Code Switch's playlist for a summer road trip : Code Switch This week, we're talking about the podcasts that podcasters listen to. These are the shows that members of the Code Switch team cannot tear our ears away from. We think they'd be great for a long car ride, plane ride, or just regular day of vegging out. They get into everything from old people to food to the human body to Oprah. And — surprise, surprise — they all have a whole lot to do with race and identity.

Code Switch's playlist for a summer road trip

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You're listening to CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Karen Grigsby Bates.


GRIGSBY BATES: Fam, you know that good old Dr. Seuss line - how did it get so late so soon? That's how this whole year has felt. Like, how on earth are we more than halfway through 2022 already? How is it already July, and how has so much happened in the past few months? Deep, deep sigh. But it is the summer. And even though the world feels like it's going to pieces around us sometimes, this is supposed to be a time when many of us have a chance to relax, maybe take a few vacation days, get out in nature, maybe even go on a road trip.

So today on the show, we want to share with you some of the podcasts that members of the CODE SWITCH team have been listening to in our moments of vegging out. Consider it a podcast playlist for the dog days of summer. The shows we've selected help take us to a different world, introduce us to new concepts, get out of our heads a little. They do not involve breaking news, but - no surprise - all of them wound up having a whole lot to do with race, identity and culture. I guess, even in our free time, we kind of have a thing. In a few minutes, we'll be talking about food...


FRANCIS LAM: There is this citrus blight that is going around the world.

GRIGSBY BATES: ...(singing) Oprah...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part of the reason that it does so well is that she captures elements of the culture.

GRIGSBY BATES: ...The criminal justice system...


DAVID LUIS GONZALEZ: I'm at a point in life where I don't feel human.

GRIGSBY BATES: ...And all the miraculous weirdness of the human body.


VIRGIE TOVAR: At no point anybody told me it's OK to be fat.

GRIGSBY BATES: But first, we're getting into a topic that I am very excited about for personal reasons - old people. And to do that, we're bringing on Taylor Jennings-Brown. Taylor's a Kroc Fellow at NPR, and she's been working with the CODE SWITCH team for the past few months. Welcome, Taylor.


GRIGSBY BATES: Tell us about your pick.

JENNINGS-BROWN: So one of my favorite podcasts for the past year is called "70 over 70."


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I am 72 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I'm 75, miraculously enough.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I am 83 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I am 88 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: You know, I'm here at 92.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: I'll be 94 in May.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I am 101 years old.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Now, I'm not usually into the whole-let's-sit-down-and-chit-chat type of podcast, but this one hits different.


JENNINGS-BROWN: It's made by Pineapple Street Studios, and it's actually hosted by their co-founder, Max Linsky. Throughout the show, Max talks to 70 people over the age of 70 about the big life questions a lot of us have. So think, what's my purpose? Am I making the most of my life? And what's the key to success?

GRIGSBY BATES: So, Taylor, what hooked you? What did you love about this podcast that drew you into it?

JENNINGS-BROWN: Well, when I first listened to the show, I had no idea what it was. I just saw it on my phone. And I remember hearing some random white guy - Max - talking about talking to old people. And then he started having a conversation with his 80-year-old dad, who had just gotten a heart procedure and was still in the hospital bed while they were talking.


MAX LINSKY: Could I ask you a question that might drive you a little crazy?


MAX LINSKY: You really didn't want to get older for a long time. That was my experience of you as your kid - it was just like, you wanted to keep being an old man at bay for as long as possible.

MARTY LINSKY: I think partially I was scared of it 'cause of what I'd seen with my father and falling apart and - but why do I do an hour's worth of exercises and 20,000 steps a day? I mean, part of it is to hold off getting old, I think.

MAX LINSKY: And at some point you're not going to be able to do that many steps, and at some point you're not going to be able to do all those exercises. Do you think about that, or...

MARTY LINSKY: Well, and - I think about it when I'm doing push-ups, you know? I'm now up to 94 push-ups a day. And every time I get down on the floor to do the push-ups, I think, is this going to be the day that I'm not going to make it - that I'm not going to be able to do the 94, you know? And there'll be some point - I think about it all the time. There'll be some point where it'll be done, you know?


