‘Listen.’ It’s more than a directive or a sassy retort. It’s an imperative.
As the nation contends with its racist history and how best to heal, curious ears are turning toward new voices.
Voices that for centuries have cried out and were met with silence, violence or both. Voices from communities that did not have the privilege of securing justice for themselves.
Voices that, in a digital age, are now widely accessible to anyone who is ready to listen — through podcasts.
Here are a few podcasts you should listen to; shows that will take you on a journey you may not have been on or understood.
As “Adult ISH” co-host Merk Nyugen explains, show hosts are “pointing out new signs or buildings you’ve never noticed before. It’s a completely new experience. You’re learning together.”
A quick reminder, though: The shows and subjects included in this guide are simply a drop in a larger bucket of podcasts to open your eyes and minds to the world in which we live.
Podcasts that celebrate racial identity
“Adult ISH” co-host Nygel Turner got started in podcasts because he didn’t see anyone like him in the space.
“It felt like I didn’t belong and that’s something that I still struggle with,” Turner, who identifies as Black, said.
So, he and Nyugen created a show for young adults.
“You’re listening to the journals of two young people of color just trying to navigate a world that wasn’t designed for us,” Turner told CNN.
Turner recommends the following:
- “The Nod” where hosts Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings take you on a storytelling journey. The best friends started their independently produced show “For Colored Nerds” serving up funny and frank conversations. Not long after, the duo pivoted to “The Nod.” Now, they have their own streaming show on Quibi.
- “The Stoop” amplifies Black stories that are told, “just not out in the open.” Hosts Hana Baba and Leila Day weave storytelling into the conversations they have about blackness and what it means to be Black.
- “Flyest Fables“ offers fictional stories from the perspective of a Black kid. “Morgan Givens is a transgender man who tells these fictional stories that are fairy tales,” Turner says. “The storytelling, the songs, the tricks that Morgan does with the audio and sound design is something I’ve never seen before.”
For Nyugen, who identifies as Vietnamese American, one particular program has been an invaluable teacher of the Asian American experience.
- “Asian Americana“: “It helps me expand what being Asian American means. It reminds me that Asian American is not a monolith — there’s so much I have to learn in my own ‘demographic.’”
Besides Turner and Nyugen’s recommendations, here are some other noteworthy shows that center primarily on matters of race and racial identity:
- “Yo, Is This Racist?” is a blog-turned-podcast that answers listener-submitted questions about whether a specific situation is, in fact, racist. Spoiler alert: if you have to ask, it probably is.
- “Still Processing” is hosted by two New York Times culture writers and friends, Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, who unpack each other’s worlds while addressing current events from the perspective of Black Americans.
- “Asian Enough” takes a deep dive into what it means to be an Asian American. Hosts Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong reflect with celebrity guests on identity and the duality of being “enough” in the eyes of each culture and background.
- “Tamarindo” brings female Latinx voices to the forefront as hosts Ana Sheila Victorino and Brenda Gonzalez delve into the latest through lighthearted yet fearless conversations on gender, representation and balancing it all.
- “Minority Korner” serves up a tongue-in-cheek intersectional look at current events with “queer, political comedian, and self-proclaimed sexy blerd” (that’s Black nerd) host James Arthur. The weekly show encourages listeners to “learn, laugh and play” as Arthur is joined by a minority guest.
- “Silence is Not an Option,” hosted by CNN’s Don Lemon, does not back down from tough conversations about life as a person of color in American. With activists and notable thinkers, Lemon examines what meaningful and lasting solutions to the nation’s racial terrors look like.
Podcasts that revisit history
“Latino USA” host Maria Hinojosa has been listening to investigative podcasts that delve into America’s checkered history.
“That’s been really important because there’s context in history,” she says. “The movement for Black lives is a continuation of, really, history in this country. The constant battle for respect; that’s really important to me.”
Taking an honest look back reveals a much broader story that echoes into the present, says the “Once I Was You” author.
“We’re still in the part of reckoning with the legacy of racial hatred and violence in this country,” she explains. “True crime involving disappearances of Indigenous people, lynching of Mexicans, Japanese Americans who were imprisoned ‘for their own good’ — there is a lot to learn.”
Her most recent streams?
- “Unfinished: Deep South“ is for anyone interested in learning how structural racism, historical violence and lynchings have been “part of this country since the beginning.” The show examines who lynched Isadore Banks, a wealthy African American farmer more than six decades ago.
- “In the Dark” whose second season uses investigative journalism to dive into the case of Curtis Flowers. Flowers, a Mississippi death row inmate, was tried six times for the same crime.
In addition to Hinojosa’s picks, here are a few more to consider:
- “The United States of Anxiety” connects America’s unfinished business with its grip on the present. Where did the arguments of today get their start? When America tried to build the first multiracial democracy.
- “Floodlines” revisits August 29, 2005, a date the podcast describes as “one of the most misunderstood events in American history.” Four New Orleanians have something to say about what really happened in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.
- “Catlick” details how a tragic series of events spanning 56 months nearly destroyed the South’s grandest city, Atlanta. Host B.T. Harman chronicles the historical true crime narrative while revealing how today’s racial tensions did not happen overnight.
- “You Must Remember This,” hosted by Karina Longworth, devoted a series to dissecting the most controversial film in Disney’s history. “Six Degrees of Song of the South” unveils how Disney’s attempt to capitalize on post-Civil War nostalgia backfired, yet continues to be profitable from inside the media company’s vault.
