

PARKER: We're offloading our problems onto people who already have enough problems because of us.

DEMBY: And the thinking is that, like, OK, so these places are in states that are anti-abortion states where abortion is going to be illegal, and they're adjacent to these Indian reservations, which will be outside of the jurisdiction of these states...

PARKER: Yeah.

DEMBY: ...To enforce these anti-abortion statutes.

PARKER: Yes. But it's already almost impossible to get an abortion on those lands. So that defeats the purpose. So that's something I'm really interested in. And, I mean, the dorkiest topic that I really want to explore - and I want you to bear with me...

DEMBY: Oh, and this...

PARKER: ...Is the...

DEMBY: ...I mean, the bar is high 'cause we just started with John Denver, but OK.

PARKER: But - oh, that pains me. The diversifying of trivia - this is also an idea that came from the really cool producer Jess Kung of - like, we have this kind of monolithic idea of what is worthy trivia to study. But now it's - especially in crossword puzzles, there is more, like, African American trivia, more Asian American trivia, Latino trivia, and what it means for what is now considered worthy things to know compared to if you watch, like, "Jeopardy!" And they're also trying to do the same thing, but the problem is that those contestants are not answering the questions. They get them all wrong.

DEMBY: There's a gap between, like, making the questions, like, more reflective of different kinds of knowledge and also what the contestants know. And so those memes about, like, the questions that people don't go, like, what's 2SURE's favorite word? - which is not a question they would have asked. But those memes are real. Like, they - and they're always hilarious and kind of sad. But, like, it tells you a lot about, like, which knowledge is important and which knowledge isn't.

PARKER: Yeah, which - like, we'll see, like, a - the whole board is empty except for one category. And it's, like, HBCs. So that's what I would love to kind of navigate and ask, why? Why can't - I mean, I know the "Farmers' Almanac" is not going to tell them about, you know, Clark Atlanta University, but you could try.

DEMBY: So, Parker, you were a professor of film before you were a journalist.

PARKER: And, I mean, speaking of, like, the diversifying of trivia, like, a big part of teaching film is now I have this abundance of useless knowledge.

DEMBY: Such as?

PARKER: I've developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the Oscars, which I've had since I was, like, 11...

DEMBY: Oh, my God.

PARKER: ...And it's not - at no point has it ever done me any good except for bar trivia.

DEMBY: Wait, so tell us some random Oscar trivia.

PARKER: I mean, like...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PARKER: ...I think James Cromwell, who was nominated for best supporting actor for the movie "Babe..."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BABE")

JAMES CROMWELL: (As Farmer Hoggett) That'll do, pig.

PARKER: ...Is the tallest nominee for acting. But Tim Robbins, who won for best supporting actor for "Mystic River..."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM ROBBINS: (As Dave Boyle) Maybe one day you wake up and you forget what it's like to be human. Maybe then, it's OK.

PARKER: ...Is the tallest winner. Let's see. Maggie Smith is the only person to win an Oscar for playing someone who lost an Oscar when she won for best supporting actress for "California Suite."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CALIFORNIA SUITE")

MAGGIE SMITH: (As Diana) I was in a deep depression at the time. What was the best bloody picture?

PARKER: But Cate Blanchett is the only person to win an Oscar for playing a person who won an Oscar when she played Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AVIATOR")

CATE BLANCHETT: (As Katharine) I've been famous, for better or worse, for a long time.

PARKER: Which could be, like - a debate could be had that Renee Zellweger playing Judy Garland, winning Best Actress, counts. But Judy Garland never won a competitive Oscar. She only won, like, one of those cute, tiny ones for "Wizard Of Oz." Quvenzhane Wallis, who was nominated for best actress in...

DEMBY: Definitely the shortest, right?

PARKER: Definitely the shortest. Oh, God - who was nominated for best actress for "Beasts Of A Southern Wild."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD")

QUVENZHANE WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) All the time, everywhere, everything's hearts are beating and squirting...

DEMBY: When she was, like, 8, 9 years old?

PARKER: She was 6.

DEMBY: Oh, my God.

PARKER: So not only is she the youngest person ever to be nominated for best actress, she is also the only person born after the year 2000 to be nominated for acting...

DEMBY: Oh, my God.

PARKER: ...As of right now.

DEMBY: They coming, though. They coming.

PARKER: I hope so. But, yeah, so this is what I came to contribute to the CODE SWITCH team.

DEMBY: (Laughter) All right. Well, you're going to have to contribute some more after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Gene.

PARKER: Parker.

DEMBY: CODE SWITCH.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: So Parker, when I posted on Facebook, like, years and years ago - because I was on Facebook; this is how long ago it was - that I got a job at NPR, a lot of people I grew up with in Philly were like, oh, congratulations on your new job. And then they were like, also, what's NPR though? Like, what is that? So we were talking about this earlier. But, like, do your parents have any idea what it is that you do?

