When I first entered the podcasting world, it felt like an equal opportunity space, where anyone with a mic, an opinion and a free download of Audacity could get their message out.
Podcasting was touted as a medium of intimacy and empathy, a place where someone’s innermost thoughts were only a click away. Where we could learn about one another, without the pretense of visuals. A place where private conversations were made public. Where community could be found through a pair of headphones.
It was where I found shows like The Read and Racist Sandwich. Podcasts that validated experiences underrepresented in traditional media. Where I could laugh, cry, and rage with other people who moved through the world like I did. It was exciting.
Since podcasting was such a new medium, there weren’t the usual gatekeepers. There was a sense that if you just found the right story and told it in just the right way, you’d reach the ears of the growing podcasting audience.
But as with everything in this world, the more popularity podcasting gained, the more traditional ideals took centre stage. A new industry emerged and with that, a new old guard took hold. Podcast networks grew and it became harder and harder to build an audience without the backing of the industry elites.
Often podcasting networks would relegate racialized stories to their race podcast, simultaneously profiting off of appearing “woke” while limiting the scope of stories that could be told and who would hear them. If you weren’t searching for content by and about racialized folx, how would you find it?
It was as if stories from oppressed communities were only for people from those groups. It was optional for anyone who wasn’t looking for representation, the privileged few whose world was constantly being reflected back to them.
For some, the pandemic has illuminated the racial disparity of this world. For others, it has been a harsh reminder of how little has actually changed. Those of us who are privileged enough to stay at home have watched Black people die at statistically high levels, both from the pandemic and also by the actions of the police. It’s equally heartbreaking and tiring seeing the same story play out over and over again. It’s left the hopeful among us wondering if the world even cares.
To be privileged is to be ignorant to specific hardships just because you haven’t faced them. What is a mountain to someone who’s only encountered molehills?
To an extent we all carry our own privileges. Men experience the world differently from women, able bodied people literally move with privileges that aren’t afforded to the disabled community. It can be easy to forget about the worlds outside of our own, especially if the systems we live in are inherently beneficial to us.
It takes active consistent effort to decentre our own privileged experiences in order to make space for someone else. But it’s necessary. How else does a person cultivate compassion and empathy?
For cis people, that means making space for and protecting trans folx (especially Black transwomen who are being killed at extremely high rates). For straight people, it means learning from and respecting the queer communities in your area. And for non-Black people, it means actually listening to and actively standing up for Black people and their communities.
It’s about embodying allyship, which requires constant inner and outer work.
This process of learning and unlearning is hard. It’s something I reckon with every day. It’s uncomfortable because it means looking within and unpacking the ways in which we’ve each benefited from the subjugation of others. It means taking responsibility for our role in the system and being open to losing privilege to create a more equitable world.
It all starts with listening without judgement or fear of persecution. By learning to sit with our disturbing reality and figuring out how to undo the damage our existence creates for others. So with that in mind, here’s a list of podcasts from Black creators. Some of the shows are explicitly about race and others are about life through the lens of Blackness. This list is just the tip of the iceberg and I implore you to go out and search for more Black shows on your own. I’m sure you’ll find more than a few gems.
Floodines is a narrative podcast from The Atlantic. The show revisits Hurricane Katrina 15 years after the event. It’s hosted by journalist and staff writer Vann R. Newkirk. Together, Newkirk and his team investigate the political and social failures that exacerbated the aftermath of the natural disaster, learning from the people who experienced it firsthand.
2. Mixed Up
Mixed Up is a podcast for anyone who wants a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of growing up mixed race. It’s hosted by sustainability consultant Emma Slade Edmondson and writer Nicole Ocran, two women who have spent their entire lives straddling multiple identities. In each episode, their guests unpack the complications of simultaneously belonging and not belonging, and what community actually feels like to them.
Black Tea Podcast is a Canadian show from the Frequency Network. It centres Toronto’s Black community. Hosts Dalton Higgins and Melayna Williams guide listeners through necessary conversations with a comforting humour that brings levity and joy.
4. Extra Gravy
Extra Gravy is a Toronto-based pop culture podcast. It’s an irreverent take on the latest entertainment news with occasional conversations about the issues that plague our present day. Hosts Marlon Palmer, Alicia “Ace” West and Norm Alconcel invite listeners into their circle and try their best to parse through the nonsense, laughing along the way. (Explicit)
1619 is an audio series from the New York Times. It’s hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones and traces the vein of American slavery 400 years after the first slaves arrived in the United States. They cover everything from the fight for democracy to the evolution of Yacht rock through both historical and personal lenses.
Say Your Mind is one woman’s unique take on pop culture and current events. Every Monday, host Kelechi Okafor serves lessons with a side of laughs from the perspective of a Black British woman. Okafor and her guests discuss everything from U.K. politics to the importance of Black joy and empowerment. The show is a wonderful way to learn about another facet of the African Diaspora.