Images courtesy of GirlTrek and Spotify
From an LGBTQ+ guide to travel to Michelle Obama's first audio series, here are a handful of our favorite podcasts from Black creators and travelers.
Even before COVID-19 swallowed the world, podcasts were a way to open a door to new people, topics, and countries. But during quarantine, we here at AFAR have leaned even more heavily into podcasts—and stumbled onto dozens of new favorites. And now, when it’s more critical than ever to shine a light on underrepresented voices in the media world, we wanted to share the podcasts we’re loving from Black creators.
So whether you’re back in travel mode or still sticking close to home, here are more than a dozen of our favorite shows about politics and food, about Black history and identity, and yes, about travel. Let’s get listening.
If you’ve ever dreamed of sitting down with Michelle Obama over a glass of wine, her new weekly podcast is the next best thing. The Spotify series—developed in partnership with the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground—takes you deep into her world, starting with her very first guest: her husband. If you’ve read Michelle’s memoir, Becoming, some of the material may sound familiar (she talks about her upbringing, and even brings her brother and girlfriends on as guests). This focus on the people closest to her is intentional: While future seasons will be shaped around different topics, this first season is all about the relationships “that make us who we are,” she says.
GirlTrek is on a mission to save Black women’s lives. Launched in 2010, the nonprofit encourages women to take control of their health, their communities, and their history by walking. Their podcast, Black History Bootcamp, was created in service of those goals. Listeners sign up for the 21-day bootcamp—the most recent bootcamp launched in August—and each day received a playlist, a story, and code to call into a phone conversation, meant to be listened to while walking. Each conversation revolves around a historical figure—poet Audre Lorde, civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin—and is recorded, which becomes the podcast. While each 21-episode season is created in real-time, they are excellent listening material for any walk, any time.
This excellent, well-researched audio series from the New York Times begins with the tragic moment, more than 400 years ago, when slavery began in the United States. But the series is about so much more. Host Nikole Hannah-Jones—who created the entire multimedia 1619 Project and whose essay won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary—takes you into the ways the people who were enslaved and stripped of power built the very country we live in today. She explores the way that slavery “turned a poor, fledgling nation into a financial powerhouse,” the roots of American music, and the ways that Black Americans shaped the country’s first federal health care programs.
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After a series of conversations about feeling underrepresented by mainstream travel resources, Portland-based colleagues Serita Wesley, Rebecca Russell, Farin Nikdel, Vivian Zhang, and Becca Ramos—all well-traveled women of color—created On She Goes in May 2017. The digital travel platform “made for women of color, by women of color” includes personal essays, city guides, and a popular podcast (now in its fifth season) hosted by the founders. Expect lots of candid conversation around everything from immigration to fear mongering in travel, and tune in for special guests like Call Your Girlfriend’s Aminatou Sow and comedian Chanel Ali.
This is a fascinating series of very short (as in less than three minutes) daily news briefs geared toward the (often-underserved) LGBTQ+ community. Conceived as a series of microcasts—hosted by singer-songwriter Teraj for Amazon’s Alexa—they’re insightful and entertaining. Topics range from tips for a hassle-free LGBTQ+ trip to the best nudist resorts in Pennsylvania. When you don’t have a lot of time, but you want a little queer content or news in your life, Gay Travel Today fits the bill.
From former New York Times writer Walter Thompson-Hernández, this podcast is a love letter to Los Angeles and a rumination on race, identity, and belonging. Episodes feel more like meditations than a scripted series and include deep dives on Kobe Bryant, Compton’s famous cowboys, and even a conversation with Thompson-Hernández’s mother, who moved to Los Angeles from a small town in Mexico when she was 14. (Thompson-Hernández’s father is Black.) The eight-part series, which debuted in July 2020, is a nice reminder of the many ways in which cities can feel distinctly our own.
Ear Hustle, now in its fifth season, is a nonfiction podcast from Radiotopia about life inside the prison system and what happens once people leave it. Each 30-minute episode of Ear Hustle tells stories that are intimate and funny, as well as heartrending and difficult. Above all, their stories are human. Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams (both formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison) cofounded the podcast with Bay Area visual artist Nigel Poor. This year, Ear Hustle was a finalist for the inaugural Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting.
Brooklyn-based Rondel Holder started his Soul Society 101 website in 2012, after realizing that there were few reviews or stories told from the perspective of a Black traveler; the Soul Society 101 podcast followed soon after. On each episode—which usually runs between 45 minutes and an hour—Holder invites a special guest to talk about travel and pop culture. Past guests have included full-time family traveler Monet Hambrick and retreat curator Gloria Atanmo.
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Listening to Still Processing sometimes feels like you’re the quiet friend at the party, taking in an animated conversation between two people who have Opinions—and are not afraid to say so. A weekly culture podcast from the New York Times, Still Processing covers pretty much whatever hosts Jenna Wortham (who writes for the New York Times Magazine) and Wesley Morris (the paper’s critic at large) seem to want to discuss in the fields of TV, movies, art, music, and the internet: reparations for Aunt Jemima, learning from the AIDS epidemic, listening to Lauryn Hill, and what Tiger King says about America’s relationship to freedom. It’s a rare podcast that manages at once to be substantive and an easy listen.
A long-running public radio show that won a Peabody Award in 1994 for its “pioneering role in the ‘world music’ movement,” Afropop Worldwide has been available as a podcast since 2015. The hour-long “Classic” program is published every other Thursday, while the 20–30-minute “Closeup” episodes—which zoom in on music through the lens of music, politics, history, and culture—are released every other Tuesday. It’s hard to imagine a better guide than longtime host Georges Collinet, who is from Cameroon and delights as much in presenting information about drum speech from Nigeria as he does the roots of Puerto Rican salsa.
Listening to chef Tanya Holland’s new podcast is like pulling up a chair—not at her lauded Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, California, but at her kitchen table. Holland is only five episodes in but conversations with the chef’s high-profile guests, such as chef and Netflix host Samin Nosrat and musician Questlove, already feel deeply intimate. They do touch on food—for example, Samin shares the hot sauces that got her through quarantine, including those from Tia Lupita—but they’re more free-ranging, traveling between subjects like cultural divides, our sense of belonging, and the poetry of recipe writing.
Created by journalists of color and led by cohosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, Code Switch has been produced since 2016, but it became one of NPR’s top programs in the wake of the George Floyd protests. (Its tagline? “Race. In Your Face.”) Episodes are released every few days and cover race, culture, and diversity; recent episodes include why white people decided to protest police brutality in droves in 2020 and not 2014 and 2016, the “Karen” archetype, and tensions between Black voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Each week, host Wanda Duncan introduces listeners to a different woman who has “made travel a large part of their lives.” Her guests are based around the world—and they aren’t all travel professionals—and in each episode, they share their work, where they live, and where and how they travel. But Duncan encourages her guests to delve deeper, into pockets like the way we’re raised and the way our identities shape our travel experiences. The podcast is an empowering testament to the power of change and the benefits of travel, no matter where you go.
In the first narrative audio endeavor from The Atlantic, reporter Vann R. Newkirk II tackles recent history: Hurricane Katrina. But the eight-episode story, researched for more than a year and released in March, goes beyond rehashing what happened in 2005 when the levees broke in New Orleans. Rather, Newkirk aims to highlight lesser-known events from the aftermath and dig into the long-standing effect of Katrina, sharing perspectives from survivors and officials 15 years after the hurricane struck. It’s a very human story about a natural disaster made worse at the hands of humankind.
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