Listening to podcasts has long been an essential part of my self-care. There’s something special about tuning into a story, or dipping into a conversation where you can be a fly on the wall, learning something or being taken to a world you would never have experienced otherwise.
As a child, I used to go to the library every two weeks and max out both mine and my mum’s card allowances, walking out with a pile of all of the books-on-tape I could carry - back when audiobooks were cassette tapes in big plastic binders.
As I’ve got older, podcasts have taken the place of audiobooks, and I listen incessantly. I have podcast in my ear when I’m walking to work (pre-Covid-19 life), I have one playing through a speaker when I’m cooking or romping around my house, and every night I have one under my pillow, giving me good dreams.
To me, listening to a podcast is like hanging out with your coolest friends - a moment in your day to laugh and unwind, and to learn something new without having to worry about having to come up with something smart to say yourself. It’s basically perfect.
In this moment, when we’re surrounded by so many images and stories of of Black and brown suffering, taking a moment to regroup and experience Black joy and happiness instead of pain, is deeply cathartic.
Here are my top picks of some of the most fun, soothing, and joyful podcasts in Black culture today:
1) Another Round
Another Round is pure Black Girl Magic - it’s impossible to listen to hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton and feel sad.
Although the show is on an extended hiatus at the moment, it has a huge back catalogue that I dip into whenever I need a bit of a pick up. It’s hilarious, it’s real, it feels like hanging out for drinks out with your two cool, funny friends.
Every week the hosts get together in the studio, with their 'Pod Squad', to pour a drink, talk about, and enjoy, all things Blackness.
In the final segment of each episode, each host picks someone in the culture to buy a metaphorical round for - celebrating the good and the great of the week.
One thing that was groundbreaking about Another Round when it came out was their openness around mental health - a subject that is too often taboo in Black culture. It’s a fundamental part of the show, and each week the hosts sign off by reminding us, and each other to 'drink some water, take your meds, call your person'.
2) Call Your Girlfriend
Call Your Girlfriend (CYG) is an OG podcast, as the hosts like to say. They’ve been in the pod game since before Serial made it cool. CYG is a weekly catch up between long-distance best friends Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, during which they chat about everything from politics, to healthcare, feminism and pop culture.
I have learned so much from Ann and Amina on Call Your Girlfriend, I can’t even begin to quantify it. They were my first introduction to Black activist Rachel Cargle (an episode I strongly recommend), and they’ve made my life immeasurably better by coming up with, and teaching the world about, Shine Theory - a theory of mutual investment between friends, cheekily riffing on The Killers lyric: ‘I don’t shine if you don’t shine.’
One of the most interesting things about CYG is hearing the dynamics of this interracial friendship. Ann is white, Amina is Black, and they both have the kind of insight and wit that I hope to have one day, when I grow up. They have open, honest conversations about their experiences and beliefs, allowing us to hear where they overlap, and where they do not. They are both candid about the ways they navigate through the world, and the ways in which the world reckons with them, in their very different bodies. While Ann and Amina might not always agree, they never lose the love for each other, and as a listener, you always feel included in a little gang of three.
CYG is probably my favourite podcast of all time, and that’s saying something.
3) Best Friends
Best Friends is Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zimader doing exactly what they do best - being best friends.
This podcast is uproariously, sometimes outrageously, fun. It’s silly, it’s bouncy, it’s unstructured - you never know where any episode could end up - and you get the feeling that the hosts don’t either. This podcast strongly feels like a conversation that would be happening whether or not there was anyone to press record.
The reason this Best Friends is so special is that it’s absolute Black Joy. It's just two Black women, enjoying each other’s company and being their truest, silliest, most authentic selves.
4) The Nod
Hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, The Nod is a weekly look into the complicated, and beautiful, experiences of Black life in America. They discuss everything from the upcoming US election, to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and just how grape flavour became a part of African American culture. (If you’re looking for an episode to start off on, I recommend ‘I Want That Purple Stuff’)
My personal favourites are the 'Good For The Black’s' episodes, during which Eric and Brittney will each take a stance, debate team style, on a topic (recent topics have included The Shade Room, Cardi vs Nicki, and Jordyn Woods vs. The Kardashians) to hash out, once and for all, if it’s good for Black culture.
As Brittany says of herself and Eric in the pilot episode: 'We are blackness’s biggest fans! And on this show, we’re going to explore the stories about blackness that you don’t often hear.'
And they do just that.
5) Levar Burton Reads
This is my tip for absolute relaxation, and the podcast that brings me back the closest to my childhood obsession with piles of cassette tapes at bedtime. On each episode, Levar handpicks and reads out a short story in his truly perfect voice.
Levar’s truly special voice means that every single episode is mesmerising, but if you’re looking for a place to start, put on the episode where he reads The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu and and thank me later.
Anti-Racist Ally: An Introduction to Action and Activism by Sophie Williams is published by HQ and available to buy in paperback now for £6.99.
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