What Are the Best Podcasts on Race and History?: raceAhead

October 29, 2019, 9:11 PM UTC

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Have you listened to a podcast that opened your eyes to some little-known history behind race or bigotry in America? We’d love to hear about it!

In our quest for creative ways to tap the collective wisdom of the greatest audience in newsletter history, we’re starting an occasional feature called, According To Y’all.”

For our first installment, we’d like your best recommendations for a podcast series or episode that offers unique insight into race, history, and that helps to explain current events. 

My recommendation: Bundyville, an astonishingly wellreported series by public radio reporter Leah Sottile, working jointly with Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

She starts with the 2014 stand-off between Cliven Bundy and federal agents at his Nevada ranch over grazing rights, and follows up with the 2016 occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. 

Sottile slowly discovers is that this isn’t simply a story of Western bravado, states’ rights, and land management conflict. It highlights a dark alliance. “A group of armed men took over a wildlife refuge in the far southeastern corner of [Oregon],” she says. “Among them were militias and white racists who had really radical ideas about the federal government, race, and religion.”

Honestly, this is a bit of an insult to really radical ideas. 

Sottile’s reporting took her on a journey through these radical ideas and includes extraordinary first-person interviews with many current true believers and their families. She also paints a terrifying picture of people who feel affirmed by the hate speech and bigotry now bandied about in mainstream circles, especially modern politics. To them, the shocks to our democracy read like opportunities in the making.

Sottile uncovers in stunning detail (and sensitivity) a toxic, often underground world of hate, racism, violence, terrorism, and twisted, Bible-fueled dominionism that has been largely ignored by law enforcement, mainstream media, and the public at large. She even independently confirmed the first-ever suicide bombing committed by a white supremacist—one that has gone largely unreported.

Her reporting journey began by accident in January 2011, when a bomb nearly went off during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in her neighborhood in Spokane, Wash. A white supremacist named Kevin Harpham had dropped a backpack along the route that looked suspicious, and parade route workers called it in. “Inside the backpack was a six-inch-long pipe bomb welded to a steel plate. The bomb was packed with more than a 100 lead fishing weights coated in rat poison and human feces,” Sottile says.

It got her attention.

“Violence like what was narrowly missed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day has plagued this part of the Northwest for decades. But that history was something I’d had the privilege to navigate around as a white person living in a majority white city in the whitest part of the country. When I was a kid I had an excuse: No one told me. But as an adult, I’d come to believe that good always had, and always would, prevail.” 

I realize that this doesn’t sound much like a breezy listen. But if you want to understand the coded speech and complex history of a big part of today’s white supremacist movement, you can’t get a better primer than this. 

So, what say you? Hit us back by email (below) or just dash over to this form with your recommendations. Let’s piece together the true backstory of the world.

Because according to y’all, we all have work to do.

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Diversity needs to be a C-Suite job The vast majority of large companies embed their diversity officer in human resources, where their efforts and progress remain sidelined. But a handful of the S&P 500 companies (five, to be exact) have created a c-suite role for a diversity professional and those firms are showing meaningful results. "We knew we needed not only to make short-term progress, but to embed it into the way we do business as a company," says Karen S. Carter, Dow Inc.’s chief inclusion officer. "It’s critical to have that voice, that perspective in the room."
Wall Street Journal

Getty fire: Nobody told the Hispanic gardeners and housekeepers not to go to work And despite the flames threatening one of the cities wealthiest communities, they showed up. Many who speak little English hadn’t heard the news. And to the one, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times, they were reluctant to leave unless their employers gave the okay. One LAPD officer told the Times that he had to tell at least 10 people to save themselves. "No sir, you can’t finish your yard. You’ve got to go," the officer says. "I saw their determination to finish the job." Brittny Mejia, the staff writer who filed this piece, found herself in the odd position of having to persuade a stranded housekeeper to leave. To help convince her, Mejia spoke to the owner of the home, who had been evacuated at 3 a.m., through a smart doorbell. The housekeeper agreed to leave with the reporter, and the homeowner thanked them both. "Lo siento, gracias por venir," he said to the employee through the doorbell system. (I’m sorry, thanks for coming.)
Los Angeles Times

