Podcasting has been a double-edged sword for marginalized voices. On one hand, “anyone can start a podcast,” as a medium with relatively low barriers of entry. But to no one’s shock, podcasting has also not been the egalitarian haven that premise promises. It’s a loss for everyone who loves the medium — not only because we’re missing out on powerful stories but because there’s evidence of podcasting as a potentially impactful tool for anti-racism.
For a long time, podcasting was seen as a white dude thing. In a 2015 sampling of podcasts, it was found that only 18 percent had non-white hosts while the number of non-white female hosts was even more abysmally low. This only perpetuated podcasting’s chicken-and-egg problem, with people excusing the lack of diverse voices by pointing to how listener demographics similarly lacked diversity.
While affluent white men still make up a majority of podcast listeners, listener diversity has unsurprisingly improved alongside more creator diversity over the years. At a time when the world is loudly reckoning with the systemic racism that Black people have been talking about for centuries, it’s long time we re-examine who we assume podcasting is for and who we give the mic to. Podcasts are also an easy way for people to listen to more Black voices and creators.
White listeners need to be conscientious about what it means to “consume” Black culture, though, or any culture that is not theirs for that matter. There is a fine line between listening in order to broaden your knowledge, understanding, and engagement, versus imposing your own values or interjecting yourself into conversations intended to exist outside the white gaze (the societal pressure placed on creators and artists to conform the Black experience to white audiences and perspectives).
It is a privilege for non-Black consumers to be able to listen to Black voices for an hour of their day without also needing to shoulder the burdens of being Black in America. If any of these podcasts raise a sense of discomfort, it’s the listener’s job to do the internal work of questioning where that reaction comes from. It is absolutely not the job of these hosts to do that work for non-Black listeners, especially after they’ve already consumed that creator’s free content.
Also, learning by listening to Black people more is the easy part and the absolute bare minimum. It’s only truly helpful when paired with using what is learned to question the status quo, along with engaging in dedicated longterm action. Being actively anti-racist takes work, some of which we’ve outlined here.
This list isn’t meant to help white people who only recently started having conversations about racism. It’s intended to spotlight the plethora of Black excellence proliferating the podcasting field. Many of these podcasts deal with race and racial issues, but Black voices obviously contribute a lot more to the podcasting landscape than that. Diversifying the creator pool has led to a wealth of better podcasts that better reflect American life as it exists in the real world.
So here’s just some of our favorite podcasts helmed by Black hosts, spanning across a wide breadth of topics — from pop culture to politics. There are plenty of others to try depending on your specific tastes, too, whether you’re into nerdy stuff, politics and social justice, or literally anything and everything else.
What it’s about: History, society, culture
Why it’s great: (From our Best Limited-Series Podcasts to Binge roundup) As all-encompassing as it is powerfully specific and personal, 1619 is the story of modern America — and the people who built it through blood, sweat, tears, and hope. It’s a version of the story a great many of us never hear, purposefully kept hidden in the margins of U.S. history books. But 1619 isn’t just a podcast about the history of slavery as the genesis of almost every aspect of American society and culture today. This isn’t just a sobering lesson, or hard pill to swallow. By weaving the historical with the personal and the poetic, Nikole Hannah-Jones (alongside other guest hosts) paints a viscerally captivating portrait of Black Americans’ lived experience, and all the simultaneous struggle, strength, oppression, ambition, pain, and humor needed to survive. 1619 is a story about race and the inequalities embedded into a system predicated on its conceit. But above all it’s a story about us, the people we were then and still are now.
What it’s about: Critical analysis of pop and art culture
Why it’s great: New York Times culture critics Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham bring some of the smartest cultural analysis directly to your eardrums on a weekly basis. The scope of what they cover is one of the widest of any pop culture podcast, whether TV, film, music, art, or the web. From the niche to the mainstream, their analysis always zeroes in on what each piece of media says about America, which often intersects with topics of race, gender, and identity.
What it’s about: History, politics, society, culture, race
Why it’s great: Hosted by Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, Code Switch adds some much-needed no-bullshitery to NPR’s line of venerated podcasts. Tackling issues of race from past to present to future and around the globe, their approach is personal yet wide-reaching, uncompromising yet inspiring. It’s a podcast that never backs down from the hardest discussions, even questioning their own outlet’s policies and practices. Alongside the rigorous reporting that illuminates a variety of crushing realities and lived experiences, Demby and Meraji also find plenty of time to celebrate the greatness of marginalized cultures and identities.