PARKER: I mean, yes and no. I think my grandma asked me, like, what's NPR? Is that a program? I think the closest thing my family will understand is maybe, like, Rickey Smiley or Tom Joyner.

DEMBY: (Laughter).

PARKER: Once I put one of those references in there, they're like, oh, OK.

DEMBY: It's like Tom Joyner but on your phone or your laptop and not every day. And...

PARKER: And, like, you know, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! is coming up next or something.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Relevant to this point, though. We've talked a lot about audiences on CODE SWITCH in the past, like, how tricky it is for us to thread this needle between people who have very different backgrounds, so they have very different, you know, sets of knowledge and very different experiences. And I know you used to teach at an HBCU. You used to teach at Morgan State.

PARKER: Go Bears.

DEMBY: And you were talking to a lot of, like, very young Black folks - probably not also very young because, you know, nontraditional students or whatever, too.

PARKER: Yeah.

DEMBY: And you were also teaching at Stevenson University, which is a PWI. So you were teaching to mostly white kids.

PARKER: Yeah.

DEMBY: So you were, like, code-switching between your seminars...

PARKER: I was, yeah.

DEMBY: ...On the same day. But it was the same subject matter. Like, how was that process? Like, how did you sort of do that contorting or toggling?

PARKER: I mean, there's definitely a bit of contorting. But it was mainly about finding engagement. At Morgan, I do a survey at the beginning of every semester to find out, like, what everyone's favorite films were. And without fail, a large portion of the class would list the hood classic "Paid In Full."

DEMBY: Classic.

PARKER: So I'd include that in the canon, along with, like, "Silence Of The Lambs" and "Witness" and "Do The Right Thing," you know? And at Stevenson, it was also about the canon and trying to get students to engage. And that would look like me trying to convince them to stay awake during the silent Soviet film "Battleship Potemkin" by saying, shout out whenever you see the guy who looks like Channing Tatum on the submarine.

DEMBY: (Laughter).

PARKER: But, like, it wasn't a struggle, you know? Like, there was trying to navigate those two different worlds to the best of my ability. But also, I've learned if I keep my enthusiasm up, it goes a long way.

DEMBY: That's so much of being a host, I've learned, is like...

PARKER: Yeah.

DEMBY: ...Just approach that conversation like you're going on a date. And, like...

PARKER: (Laughter).

DEMBY: ...Just be as enthusiastic and laugh a little harder than you would normally. Or, you know, be more - try to be as, like, witty as you can possibly be. Like, you're the most engaged version of yourself with somebody, and not because you're faking it, but just because, like, you are performing - like, part of the thing you have to do is perform this conversation that people have to listen to. And so, yeah - not that I'm doing it now. This is all - I'm actually enthused to be talking to you.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKER: We're all - we're both putting our best foot forward.

DEMBY: Yes.

PARKER: This is the question I have for you because you've been doing this show for a while now.

DEMBY: Six years in May. Six years. Oh, my God

PARKER: Six years?

DEMBY: Yeah, it's been a minute.

PARKER: Oh, God. But, like, does working on CODE SWITCH reaffirm something inside of you, because it is a show about identity and about how the world works? So I'm curious about that.

DEMBY: Yeah. I mean, I feel like I have been in grad school for the last six years. Like, you know what I mean? Like, I feel like I've abandoned so many of my priors, working on this show. After however many hundred shows we've done and however many hundred shows I've hosted and interviewed - like, the bajillion interviews we've done, I feel like there's just no way you can come out of that and just not be changed by it and not, like - I just have a lot more skepticism for some things and a lot more, like, alacrity around a bunch of other things.

And, like, some of my old stuff, which I won't get into - some of, like - some of my old ideas are things I, like, frankly embarrassed by just because we talk to so many smart people who started exploding my brain or heard so many stories, like, people's personal stories, and they, like, to - some, like, tiny detail about their experience, I was like, oh, yeah, this - OK. So I guess I got to, like - I got to start over with my premises.

PARKER: Oh. Do you have any examples of that?

DEMBY: Yeah. I mean, like, reparations - right? - and not just for Black people, right? But, like, you know...

PARKER: Everyone we've exploited.

DEMBY: Yeah. I mean, that's a long list, right? Like, making people whole - right? - like, so much of the stuff that we try to do in this country is sort of skirting around, it seems like, this big question of reparations. Like, it would be, like, a lot easier to just give people money, but - you know what I mean? - than, like, doing all these other sort of, like, fixing at the edges. But also, I think - this is going to - this is, like, a weird one, but, like, I've become much more, like, skeptical about, like, diversity capital, like, the diversity in, like - and I'm doing air quotes, but y'all can't see me - and, like, the value of it - right? - not the value of diversity 'cause diversity's important, yadda, yadda, yadda, but also, like, we talk about the power of diversity in these big institutions that we've been talking about for six years now.

