Podcasts To Help Make Sense Of America’s Present And Future

At the top of the latest episode of The New York Times’ “Still Processing,” released Wednesday, Wesley Morris asks co-host Jenna Wortham how she is. It feels, for a moment, like any other podcast intro, an average water-cooler conversation between two colleagues. And then you remember.

“How am I,” Wortham responds, more of a statement than a question. “I’m here, looking at you. Happy for that, grateful for that.”

Wednesday marks a new era in American politics that is extremely difficult to grapple with for many U.S. voters. The people spoke, and in doing so laid their prejudices bare, electing a man who we’ve seen, in the national arena, disparage women, immigrants, people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized groups. As returns were coming in on election night, a CBC commentator called it “white supremacy’s last stand.”

Where do we go from here? How do we continue to love, and survive, in a country where so many of our fellow citizens have placed their feet on the side of hate? How do white allies ensure the support and safety of their loved ones and colleagues whose safety has felt jeopardized in the last 48 hours?

There’s no certainty that podcast hosts can tell us these answers, but we will see these and many more issues — such as the opinion bubble that shocked Clinton supporters find themselves in on social media, wondering how Trump could have possibly prevailed — play out before our ears. Shows like Morris and Wortham’s will serve as a record in the decades ahead, first-person accounts of what it was like to wake up in America as a black person on Nov. 9.

As a straight, white woman, I have my own fears and sympathies in the aftermath of the election. I know the only way I can begin to know how the prospect of a Trump presidency feels for people of color, for Muslims, for the LGBTQ community, is to listen.

New York Times/Buzzfeed/Acast
Images from “Still Processing,” “See Something Say Something,” and “Call Your Girlfriend.”

Many podcasts have released episodes since the election was called. Along with “Still Processing,” there’s also BuzzFeed’s “See Something Say Something,” a relatively new podcast from the media company where host Ahmed Ali Akbar brings guests on to discuss being Muslim in the U.S. “Usually at the beginning of each episode we ask guests what they’re thinking about,” Akbar says at the top of the program, making it clear that this time around, there’s something that, without question, everyone is thinking about.

WNYC tech podcast “Note to Self released an addendum to its most recent episode. Host Manoush Zomorodi addresses listeners: “It would be so weird to pretend that things in podcast-land are just business as usual. Whoever you voted for, chances are you were surprised by the results. And the fact that no one picks up their phone anymore means that the pollsters were way off.” For a show that deals in the intersection between technology and human beings, it’s fair to imagine that it might continue to tackle the aforementioned opinion bubbles that contributed to the highly unanticipated election result. “We have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to do more,” she concludes.

If you just need to hear some cool ladies talk it out, try Call Your Girlfriend,” a podcast “for long-distance besties everywhere.” Hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman took to the mics after the election, starting with a focus on self-care. “I just want to ask how you’re taking care of yourself today,” Friedman begins the first episode since the election. “I will say this: Having many of my closest friends ask me how I’m doing today has been the best part of the day,” Sow answers, suggesting that most of the day has been far less great.

NPR’s “Code Switch,” a show about race and identity helmed by journalists of color, also convened to discuss their feelings post-election, with hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby ready to discuss the sobering reality of President-elect Trump, while also hoping for some much needed comic relief. The brain can only handle so much trauma before it needs a reprieve: “I’m not sure our guests are in the mood to laugh, or make us laugh,” Meraji notes. Demby quips back, joking: “Um, they better get on it. ‘Cause I think we all need it.”

Humor, empathy, information and bold storytelling: These are the things we can find in podcasts as we work together to act, organize and figure out how to proceed.

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