Have Black Lives Really Ever Mattered in the US?: Racism in America Podcasts

white man black woman sign

In the few weeks since the very public murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota policeman, racism in America has been a hot topic.  Protests by Black Lives Matter and supporters of all races, colors, ages, and sexes have drawn attention to not just the horrific racial motivation of the situation at hand but to the systemic racism that pervades the treatment of Blacks and other minorities in American society. While live news on TV, radio, and the internet keeps the topic alive, podcasts offer a way for people to hear more thoughtful analyses of what has happened from the vantage points of history, psychology, and economics.

crowd at anti-racism rally
Photo by UnratedStudio from Pixabay

Have Black lives really ever mattered in the US? Here are some podcasts curated by Vurbl that might be useful in thinking about racism in America and what needs to change.

#1. Cultural Humility Podcast

Cultural Humility podcast logo

Racism did not just develop in 2020, so the long-term perspective addressed in podcasts underscores the point that Blacks and other minorities suffer daily assaults from racism. On the job, in a store or restaurant, at school, at the doctor’s, on the bus, or in interpersonal conversations, Blacks are subject to an onslaught of microaggressions –  brief common remarks, questions, or actions that may negatively reference membership in a group that is discriminated against even if unintentional. This concept is considered throughout the Cultural Humility Podcast hosted by Miguel E. Gallardo, PsyD. especially in Episode CUHP012.

If a guard or salesclerk in the store follows a black customer, is it to be helpful or because Blacks are perceived to be potential shoplifters? If a woman clutches her purse in an elevator or on the street, is it a reasonable safety precaution or a racially-based fear? If a white person says to a Black friend, “You have beautiful hair” or “You speak beautiful English” is the implied rest of the sentence “for a Black man or woman”? If a doctor talks down to or ignores the questions of a Black patient, it is because of race or because the doctor is in a hurry, has a poor bedside manner, or is a jerk? Even though these words or actions might have been made or carried out with no malintent, the Black recipient may see them differently. Ongoing discussions about race must confront this subtext even as we react to major incidents like the killing of George Floyd, Armand Arbery, Eric Garner, and so many more.

The Host: Dr. Miguel Gallardo is a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, a licensed psychologist, Series Editor for Cognella Academic Press’ Advances in Culture, Race, and Ethnicity book series, and is Director of Research and Evaluation for the Multiethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies (MECCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to serving monolingual Arab, Farsi, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Spanish speaking communities.

The Guests: Podcasts in this series consider systemic racism, bigotry, ethnocentrism, and other prevailing concepts through interviews with experts such as Dr. Kevin Cokley, Dr. Shelley Harrell, and Dr. Darrell Wing-Su.

Why you have to listen: Understanding racism is difficult for those who are the target of it and for well-intentioned whites unsure of how to hold conversations. This podcast presents information that is useful for anyone trying to figure out how to reject racism in their own life and have the necessary conversations without feeling constrained by political correctness.

Listen to the Cultural Humility Podcast

Must-Listen Episodes:

26–Systemic Racism and Its Effect on Health, Wellness, and Justice for Communities of Color

22–Where are all the Antiracists? Politics, Principles, and Why People Matter

12–Racial Microaggressions and Political Correctness

 Rating: Teen+

#2. The United States of Anxiety

The United States of Anxiety logo

Started before the 2016 election, United States of Anxiety continues its work as the divisive 2020 election approaches. Our country has never agreed on answers to basic questions such as: Who is the USA for? Wo can live here? Who can vote? Who has the right to good medical care, education, and jobs? We never knew the answer to these questions but after the Civil War, finding the answers became more critical as we attempted to be the world’s first multiracial democracy. Despite over 150 years of arguing, we don’t how to make our radical ideas work.

The Host: Journalist Kai Wright hosts the WNYC podcast, which was considered one of The Best Podcasts of 2018. Throughout his career, he has covered economic inequality, access to healthcare, and racial inequity.at The New York TimesMother Jones, and Salon, was an editor at The Nation, and hosts other podcasts such as The Stakes, There Goes the Neighborhood, and Caught: The Lives of Juvenile Justice. He works with editor Christopher Werth, Executive producer Karen Frillmann, Senior Producer Veralyn Williams, and a team of reporters and editors to create the program, now in its fourth season,

The Guests: On most programs, Kai has a guest with expertise in the program topics, such as Arline Geronimus, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Dr. Gail Christopher, and Jenny Casas.