And just, like, does it matter if you diversify the White House or a police force or - you know, there are probably institutions that it matters a lot more. And there are probably institutions that can't be fixed by, like, you putting a bunch of brown people in them. You know, I mean, as we saw about police over the last six years - right? - like, all these police forces that we talk about a lot - like, a lot of them are very Black and brown police forces, right?

PARKER: Yeah.

DEMBY: Like, and policing is still janky. So, like, what are we talking about, right?

PARKER: It's still a white supremacist institution.

DEMBY: Exactly. Like, it doesn't - and so, like, a lot of the discourse is still - it feels - especially, I think, during Obama era, which is, like - we came on, like, the towards the very tail end of that - like, there was a lot of belief in, like, what it meant to have, you know - there was a lot of Black excellence talk and a lot of - you know what I mean? And I think that stuff is - like, you can't have an honest conversation about it. I feel like we can't have an honest conversation about this stuff without talking about how extremely qualified all of that stuff is - right? - and how, like, extremely constrained the things you get out of it are. That's, like, a big thing.

PARKER: Oh, yeah. It's all respectability.

DEMBY: Yes, a thousand percent. A thousand percent.

PARKER: What's something that people still might not know or would be surprised to know about you after having heard your voice and your perspective for so long?

DEMBY: I don't know, actually. That's a really - I have to think about that. One secret thing that people never believe me when I talk about, but it's true - people - and I feel like I told this story before, and people are always like, wait, what? But I - we've definitely talked about this on the podcast before. But is - it doesn't line up. So when I was 15, I spoke at an abstinence-only event that was adjacent to the Republican National Convention in San Diego. Yeah. And I almost feel like I'll ruin it with more detail, but I'm going to just leave y'all with that.

PARKER: Wait, no.

DEMBY: No. That's all you get.

PARKER: That needs more.

DEMBY: That's all you get.

PARKER: That needs more explanation.

DEMBY: That's all you get, Parker.

PARKER: No, you made me suffer through John Denver. You are going to...

DEMBY: No, listen.

PARKER: ...Expand upon that log line.

DEMBY: That's all you get. That's all you get.

PARKER: See, now, I'm unsatisfied, but OK. I do have to ask 'cause I'm the new kid on the block. Do you have any advice for me?

DEMBY: Yeah. I mean, the biggest thing - and you've been hosting for a minute, you know, I mean, at "The Cut" and stuff like that. I mean, it's just...

PARKER: Yeah.

DEMBY: And we were just talking about this, like, just being enthused about the conversations is, like - is not all of it, but is, like, 40% of what that conversation works. You know what I mean? And sometimes these conversations are really heavy and hard, and it's hard to sort of figure out how to sound enthusiastic about something that's, like - and now we're going to talk about the destruction of people of color. Like, you know what I mean? But finding a way to sort of, like, telegraph your investment in the story so other people can come along with you - that's the thing that I have to be conscientious of. You know what I mean?

PARKER: You just got to giggle through discussions of gentrification.

DEMBY: Yes. I mean, one of the things - one of the reasons I'm glad you're here 'cause you're so weird - but one of the things - could stand to be so much weirder than we are. You know what I mean? And, like, some of these conversations are heavy, and they just don't need to be, like, punishing - you know what I'm saying? - like, all the time.

PARKER: Oh, for sure. Oh, my gosh. I can't wait to get weird with you, Gene.

DEMBY: Oh, I want to reciprocate, but actually - I'm actually still reticent about weirdness. But all right, we're going to do it. I'm going to give myself over to you.

PARKER: Oh, my gosh, do it, do it, do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: I'm glad you're here to go through this kind of, like, regularly mind-blowing experience with me.

PARKER: I'm excited, too. I think that's the thing I'm looking forward to the most, is kind of watching my brain explode...

DEMBY: Yes.

PARKER: ...On tape.

DEMBY: I don't know if we can do that on audio. You got to do it on an Instagram reel.

PARKER: Oh, God.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: All right, y'all, that's our show. Parker, I mean, you know what I mean? You should do the honor of kicking off the credits.

PARKER: Sure. You can follow us on IG and Twitter @NPRCodeSwitch. I'm on Twitter @aparkusfarce. Gene is @GeeDee215. If email is your thing, ours is codeswitch@npr.org. Subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

DEMBY: And we have a newsletter. You can subscribe to that, too. You can find that on npr.org/newsletters.

PARKER: This episode was produced by Jess Kung. It was edited by Leah Donnella and Steve Drummond.

DEMBY: Shout out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - Christina Cala, Karen Grigsby Bates, Summer Thomad, Alyssa Jeong Perry, Diba Mohtasham and Kumari Devarajan. As for me, I'm Gene Demby.

PARKER: I'm B.A. Parker.

DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.

PARKER: Hydrate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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