What it’s about: Police brutality, social injustice, true crime, grief
Why it’s great: (From our Best Limited-Series Podcasts to Binge roundup) Somebody is a gut-wrenching reminder of the struggle for survival, answers, and basic personhood that Black Americans face. As yet another viral video of a Black man’s senseless killing — Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting — launches an overdue criminal investigation, Shapearl Wells’ story dives into the complicated, conflicting, and sickening realities of grieving a loved one killed by a nation’s broken systems. Her son, Courtney Wells, was found shot outside a Chicago police station, and the explanation for how it happened is inconsistent at best. As a mother tirelessly investigating her own son’s death, Wells also captures the exasperation of having to justify the worth of his life to the public — the double-edged sword of forcing people to care so you can get answers. The story is heart-wrenchingly personal yet culturally resonant. It’s a must-listen for all who don’t face the lived experience of this ever-present fear and threat.
What it’s about: Celebrity gossip, pop culture, comedy, black and queer identity
Why it’s great: The Read does not hold back, and for that we thank it for its unwavering service. Co-hosts Kid Fury (a self-described “Shade Connoisseur”) and Crissle West spill all the tea on a weekly basis, covering the drama we love to relish in but also having zero bullshit discussions on who and what needs calling out.
Truth Be Told
What it’s about: Advice, self-help, work, life, race
Why it’s great: Tonya Mosley’s Truth Be Told is the definition of essential, with advice for surviving the day-to-day struggles of being a person of color in America. Usually, each episode centers around a specific topic or question raised by a listener, with Mosley bringing a “Wise One” (aka expert) to help work through it. As the podcast’s description puts perfectly, “We’re like the friend you call after a long, exhausting day.” You can submit your own questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling (415) 553-2802, or using the hashtag #DearTBT.
What it’s about: Comedy, true crime, general fuckery
Why it’s great: The greatest scam Laci Mosley’s ever pulled is stealing my heart right out of my chest with her hysterical podcast on frauds. As the never-ending season of the scam has shown, there’s nothing more American than a grift. Making the best out of the worst behavior, this comedian and actress is reigning queen of her own sub-genre: “true fun crime.”
What it’s about: Society, mass incarceration, immigration, crime, art, culture
Why it’s great: Initially intended as a podcast made by the incarcerated and for the incarcerated, Ear Hustle broadened its audience to everyone and became one of the most essential listens in the field. Co-host Earlonne Woods, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State, brings his and others’ post-incarceration stories alongside those still on the inside. You’d think a show about the lives of those most dehumanized by the prison industrial complex would be a hard listen. It is hard to reckon with the realities revealed by Ear Hustle, as you learn exactly how unjustifiable what we call “justice” really is. But it’s also a podcast filled with joy, music, art, poetry, and humor. It is, above all, about people maintaining their dignity as best they can from within a system designed to strip them of humanity.
What a Day
What it’s about: Daily news
Why it’s great: A daily news podcast from the Pod Save America team, What A Day is co-hosted by author and comedian Akilah Hughes (who Mashable interviewed for its own History Becomes Her podcast). In a sea of white dude daily news podcasts, Hughes and co-host Gideon Resnick often cover stories that slip through the cracks but speak to the day’s most central issues. Akilah is a voice of clarity amid the chaos of political news, making the constant deluge of garbage digestible and accessible in the span of about 20 minutes.
Thirst Aid Kit
What it’s about: Romance, pop culture, hot guys, gender, race
Why it’s great: Thirst Aid Kit is a beacon of love, light, and (of course) unquenchable thirst. Through in-depth discussions on romance in pop culture, hosts Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins dive into the bottomless pool of women’s desires. While the conversation stays light and humorous, they also get to the heart of underlying issues surrounding representations of romance, from why it awakens our thirst to who it excludes. Adewunmi and Perkins create a beautiful space for normalizing the desire of women (particularly women of color), questioning social scripts while envisioning a world of healthier love with more unbridled passion.
What it’s about: Storytelling, drama, everything
Why it’s great: Glynn Washington is one of the best storytellers in podcasting. Every week, he weaves together the stories of various guests around a specific topic. His introductions are a journey, grounded in the best of the oral storytelling tradition; his vivid language is only aided by the sumptuous soundscape that puts you in the moment. If you love all this, be sure to check out Spooked too, centered around some of the best real-life scary stories you’ll ever hear.
What it’s about: True-crime, police brutality
Why it’s great: (From our Best True Crime Podcasts of All Time roundup) A Peabody Award-winner, 74 Seconds makes heartbreaking sense of the senseless murders of unarmed black men by police officers, zeroing in on the case of Minnesota’s Philando Castile. MPR News’ 74 Seconds refers to the amount of time that elapsed in the Facebook Live video captured by Philando Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat when an officer who’d stopped him for a minor traffic violation shot Castile seven times point-blank in his car. His name would go on to become a rallying cry at Black Lives Matter protests, along with the names of far too many other unarmed black men murdered by police brutality. But 74 Seconds does the remarkable job of painting a vivid portrait of who Castile was before he was a victim, depicting the insurmountable loss of his life as well as the larger cultural forces at play. 74 Seconds refuses to let you become desensitized to the now sickeningly familiar true crime cases we’ve seen in countless videos broadcast across social media.