Why you have to listen: In the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Black community is dying at three times the rate of white populations. According to Johns Hopkins University, when African American residents exceed 13.4% of the popular, the death rate is double the national rate. This podcast gives insight into why this most be. Many blacks have had so much stress in their lives that they become more likely to contract many diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and COVID – irrespective of diet, exercise, living conditions, or other factors. Healthcare should be a basic right, yet medical racism persists.

Listen to United States of Anxiety 

Must-Listen Episodes:

Why Covid-19 Is Killing Black People

 Dispatches from People Stranded in Place

Inside the Prison Pandemic

Rating: Teen+

#3. Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

Brene Brown podcast logo

Unlocking Us with Brené Brown is a podcast that focuses on conversations about ideas, experiences, and creative works that deal with what it means to be human “from the bravest moments to the most brokenhearted.” Given that our country is going through a period where there is an increasing awareness that systemic racist is inbred not only in our institutions but in our thinking, many of her recent discussions are with experts who can shed light on this realization.

The Host: A research professor at the University of Houston, Brené Brown is a best-selling author of five New York Times bestsellers including her latest book, Dare to Lead, based on a seven-year study on courage and leadership. Her popular TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability has over 45 million views, which makes it one of the five most viewed in the world. Her background and outlook make her an earnest and compassionate interviewer

The Guests: While many experts have contributed to timely discussions on comparative suffering, anxiety, grief, and giving yourself permission to feel, her recent guests Ibram X. Kendi, Celeste Ng, Kerry Washington, Reese Witherspoon, and Austin Channing Brown offer particular insight about the current concerns.

For example, author Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist talks about how racist ideas are so pervasive that we, regardless of race, hardly know we are drenched. This is true even of those who try to reject racist ideas. Becoming anti-racist means being open to the realization that you may consciously or unconsciously have ideas that need changing.

Why you have to listen: Thinking about race is complex. In writing the book, even Kendi commented that he found it hard to realize his own racism in some areas. He believes – and Brené Brown, who has studied human behavior for nearly two decades concurs– that it is not a matter of being racist or not racist. Most people’s attitudes fall along a continuum; being anti-racist means realizing areas where racist thinking has crept in and then trying to change their thinking. Many white people feel guilty about our racist past, but we must be willing to confront our own racism so that we can be agents of change.

Listen to Unlocking Us Podcast

Must-Listen Episodes:

Brené with Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist

Brené with Reese Witherspoon & Kerry Washington on Little Fires Everywhere. Listen to Part with author Celeste Ng

 Rating: Teen+

 #4. Pod Save the People

Pod Save the People logo

Organizer and activist DeRay Mckesson hosts Pod Save the People to analyze today’s headlines and the deeper impact they have on race, society, and culture. From talking to a wide array of guests, he shows the complexity of what’s behind the news.

The Hosts: Host DeRay McKesson is American civil rights and Black Live Matters activist, podcaster, and former school administrator who has written for the HuffPost and The Guardian, He is joined in the podcast each week by Samuel Sinyangwe, Clint Smith, and Brittany Packnett. This team worked with a research collaborative co-founded by Sinyagwe to map police violence throughout the US.

The Guests: Recent guests have included State Senator Bill Ferguson, Mehrsa Baradaran, Justine Barron, Amerlia McDonell-Parry, and John Rappaport, who have all shed light on current events.

Why You Have to Listen: Pod Save the People is a timely podcast, which shows the complexity of modern social institutions. In a recent visit, Dr. John Rappaport, a law professor and research scholar who examines criminal procedures in the justice system, talked first about how shoplifters in California were offered the option of attending an anti-theft class offered by a private company that was the equivalent to a safe driving class at a cost of $500. The question is why didn’t the public justice system develop a similar remedy? As Rappaport mentioned, reforming the restorative justice system so that offenders could be rehabilitated without having the stigma of a criminal record (or a huge bill for the class) is time-consuming. California and other states condemned the program as extortionary so it was discontinued – but not the need for it.

He also commented that finding the reasons police brutality is on the rise. A study he cited found that when a group of sheriff’s deputies in Florida was unionized, violent incidents increased. Would the same result be found elsewhere after further study? Would be there also be an increase in domestic violence, cases where officers drew their gun, or other variables that should concern us? While he did not offer ready solutions, he cast light on the difficulties of reform.