- “Finding Cleo” investigates what happened to Cleopatra Nicotine, a young Indigenous girl believed to have been raped and murdered after she was taken into child welfare in the 1970s.
- “1619” is an audio accompaniment to The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project hosted by Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones. It chronicles how Black people forged the beginnings of American history and reframes the country’s birth to the first slave ship arriving to America: August 1619.
Podcasts that amplify LGBTQIA+ communities
The LGBTQIA+ community is no stranger to hearing others speak on their behalf without understanding the issues that affect them.
It’s something that “Queer Teen Podcast” host Anthony Giorgio grew tired of hearing.
“Queer youth and the queer community have a huge voice, and it continues to get pushed down,” he says. “I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.”
The shows that had an impact on him?
- “Afro Queer” is making its mark on the African continent and diaspora in its coverage of queer Africans “living, loving, surviving and thriving.” Hosted by Selly Thiam, the podcast celebrates queer love in Africa and navigates the laws affecting its expression.
- “Making Gay History” revisits the largely hidden histories of LGBTQIA+ champions and icons through decades-old rare audio interviews. Host Eric Marcus conducted these interviews in the late 1980s for a book he was writing, and has now released them from the archives.
- “Nancy” offers honest and raw conversations about the LGBTQIA+ experience hosted by two queer best friends of color Kathy Tu and Tobin Low. The critically acclaimed podcast was beloved by listeners until it ended this year.
If hearing from more out voices is of interest, a few other shows to consider are:
- “History is Gay” because, as the podcast says, “history has never been as straight as you think.” In it, self-proclaimmed “queer nerds,” Gretchen Ellis and Leigh Pfeffer, channel their passion for history and social justice to amplify overlooked people from the untold pages of world history.
- “Keep It” dishes, with celebrity guests, the ways in which pop culture collide with politics.
- “Gender Reveal” showcases interviews with trans artists and activists as they explore the nuances of gender.
- “Bad Queers” may be of interest if you feel like you, as the show suggests, “came out of the closet and got placed in a box.” Hosts Kris Chesson and Shana Sumers promise listeners will leave offended and inspired by the broken stereotypes of the fluid LGBTQIA+ experience.
Podcasts hosted by women
It would be incredibly short-sighted not to celebrate female-led podcasts as they engage with myriad topics. One of the beautiful things about these shows is the overlap and intersectionality around them; they are often multi-faceted.
A few in the fantastic lineup of female-led podcasts to note are:
- “Call Your Girlfriend” is a weekly show co-hosted by lifelong, long-distance best friends Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman that covers “every facet of women’s humanity.” From body hair to voter oppression: no topic is off the table.
- “Unlocking Us with Brené Brown” is here to help you navigate the hurt and uncomfortable bumps along the human journey with grace and courage.
- “The Fall Line” shines a light on the southeast’s “missing, murdered and unidentified” who don’t make the same headlines as their White counterparts. Hosts Laurah Norton and Brooke Gently-Hargrove investigate these cases through their respective backgrounds as a Georgia State University senior lecturer and a licensed grief counselor.
- “I Weigh with Jameela Jamil” is all about radical inclusivity. Actress and activist Jameela Jamil challenges societal norms on weight and body image through thoughtful conversations about shame and value with a range of diverse voices.
- “No White Saviors Podcast” is an advocacy campaign that was born out of collective frustration over the white saviors and their abuses throughout Africa. The majority female, majority African powerhouse launched a podcast to expand the conversations around equitable change and to celebrate Africans as the heroes to their successes.
- “2 Dope Queens” is an anthem to the underrepresented in comedy. During its four-season run, hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson shared the stage with their favorite comedians of color and female comics as they quipped about any and all topics in their live comedy shows.
Podcasts that showcase first-person storytelling
Hrishikesh Hirway is the creator and host of several renowned podcasts, including “Song Exploder,” “The West Wing Weekly,” “Partners” and, most recently, “Home Cooking.”
One of his top picks is a show that amplifies the reality of life in California’s San Quentin State Prison as told by those on the inside.
- “Ear Hustle” is “really well made and brings to life a reality that most people are unaware of,” Hirway said. “All the complexities of life, not just stuff shown in HBO dramas.” It became a finalist for a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for its work that offers, in the words of the prize board, “a consistently surprising and beautifully crafted series on life behind bars.” It is the first year the “audio reporting” category has been recognized.
While the Radiotopia program showcases inmates’ perspective of life, there are countless others that offer compelling perspectives and conversations. Among them:
- “Snap Judgment,” which offers a unique brand of “storytelling, with a beat,” is hosted by Glynn Washington. Its cinematic mixes throughout the dramatic storytelling elevate the listeners to an edgy experience for the senses.
- “Heaux in the Kneaux,” hosted by Selena the Stripper, features conversations between sex workers about life in and the politics of sex work in all of its forms.
- “You Had Me at Black“ passes the mic to Black millennials who tell the stories of the Black experience that are often left out of the conversation.
- “Identity Politics” is hosted by Ikhlas Saleem and Makkah Ali, where discussions on race, culture, faith and gender are explored with guests through the intersectionality of being a Black Muslim woman in America.
- “Code Switch” puts conversations about race and identity front and center while unpacking the impact it has on all facets of American culture. Hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby hold thoughtful discussions with their guests, making “‘all of us’ part of the conversation — because we’re all part of the story.”
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