“Okay thanks Mom, I’ll check it out,” I retort with an eyeroll.
I have to give it up to my mom on this one. In the past year, following my involvement in the Diversity Club at East, I immersed myself in the study of race in this country. My mom took it upon herself to forward me every single article on race and identity she found. Finally, after what seems like hundreds of articles and blogs she has sent me, most of which are so boring I start dozing off halfway through, I found the podcast Code Switch.
Race, ethnicity and culture. Those are the themes behind every one of the roughly 80 half-hour episodes that Code Switch has produced since their creation in May 2016. The discussion of race has led to an explosion of talk shows, blogs and news that has given way to many good discussions, and quite a few bad – que InfoWars and Breitbart. Unlike those two, Code Switch presents the material and allows the listener to form their own position.
A majority of the success of the show comes from the diversity of it’s content; Code Switch isn’t focused on one racial group or minority, or on a certain set of issues. The podcast capitalizes on the relatability of race and uses it to connect to the listener – even me, the average, white male.
Even though the episodes have next to nothing in common, it still wasn’t hard for me to find multiple episodes that caught my interest. While not every episode is on a riveting topic like police shootings or corruption in the legal system, Code Switch makes them worth the listen.
The podcasts, broadcasted every Wednesday on NPR online or on any podcast service, started as a way for the creators, Shereen Marisol Meraji, who is Puerto Rican and Iranian, and Gene Demby, who is black, to debunk the claim that following Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, America was now post-racial – and to prove that people continue to “code-switch.” Which, according to Code Switch, in it’s simplest form, is subconsciously fitting in with what you perceive to be the right actions or personna.
“We decided to call this team Code Switch because much of what we’ll be exploring are the different spaces we each inhabit and the tensions of trying to navigate between them,” Demby said in describing the purpose of the podcast. “In one sense, code-switching is about dialogue that spans cultures. It evokes the conversation we want to have here.”
Code Switch makes the episodes worth a listen. The ability of the show to relate to all listeners and remain applicable is a great option for anyone looking to expand upon their understanding of race. They don’t focus on a single issue or change that they wish to see happen, and being very dogged in my opinion, I found it refreshing to not have someone tell me how I should think.
As I was scrolling through the dozens of episodes on the Code Switch home page, two caught my eye. One, a feature on a black woman fighting to get into the legal marijuana business after dealing on the black market since she was 15. The other, an examination of Tupac’s influence in the 20 years following his death from the perspective of a black man who has followed him his entire life.
Nearly every episode starts the same way: an audio clip from someone involved in the topic. The clip, short and abrupt, blindsides me and is usually followed by the disclaimer, “Heads up, today’s podcast contains language that some people might find offensive.”
Each episode’s content varies from the last. But in each, there is a sense of inquiry from the hosts, that made me much more intrigued by their story. Miraji and Demby show real interest in the subject they are covering, asking interesting questions on perspective and experiences that helps keep the interview and discussion lively. The desire to learn more about the topic at hand is passed from host to listener, and this alone went a long way in creating an immersive and engaging experience for their audience, which is necessary since there are no visuals whatsoever.
Both episodes, one dedicated to Tupac and the other to marijuana, although they are on very different topics have a link. They both use experiences that people have had in showing how they perceive a topic that the majority wouldn’t think about.
The marijuana episode focuses more on active racial acts against blacks. The Tupac episode, however, is more directed at the perception of these acts from the view of the minorities. Both of these sides are of importance, but it seems to me, that candid accounts, untainted by opinion, are becoming more scarce; this is far from the case in Code Switch. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to people who I have next to nothing in common with share their perspective on race.
The show doesn’t try to pontificate on what life is like or how we should feel about certain issues. The freedom to create your own conclusions from the stories portrayed give Code Switch life, that they will surely continue in the future.