Friday, March 6, 2015

Collecting Narratives: Podcasts I'm Listening To Right Now

A few months, I started to become very conscious of the fact that most of the media I was consuming was created by people who look and sound like me.  While this impulse is natural, it is also super problematic for someone like me interested in cross-cultural dialogue.  When my lens into other cultures is always being filtered through even the most well-intentioned white people, there's the inevitable danger of fetishizing the sense of difference and not seeing those communities as fully human.

I started to think about this deeply in the criticisms of Sarah Koenig's smash hit podcast "Serial."  In one particular article headlined, "Serial and White Reporter Privilege," Jay Caspian Kang takes aim at Koenig's cultural tourism in her investigation of the communities of Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. "Who among us (and here, I am talking to fellow people of color)," Kang writes, "hasn't felt that subtle, discomfiting burn whenever the very nice white person across the table expresses fascination with every detail about our families that strays outside of the expected narrative?"  I've felt my own version of this whenever Christians in Ohio would tell me "Wow, it's so cool that you're Jewish!" but it rarely occurred to me that I could be guilty of the same annoying behavior.

But this is not a post about me flagellating myself over white guilt.  This is a post about sharing some of the awesome podcasts I've discovered by voices expressing narratives I would love to see get more recognition.

Counter Stories, from Minnesota Public Radio:  From the website: "A weekly discussion of how people of color view life in Minnesota.  With Anthony Galloway, Luz Maria Frias, Don Eubanks, and Hlee Lee.  Hosted by David Cazares." This was one of the first finds on my search, and my only complaint is that it isn't long enough.  Each week the group discusses a particular topic, from Bill Cosby, to ABC's Fresh Off the Boat, to the issue of why people of color recruited to Minnesota don't seem to want to stay there. All of the panelists on the show are incredibly engaging, and infuse their personal observations about political and social issues with that soothing mixture of nerdiness, warmth and humor that is so characteristically NPR.  Especially interesting if your image of Minnesota consists of Prairie Home Companion and Rose's recollections of life in St. Olaf on "The Golden Girls."

The Promised Podcast, from TLV 1:  This is a new discovery, recommended to me by the head of my program here in Jerusalem.  Another panel discussion show that wrestles with issues in Israeli culture and politics, from a center-left perspective.  The show tackles issues ranging from the Ashkenazi-Mizhrahi divide, to Israel's tech industry, to the ethics of human rights tourism.  While the hosts Ashkenazi background (a.k.a European) makes it difficult for them really discuss racial tensions in Israel the most in-depth way, they definitely touch on important topics and can serve as a great first step to anyone just wading into these issues.

Ottoman History Podcast:  This one I am just wading into, and while to be honest the entertainment value is a bit hit and miss between episodes, the show shines an important light on moments in history often overlooked in Western discourse.  For instance, a recent episode tackled the history of the Jews in Algeria, and the differences in legal status between the populations who lived in the northern part of the country versus those that lived in southern part.  Another fascinating episode tackled Ottoman slavery practices Ottoman Galata (neighborhood in Istanbul) during the early modern period.  While Muslim society today is normally discussed in Western media as backward and primitive, the stories in this podcast serve as a reminder of the complex and multifaceted history of the Middle East that in many ways set the stage for the world we are living in today.

Girl On Guy with Aisha Tyler: Viewers of "Archer" will recognize Aisha Tyler as the voice of special agent Lana Kane.  In each episode of the podcast, Tyler interviews one of her fellow performers about issues ranging from the entertainment industry, to politics, to racial and gender dynamics.  Tyler is engaging as hell, and manages to bring out shades of dimension in her colleagues that might not be apparent from their more famous work. Standout episodes I've listened to are actor Romany Malco (from "Weeds" and The 40-Year-Old-Virgin) and comedian Kristen Schaal (fans of both "Archer" and "Bob's Burgers" will have fun nerding out over the crossover).

I've also recently downloaded Viewfinder and Slavery: A 21st Century Evil from Al Jazeera English, Institute for Middle East Understanding, and Lectures by Ismail Adam Patel. If anyone has other suggestions, please send them my way! 

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