So how do you see Code Switch and what is it supposed to do?
Obviously, the kind of formal talk is this: Code Switch is a show about NPR’s race and identity. And we’re grappling with all of these big questions about how we identify with ourselves… but race is that really messy concept, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a matter of personal identity, but it’s also a matter of the organization and stratification of society, isn’t it? It’s about who we find community with, it’s about how we allocate our tax dollars, right? As all of these questions are matters of race. So, that was just a really difficult and provocative topic to cover. And obviously I mean the last year has been… with everyone turning their attention to these race issues, turning that attention to us, to really guide them through that, we felt a lot of responsibility to be. sort of good shepherds, but also good traveling companions, right? And try to understand everything we’re talking about when we talk about race.
You’ve been talking about this breed topic since the early 2000s. You started blogging. How did Code Switch become Code Switch?
Like you said, we were a blog. I was the principal, the main blogger and Shereen was reporting for NPR, for our news shows, like All Things Considered and Morning Edition, but we didn’t have a podcast, because nobody in 2013, when we launched. … There were podcasts, NPR, but not a ton.
And so one time we were all in the office and Karen – Karen Grigsby is on our team – mentioned that there is the whitest, historically black college in the United States in West Virginia. And we thought, “What are you talking about?” And it turns out this school is called Bluefield State University: 98% white, but it’s an HBCU. And Karen said to me, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if you went for the ride home?” And we were like, “Absolutely, we should go back home to see what’s good.” And so we went back to school at the whitest historically black college / university.
When we found this banana story that couldn’t fit in a seven minute radio play, we had to tell this long story of how that black college became a white college and that involved bombing and that involved, everything. kind of class conflict between like… we’re back to school, it was like 65, like middle class / upper middle class Deltas looking aside these poor white people going to school, who were like current undergraduates. It was this banana story. And we thought, “How can we say that?” And Shereen was like, “Maybe we should pilot an episode of a podcast. And it was like the first seed of it. And one day we will find this tape again. We will try to understand what happened and put it together.
How has the conversation, in your mind, evolved to today where it’s a topic that I think a lot of white people have never talked about, but now it’s, it’s a topic that people are [talking about] at the table across the country?
What’s wild is that there have always been, obviously, a lot of people of color talking about this stuff, haven’t there? But one of the things that’s been fascinating lately – we’ve been doing Code Switch as a team for just over eight years, but as a podcast for five years – we’ve been talking about it a lot. As if we were learning with our audience, with our readers before and now with our listeners. And a lot of this stuff, it just gets more and more complicated all the time.
So generally speaking in the media there was a lot of interest in race issues in America with a very specific focus during the Obama administration, wasn’t there? “Why haven’t we won? »… Michael Brown arrives, Trayvon Martin arrives. Then you see the Trump administration is following this immediately. And you start to see, like, obviously there are structural forces in the world that create disparities and all that, right? We are all increasingly aware of the extent of this inequity and that individual excellence is no balm for it.
I have to tie it back to Philly because when we started this conversation you said that Philadelphia kind of laid the foundation for your worldview. How did he do it?
So many ways. So I’m from South Philly, but I went to a Magnet school. I went to Carver High School of Engineering and Science. And it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that the Magnet Schools in Philadelphia and many major cities, especially in the Northeast, were created in response to white theft. I grew up after the Rizzo years, right? But like I grew up in a town where my mom told me about the Philadelphia Police Department and what they did to black people. Law. I learned a bit about the MOVE bombing, and got to explore that a bit more, but all of these things are things that have deeply shaped the way I think I relate to this day,
Given how much of the discussion the breed has kind of broadened to, how do you stay focused?
I mean, it’s really hard. Like literally every day, we could do a different story, right? Like you just want to do, like, it’s a race conflict story, isn’t it? It is a story of racial injustice. A lot of times we have to take a step back and kind of like, “How do we tell a story in a way that we learn something?” So do we all come out with a different frame of reference or at least a different way of looking at these issues that we all live with? It’s a fun problem to try to solve. You know what I mean?