Listen to Pod Save the People

Must-Listen Episodes:

What Science Says About Police (With John Rappaport)

Keep The Fight (With Justine Barron And Amelia Mcdonell-Parry)

Justice For Ahmaud Arbery (With State Senator Bill Ferguson)

Rating: Teen+

#5. There Goes the Neighborhood

There Goes the Neighborhood -Miami logo

Racism rears its ugly head in many areas of society, including housing. The pattern of housing in the United States is that when Blacks and other minorities move into housing, white flight is often the response. However, when cities decide to refurbish and reclaim an area to make it more appealing to trendy new residents, current residents are displaced and property values rise to unaffordable levels, Gentrification in New York Los Angeles, and now Miami is the subject of the first three seasons of the podcast There Goes the Neighborhood, another WNYC venture by Kai Wright.

The Host: As noted above in the section on The United States of Anxiety, Kai Wright is an accomplished journalist and broadcaster who works with a competent team including Saul Gonzalez (who hosted the first season), Karen Frillman, John Asante, DW Gibson, and more. Each season has been produced in conjunction with local partners. The third season consists of a trio of episodes already released for The Stakes podcast plus additional episodes.

The Guests: For each season, Kai and WNYC work with a local partner. The Nation in season one and the KCRW in season two. In season three, Nadege Green, a reporter with WLRN and former dancer, presents how Blacks were pushed away from the coveted coastal area to Magic City on a higher elevation – at least until rising sea levels created demand for the previously unwanted property. As rents in the area rise, Haitians and other residents are moved out as trendy housing is built.

Why You Have to Listen: A similar pattern unfolded in Los Angeles, where areas such as Inglewood, a black neighborhood near the beach, became attractive to affluent tech workers. In New York, where the first season focused, neighborhoods that the city wanted to gentrify in Brooklyn pushed out poorer, often Blacker, current residents. Though “climate gentrification” is at play in Miami, and “economic gentrification” is at work in other cities studied, Blacks and other minorities do not reap the rewards the cities get from the rehab.

Listen to There Goes the Neighborhood

Must-Listen Episodes

Listening to episodes from in each season in order will tell the story best.

Season 1 Welcome to ‘There Goes the Neighborhood’

Season 2 Los Angeles, You’re Next

Season 3 Premium Elevation

Rating: Teen+

 #6. Caught

Caught podcast logo

Caught is a timely podcast about the incarceration of minority teens. Every year a million youths enter the criminal justice system, According to the ACLU, one out of every three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. This is not due to a greater proclivity among Blacks to be lawbreakers but due to a number of factors often rooted in racism: poverty, hyper-vigilance of Black youth, assumptions that blacks are criminals, less tolerance of youthful mistakes, tougher sentences. Where a white boy who went joyriding in a car, got into a fight, or shoplifted from a store might get a slap on the wrist, a Black (or Hispanic) kid would be sentenced to juvie. For many youthful offenders, time in juvenile detention leads to a life of incarceration, as a criminal record limits access to jobs and lead to an increase in the likelihood of recidivism.

The Host: Journalist and broadcaster Kai Wright is aided by a team of Executive Producer Karen Frillmann, Producer Karin Pitkin, other producers who are veterans of podcasts and working with youth, and contributors such as attorney Reginald Dwayne Betts.

The Guests: Youthful offenders tell their stories in each episode. Most of them are guilty, but incarceration limits access to needed mental health services, along with educational and vocational services. They can be lost in the system unless they act out, which may provide needed services but limits their opportunities for release. Some like Reginald Dwayne Betts make it out to build successful lives for themselves, but many do not,

Why you have to listen. Those who steal, maim or kill deserve punishment, but as the program asserts, deciding that child is criminal often lets society wash its hands of the imprisoned. Since the 1960s, criminal justice policies toward youth have hardened along with the disproportionate lockups of Black and brown youth, for whom a sentence for a minor crime can permanently derail their lives. These kids do not have wealthy parents who can pay for other life-saving, life-changing treatment.

Listen to Caught

Must-Listen Episodes:

With only nine episodes in the series, listening of them to all is definitely worthwhile.

Episode 1: ‘I Just Want You to Come Home’

Episode 3: ‘He Really Wants to Shoot Someone’

Episode 9: ‘You Just Sit There and Wait for the Next Day to Come’

Rating: Teen+

#7. Code Switch

Code Switch logo

Code Switch is one of a group of NPR podcasts that have figured on many recent Vurbl lists as they are some of the best sources of information on racial issues today. The name references code-switching which means the speaker moved between two or more languages or dialect – such when a person might speak one way at home with their parents, one way when hanging out with friends, and yet another at work. While everyone does this to some degree, Blacks must code-switch more dramatically to fit in.