Out of a diverse Democratic field, white front-runners emerge This is the succinct observation from political writers Astead W. Herndon and Jonathan Martin, who note that out of an impressive line-up of diverse and qualified candidates, the four Democratic front-runners are all white, three are men. "It has frustrated the Democrats seeking a more diverse party leadership—not to mention the affected candidates," they report. "I’ve had lots of crazy things said to me, like, 'Is America ready for another black president?'" Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey tells the New York Times in an interview. "And I’m confident it’s never been asked of a white candidate, 'Is America ready for another white president?'"
New York Times

Teen girls are using their quinceañeras to get out the vote The quinceañera is a centuries-old party to celebrate womanhood, a time when 15-year-old Latinas would don white dresses, enjoy a traditional dance with her fathers amid a gathering of friends and loved ones. Many quince traditions are changing with the times, including some that are more public service minded: Jolt, a progressive political organization, has rolled out a new program that dispatches voter enrollment teams to quince parties across Texas. Poder Quince/Quince Power is hoping to be invited to as many of the estimated 50,000 annual quinceañeras held in Texas every year, each of which welcome dozens to hundreds of guests. Since their launch in May, they’ve attended 30 quinces. "A lot of people dismiss 15-year-old girls, but they know what’s going on," says Carmen Ayala, Jolt’s Culture and Events Manager.
Texas Monthly

On Background

You don’t know Aunt Jemima Toni Tipton-Martin, journalist, food editor, and archivist of Black foodways, has spent the better part of three decades collecting stories of Black chefs and home cooks and preserving more than 150 cookbooks spanning 200 years. Her work began with The Jemima Code, a blog where she shared stories of black chefs who had been erased from the history of American food, extraordinary figures who cooked for executives and politicians and who also preserved a trace of African heritage in their stews, gumbos, and fritters. According to this delicious review from Therese Nelson, Tipton-Martin is back with Jubilee, food she discovered while writing The Jemima Code,now recipes adapted into recipes for today’s cooks. "Tipton-Martin has given us the gift of a clear view of the generosity of the black hands that have flavored and shaped American cuisine for over two centuries," says Nelson.

Found on Kickstarter: Die Jim Crow Records Die Jim Crow is a musical collective comprised of currently or formerly incarcerated musicians, 50 of them incarcerated in Ohio, Colorado, South Carolina, Mississippi, and 14 formerly incarcerated people living in New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, and Alabama. Now, they’re hoping to turn their original concept album into a non-profit record label, to commission new work, and to find a home for dozens of unreleased tracks recorded since 2014. "This started in 2013 with this book," says activist Fury Young, holding up Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, "and this album," he says, holding up Pink Floyd’s The Wall. For four years, Young worked with a co-producer and incarcerated musicians across the country to produce the Die Jim Crow EP, which was funded through a previous Kickstarter. They believe they will be the first record label for currently and formerly incarcerated people.

Would you help if you saw someone being bullied? This is the premise of a deeply affecting and effective social experiment and accompanying three-minute video created by the Miami office of David, the agency partner for Burger King. Called "Bullying Jr.,"  it was originally created in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, but given the epidemic of people calling the police for non-transgressions, now makes an even more chilling point. The David team hired teen actors to harass another kid in a real Los Angeles-area BK restaurant. The premise was simple: Would customers be more likely to stand up for a bullied junior human or a bullied Whopper junior?
Burger King on Youtube


“Her [Chicago World’s Fair, 1893] exhibition booth drew so many people that special policemen were assigned to keep the crowds moving. The Davis Milling Company received over 50,000 orders, and Fair officials awarded Nancy Green a medal and certificate for her showmanship.”

—From the official biography of Nancy Green, the formerly enslaved woman who went on to become one of the first African American consumer product brand models. She was the first Aunt Jemima.

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