By Ellen McGirt
Updated: November 20, 2017 3:30 PM ET

If one thing has become clear during the two years of working the race beat at Fortune is this: Everything has a backstory. Our ability to understand and embrace these hidden histories can help us all become more curious, aware, empathetic and informed.

Here are three podcasts that I’ve recently enjoyed that brought a fresh perspective to something I already thought I knew a bit about. Turns out, I was missing more than just some interesting facts. Enjoy.


Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Episode 29 – Manzanar Pilgrimage

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is a delightful podcast, and ordinarily a breezy conversation between two friends, Tanzila ‘Taz’ Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, about their complicated modern relationship with faith, love, social justice and American life. They took a break from their usual dish to join an annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, a Japanese American internment camp just north of Los Angeles. This year’s visit commemorated the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which ordered the incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Executive orders matter, yo.) The trip was organized by the Vigilant Love Coalition and their Bridging Communities program, which draws parallels between the Japanese experience post-Pearl Harbor and the experience of Muslim Americans today. “Today we are retracing the humanity of a group of people who our country shamelessly mistreated,” the tour guide begins. While Taz and Zahra continually hand the mic to other pilgrims and survivors to make sure their stories are heard, the bigger message is clear. “Your citizenship will not protect you,” one woman tells them.


Second Wave, October 17, 2017 – Pho

Every installment of Second Wave is a revelation and a thoughtful exploration of the experiences of Vietnamese Americans in the aftermath of a war that hasn’t ended for everyone. One delicious example is Pho, part savory noodle-dish, part iconic comfort food born in a faraway land and now, a dish ripe for cultural appropriation. Seemingly out of the blue, the dish has been embraced by hipster chefs in the U.S. and turned into a barely recognizable version of itself, with pho experts everywhere making fancy derivations like pho dumplings, pho salads, even rolling “phorritos.” Host Thanh Tan sits with two women who have made their own careers with the noodle dish, writer Andrea Nguyen and chef Yenvy Pham, owner of Pho Bac in Seattle, and have a fascinating conversation about what the soup meant to both the working class and elites in Vietnam, and the uncomfortable peace they’re making with its gentrification stateside. And then the talk turns to a scandal you may have missed — the recent Pho-gate, and their ultimate defense against the ultimate erasure.


Uncivil, Episode 6 – The Song

I’ve fallen hard for Uncivil, a new Gimlet podcast about the Civil War that explores the stories that have been left out of history if you get my drift. Again, there are no wrong choices, but for the purposes of digging into a juicy backstory, start with their eye-opening exploration of the true origins of Dixie, the unofficial and still beloved anthem of the Confederacy. The common knowledge was this: Dixie was a Confederate anthem, written by a Southerner, during the dark days of the Civil War. As usual, the common knowledge is completely wrong. There are a couple of twists before we get to the painful truth, an erasure so profound that it’ll get you whistling Dixie yourself. Hosts Chenjerai Kumanyika and Jack Hitt are both excellent. But later in this episode, Kumanyika talks about “coon spaces,” a framing for performative blackness for the benefit of white audiences. It yields one of the richest conversations I’ve heard in ages. In this instance, it’s with a musician named Justin Robinson, who both understands the true roots of the song and has performed it with a sense of dignity and restorative justice. It didn’t quite work. “They invite you to dehumanize yourself for profit, for their pleasure, to deepen their sense of identity,” says Kumanyika of the “coon space” dynamic. “You’re sort of hitting on the head what it means to be black in America or indigenous in America,” Robinson begins.


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