For all intents and purposes, the fall of 2020 is looking very different from the carefree days of yore—by which I mean this time last year. With COVID-19 still a very real presence in all of our daily lives, we’ve had to turn to alternate avenues for distraction, entertainment and information. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to learn that our media consumption habits have changed in response, with recent data indicating that we consume up to 60% more content than usual just by staying home. This is especially true when it comes to podcasts, a medium which offers listeners the sort of immediate social connection they may otherwise be missing—all while multitasking. Indeed, according to Voxnest, the number of global podcast listens increased by 42% in April 2020 at the height of the crisis.
Understandably, the global pandemic is taking up a lot of our mental bandwidth, especially as circumstances evolve, with stay-at-home orders slowly being lifted and business restrictions changing to reflect new recommendations. And like any new event or trend, people want to talk about it. Even before lockdown was official, we saw a dramatic uptick in the number of science, news and health podcasts dedicated to the novel coronavirus. Even more recently, the world has been witness to intense furor over the death of George Floyd, a tragedy which sparked a renewed surge in the Black Lives Matter movement.
We are quite literally living in an era which will go down in history for a multitude of reasons. It’s more important than ever that we learn all that we can, whether from a health and safety perspective with COVID-19 or staying up-to-date on the important social issues that affect our current political climate. That being said, here are 10 podcasts that are both timely and topical to help you educate yourself this fall:
Produced by The New York Times and hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter famous for her coverage of racial injustice, this podcast is an in-depth exploration of slavery in the USA. The show focuses on how slavery has been an intrinsic part of American history since August 1619, the moment when the first slave-trading ship docked at the British colony of Virginia carrying over 20 Africans. As the NYT writers put it: “America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed.” From then, the podcast covers the birth of the cotton industry, the cultural appropriation of black music, racial exclusion in healthcare and the long fight over land ownership. Even though this podcast has only a handful of episodes, it provides a raw, powerful and immersive narrative which breathes new life into the historical facts.
2. Code Switch
Not for the faint of heart, this podcast by NPR is a series of frank, intimate and riveting conversations which confront issues of race and racism without flinching. This show brings to the forefront how these topics affect us all, regardless of the colour of our skin, and how they impact every aspect of our lives, from music and art to politics and sports. Even if it’s sometimes difficult to hear, we can all benefit from having our eyes (and ears) opened to the daily struggles faced by minority groups. Hosted and produced by a multicultural team of journalists, including co-hosts Shereen Meraji, award-winning journalist, and Gene Demby, former managing editor of Huffington Post’s BlackVoices, this show is a must-listen for anyone trying to better educate themselves on the black experience.
3. Epidemic with Dr. Celine Gounder and Ronald Klain
Produced by Just Human Productions, an organization which aims to change how people think about health and social justice, Epidemic is a weekly show dedicated to infectious outbreaks, with the first season focusing exclusively on the current COVID-19 pandemic. The podcast features interviews with actual experts in infectious disease and public health and aims to answer common misconceptions and questions by spreading the most accurate and up-to-date information available. Hosted by Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, and Ron Klain, former Ebola response coordinator for the White House, Epidemic i s a deep dive into the various factors which caused COVID-19 to become a global phenomenon. Backed by scientific analysis, this podcast is perfect for those who want to be better informed and help safeguard their families and communities.
4. The Secret Life of Canada
Although many podcasts focus on the United States, few if any delve into the lesser known and often flatly denied history of inequality in Canada. Produced by the CBC, this biweekly podcast uncovers the secret, sometimes shameful past of this country, from our treatment of indigenous peoples and early Chinese migrants to the forced relocation of the Inuit Eskimos in the 1950s and, more recently, the string of ‘blackface’ scandals at Canadian universities. Created and co-hosted by Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson, this powerful female duo sheds some much-needed light on an uncomfortable topic with unfailing humour and grace, without being afraid to dig into the nitty-gritty of our hidden history.
5. Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air
Unafraid to push boundaries and offer his unfiltered opinions on current events, Emmy award-winning producer, actor and comedian Larry Wilmore makes use of his eponymous podcast to discuss topical issues and interview various notables in the worlds of sports, culture, politics and entertainment. In his two most recent episodes, Wilmore is joined by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and actress Uzo Aduba to discuss the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, racism in America and the second-wave feminist movement. Now more than ever, we need insightful yet entertaining perspectives to help counteract the blatant and often unapologetic racism and misogyny we see and hear on a daily basis.
6. Field Tripping
Hosted by Ronan Levy, entrepreneur in the cannabis and biotech industries, Field Tripping is a relatively new podcast dedicated to exploring psychedelic experiences and their ability to affect our lives. In particular, their episode featuring Director X was extremely timely, recorded just weeks before the murder of George Floyd and the eruption of the violent protests in the United States and around the world in response to systemic racism. As such, this podcast is uniquely primed to unpack some of what is happening currently. Director X views behaviours of violence as going all the way back to our primal instincts as human beings. In this episode, they explore violence and trauma, and the possibility that psychedelics may hold the key to not only healing ourselves as individuals, but the rifts between entire communities as well.
7. Coronavirus Daily – NPR
Another podcast produced by NPR, Coronavirus Daily is the perfect bite-sized podcast for those who want to stay informed about the pandemic without succumbing to ‘news fatigue’. As we’ve all experienced, too much news can be more detrimental than beneficial to our mental health. Each episode of this daily show is approximately 10 minutes long, so you can stay up-to-date without drowning in the never-ending sea of virus-related news. Hosted by Kelly McEvers, journalist and seasoned podcast host, Coronavirus Daily features stories and interviews concentrating on all aspects of COVID-19, from current statistics, mask-wearing, vaccine trials and school and business re-openings to how the pandemic is affecting unemployment, the upcoming U.S. presidential election as well as this summer’s BLM protests.
8. Black Wall Street 1921
Chronicling the events and tensions which led to the violent attack of more than 800 black residents in the district known as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this podcast offers an insightful re-telling of history which is more pertinent today than ever. Described as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” the Tulsa massacre saw white rioters attack, loot and kill hundreds of members of a prosperous black community over the course of Memorial Day weekend, 1921. Podcast host and local TV news reporter, Nia Clark, helps to provide context to this tragic event through a series of fascinating interviews with people who were either there themselves or whose ancestors were. In addition, the show explores how both local law enforcement and city officials conspired to help the instigators of the massacre escape justice, while up to 10,000 black residents were rendered homeless and never compensated for the loss of their property.
9. America Dissected: Coronavirus
A spin-off of the classic podcast America Dissected, a series which objectively and critically analyzed the United States’ fundamentally flawed relationship with science and its own healthcare system, America Dissected: Coronavirus is an in-depth examination of the current COVID-19 outbreak and how it became a global pandemic. Hosted by Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former public health professor and medical doctor, this biweekly podcast focuses on the latest virus-related developments as well as the bigger picture of how we got here and where we should go next. Equally fascinating, thought-provoking and informative, this show is recommended for those listeners who want a deeper understanding of this outbreak at both the macro and micro levels, without succumbing to political bias, media-fuelled hysteria or conspiracy theories.
10. Joyful Sundays
Hosted by Jodi Kovitz, Canadian lawyer and nonprofit executive, Joyful Sundays is a brand new podcast designed to inspire, delight and gently encourage us all to live more mindfully, meaningfully and intentionally. In these confusing and distressing times, we need now more than ever to take care of both ourselves and others. In the premiere episode of the podcast, Kovitz interviews Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, a venture capital fund dedicated to investing in startups led by underrepresented entrepreneurs, including people of colour, women and those in the LGBTQ community. Apart from the wonderful work she’s done to minimize funding disparities in the tech sector, Hamilton’s own backstory is itself incredibly inspirational, as she started her fund while she was homeless and built her company quite literally from the ground up.
For many people of colour, the attention that recent events have called to long-standing issues of police violence, systemic racism and white privilege is nothing new. But for others, it’s past time that we inform ourselves and make tangible efforts to be part of the change we wish to see in the world. Hopefully, some of the podcasts above will help provide an eye-opening window to the current state of affairs affecting our society today.