The Hosts: In the hands of Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, discussions of race are nuanced and thoughtful. Formerly a writer for the New York Times and managing editor or the Huffington Post’s BlackVoices vertical, Demby is the blogger who founded the collective PostBourgie blog that offered his Black friends a place to contribute to honest conversations. When Code Switch began in 2013, he contained his original blog and an accompanying podcast.

In 2016, he was joined by report Shereen Marisol Meraji, a reporter with Puerto Rican-Iranian roots who was on the ground during the Michael Brown protests in 2014. They offer a blend of curiosity, humor, and empathy to their interviews,

The Guests: Broadcasts usually include guests who inform and illuminate the discussions. Some recent guests have included Mikki Kendall, Alexis Madrigal, and Akila Johnson.

Why You Have to Listen: This podcast reminds listeners of the news behind the news. When quarantine for the coronavirus hit, the government announced several programs to help businesses overcome losses. Unfortunately, these loans and grants did not reach small business owners in a timely manner, and for some businesses owned by people of color, were not available to help at all. In the episode entitled COVID Diaries: Jessica And Sean Apply For A Loan, an interracial couple finally realized their dream of opening a capoeira gym in pricey Los Angeles They were closed down by the quarantine with two weeks, which set them on a nerve-racking course of making dozens of calls to find out what they might qualify for. After nearly two months, they got an SBA loan plus their personal stimulus checks, but have a long road to economic stability given their high rent and developing client base.

Their case draws attention to economic inequalities faced by minority business owners who may lack long-standing relationships with banks or may not own homes without much equity to borrow against to help finance their business. For decades, banks redlined Black areas, which made it difficult, if not impossible, for Blacks to build wealth at the same rate as whites.

Listen to Code Switch

Must-Listen Episodes

Bonus Episode: ‘Not Just Another Protest’

A Decade Of Watching Black People Die

Black Like Who?

Rating: Teen+

#8. Choice Media

Choice Media logo

While education should be the great equalizer in America, inequalities in school resources persist. Choice Media present the best education podcasts from around the US that shows how often schools are failing to close gaps. Some of the podcasts include are Voices4Ed, The Education Gadfly Show, edChoice, The 8 Black Hands Podcast, Learning Curve, Random Assignment, and more.

The Hosts: Depending on the podcast, the hosts vary and include educators and activists, who both lay out problems and suggest solutions, often based on research or pilot programs they have participated in.

The Guests: Whether there are guests also varies by program.

Why you have to listen: The array of programs and issues presented tune listeners into the realities – and complexities of educating a multi-cultural population. The website picks specific episodes to listen to, but the taste they offer of various podcasts will make you want to expand your list of must-listen shows. Some of the great podcasts you’ll be introduced to include these excellent podcasts:

The 8 Black Hands Podcast, presented by a team of four activists concerned with the education of black children. Recent topics include student homelessness during the pandemic, the recent protests, the implications of COVID-19, and more.

The Education Gadfly Show Podcast is produced by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and its affiliated Foundation to “promote educational excellence for every child in America by focusing on three policy areas: High Expectations, Quality Choices, and Personalized Pathways. “ Recent episodes address how schools failed to adapt to remote learning challenges, the links between school location and income, and the outsized effect of the pandemic on Catholic schools.

Research Minutes offered by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) at the University Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education “to bridge gaps between research, policy, and practice and bring valuable information to those who need it most.” Some interesting posts on grouping or tracking Black and Latino students can be math traps, teacher perceptions of the news, and the effects of COVID-19 on attitudes toward school.

Listen to the Choice Media podcast potpourri

Rating: Teen+

Confronting the racism in your own attitudes and figuring out how to bring about change is complex but doable. To assist with either of these pursuits, podcasts offer helpful direction. by looking at how racism is present in education, housing, lending, incarceration, and many other institutions of modern life. While there are many, many more podcasts available on-air, Vurbl has selected some of the best,

Discover More Great Audio…

Protest Isn’t a New Thing in America: Podcasts that Demonstrate our Ongoing Fight for Change

Black Lives Matter: 6 Podcasts Featuring Black Voices

Top 10 Social Issues Podcasts to Inform and Inspire

About the author


Carol loves to research and prepare content in a way that appeals to her audiences, When not working, she loves to read. Her current guilty pleasures are comic mysteries by Ben Rehder and chick lit by Jennifer Weiner.
A one-time doctoral student in American History, Carol discovered that her true love was marketing and spent much of her career in market research and marketing communications.
As a freelance copywriter, Carol has written content for blogs and websites in a variety of industries.