Despite the common assumption that anyone can get into podcasting because of its low barrier to entry (a good microphone and an easy-to-learn audio editing software don’t cost more than a couple hundred dollars), the industry is still dominated by one specific genre: two white guys chatting about, well, nothing. Often times, it can be difficult to find podcasts that talk about issues affecting people of color or podcasts hosted by people of color.
As part of our special coverage for Black History Month, the Daily Trojan is highlighting four podcasts made by black producers about black issues and black stories.
Hosted primarily by black American Gene Demby and Puerto Rican-Iranian American Shereen Marisol Meragi, NPR’s “Code Switch” succeeds with the high-level production and well-researched content one expects from NPR, while also allowing the hosts to buck the “objectivity” requirements of standard journalism. In the series, the hosts employ personal experiences in their discussions of race and diversity.
The title “Code Switch” refers to the common practice among people of color whereby individuals change the way they express themselves in different environments because of their race. It’s an apt title, because Meraji and Demby code-switch constantly throughout the podcast; they navigate a fine line between bringing racial issues to light for NPR’s predominantly white audience, while also addressing the lack of obligation they have for explaining race to a majority white audience.
One of the podcast’s most stellar episodes, “Hold Up! Time for an Explanatory Comma,” discusses the responsibility often placed on people of color to be ‘experts’ on their respective race or culture, while in reality, they shouldn’t have to be the ambassadors for an entire group of people. Each of their projects constantly challenges listeners to rethink the ways they view racial issues, and also serves as an educational tool — a professor at the University of Texas San Antonio used the podcast as a blueprint for her class (you can hear more about it on the episode, “Code Switch Goes to College”).
Tune in to “Code Switch” for thought-provoking and innovative conversations about race and culture in the United States.
“The Stoop’s” tagline is “Stories from across the black diaspora,” but hosts Hana Baba, a Sudanese American, and Leila Day, a black American, often use another one: “Yes, we’re going there.” And on most of their episodes, they talk about issues that most podcasts wouldn’t dare approach.
On their inaugural episode, Baba and Day approach cultural appropriation; not exactly the kind you might imagine. The two discuss whether black Americans should be allowed to wear cultural, tribal clothing that originates from Africa. They talk about the issue candidly, unafraid to disagree with each other or avoid making a definite decision.
Day and Baba use “stoop” as a verb in each episode, as a kind of catch-all word for the frank style of discussion they bring to the table. While it’s primarily a chat-based podcast, both Day and Baba are public radio journalists by trade. They bring in interviews, man-on-the-street reporting and compelling music throughout their episodes to bring life to the traditional two-person discussion format.
Another thing that sets the podcast apart is its focus on not only black Americans, but also continental Africans; on “Back to Africa,” they discuss African immigrants who come to the U.S. only to end up returning to live in Africa, and on the episode “You Called Me African What?” they consider the perceived disconnect between black Americans and African immigrants.
Compared to “Code Switch,” it’s clear that “The Stoop” doesn’t restrain itself or try to appeal to a white audience. The podcast is by people of color, for people of color.
Strong Black Legends
From Netflix and its media initiative Strong Black Lead, “Strong Black Legends” debuted Feb. 11 this year. Although only one episode has been released, the podcast promises to impress with its experienced host, talented guest list and Netflix’s history of well-produced podcasts.
Tracy Clayton, the former co-host of Buzzfeed’s “Another Round” podcast (currently on hiatus), is leading the show. “Another Round,” a discussion show about race, gender and popular culture, was named an iTunes Best Podcast of 2015 before it went on break.
Clayton is the perfect host for “Strong Black Legends.” She knows how to host a podcast well, and her engaging personality bolsters the show’s main purpose. Like the Strong Black Lead media initiative, “Strong Black Legends” aims to feature prominent black actors, black directors and other black creatives in Hollywood.
In its first episode, Clayton interviews Lynn Whitfield, who most recently acted in the “Greenleaf” television series. Future interviewees include Ruth E. Carter, an Oscar nominee for Best Costume Design for her work on “Black Panther” and actress Loretta Devine, who has appeared in television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Supernatural.”
The show promises to honor these people of color and their achievements in an industry that often makes it hard for black Americans to achieve success. While listeners might not immediately think of Netflix as a podcast provider, the streaming giant now boasts five well-created shows — “Strong Black Legends” should be no different.
Two Dope Queens
Arguably the most popular podcast on this list, “Two Dope Queens” has already seen major success. Before airing its final episode (featuring none other than Michelle Obama) last November, the titular duo, Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams, hosted a series of HBO specials and a live tour based on the podcast.
The podcast started with a simple yet quickly popular concept: Each week, the hosts recorded a live show featuring a slate of comedians performing standup (usually people of color) all MC’ed by Robinson and Williams. The duo have an unrivaled chemistry; they’re able to laugh with and at each other while discussing important race-based issues in a comedic way.
Robinson and Williams are irreverent and unafraid, taking control of their show in an easygoing yet commanding manner. Although the comedians featured on the show sometimes have less engaging sets, for the most part, they are just as funny as the hosts.
As the show grew in popularity, it started featuring interviews with high-profile comedians like SNL alumna Vanessa Bayer. The hosts’ chemistry leaks into the interviews too, bringing a fresh take on the traditional interview that draws out their guests’ humor in new ways.
While the WNYC podcast no longer puts out new episodes, its 49-episode archive is a treasure trove you can binge listen to over and over again. Moreover, Robinson started a spinoff podcast, “Sooo Many White Guys,” which directly aims to reverse the “token black woman” trope by featuring conversations with people who aren’t white and male.