GRIGSBY BATES: Oh, my God. Papa Linsky - 20,000 steps? I feel like such a slacker. And it's interesting, Taylor, because it sounds like he's not really fearing getting old. He's fearing not being able to do then what he can do now. It sounds like he was thinking that, if he stays in shape, he staves off being infirm, which will make him feel old - being infirm, I mean. So what was it about that conversation that interested you specifically?

JENNINGS-BROWN: It was just so honest and vulnerable. I mean, like you heard Karen, his dad was keeping it completely real about how he felt about being 80 and what life had left to offer him. But throughout the series, it was also cool to hear Max have these moments of revelation about himself and his own fears about life and death. And it's not just this conversation with his dad that's like this. All the conversations are.

Each person reflects on the lessons that they've learned, their perspective as they age, and just how they view the rest of their life, which, I mean, is super dope for me because, you know, these people have actually lived lives - full lives - and experienced a lot of the stuff I'm currently fumbling my way through as a 22-year-old. It just kind of helps give perspective to this whole life thing from the end of the journey. But the coolest part is that the people he talks to are crazy accomplished. Like, he's got an episode with Dionne Warwick.


DIONNE WARWICK: I am Dionne from beginning to end. I will always be who I am. I like me, you know? So there's no reason for me to be anything other than who and what I am.

JENNINGS-BROWN: There's one with the longtime South Carolina congressperson Jim Clyburn, where he talks about some advice his wife gave him.


JIM CLYBURN: She had a little sticker on the mirror in my bathroom. And the sticker read, when you win, brag gently; when you lose, weep softly.

JENNINGS-BROWN: And there's even an episode with the poet Nikki Giovanni, and she talks about dropping out of school despite immense pressure to not do it.


NIKKI GIOVANNI: You're either going to have the life you want, or you're going to let other people control you. It was time for me to be in control of my life. So that was just too easy (laughter).

GRIGSBY BATES: Taylor, what's one of your favorite episodes?

JENNINGS-BROWN: Hmm. My favorite episode is with Sister Helen Prejean. She's a huge advocate for abolishing the death penalty, and she's a spiritual adviser for people on death row, so she's literally with them as they're breathing their last breaths. Here's some insight she had as she was reflecting on a conversation she had with one of the people she advised, Brandon Bernard.


HELEN PREJEAN: That kind of death is very surreal because it's not like he's in a hospital fading, his life energies ebbing away. He's fully alive. His consciousness is fully alive. His imagination is fully alive. And he - I could tell - all of his energy was going into relating to people. He was being grateful for what everybody had done. He had a good sense of humor. He was able to be present. And maybe that's the gift. Maybe, if we can be alive - fully alive in the present moment - that when it comes to death, we'll be able to do that, too. I'll be able to do that, too. He certainly did.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Karen, I found this show in the spring of 2021. I was a senior in college, racing towards the abyss of adulthood during a global pandemic, and something about hearing people four times my age talking so calmly about some of the most stressful moments of their lives was reassuring. It gave me a sense of gravity in a world that felt like it was constantly spinning. Honestly, it still feels like it's spinning sometimes. That's probably why I still have this show on repeat today.

GRIGSBY BATES: And now, thanks to you, I'm off to download it.


GRIGSBY BATES: The show is "70 over 70," produced by Pineapple Street Studios. The host is Max Linsky, and it was brought to us by Taylor Jennings-Brown. Thanks so much, Taylor.



GRIGSBY BATES: Up next, we have my boss, CODE SWITCH editor...


GRIGSBY BATES: ...Leah Donnella. Hi, Leah.

DONNELLA: Hi, Karen.

GRIGSBY BATES: So, Leah, you have a podcast for us. What is it?


DONNELLA: OK, well, before I say the name of the show, I have to start with a confession...


DONNELLA: ...which is I basically do not listen to podcasts in my spare time.

GRIGSBY BATES: Understandable.

DONNELLA: I'm just so sick of hearing them by the end of the day that I would literally rather sit in silence, staring at a wall, than hear someone explaining, like, how Austria got involved in the Indo-Prussian War or whatever else podcasts talk about.

GRIGSBY BATES: Ooh. That sounds like a familiar network.


DONNELLA: But there is one show that is basically catnip to me, and that is "The Splendid Table."


LAM: "The Splendid Table" - a show for curious cooks and eaters.

GRIGSBY BATES: "The Splendid Table" - I know this podcast, Leah. It's a food show from American Public Media that's been around for, like, a million years, give or take a couple of years. It was first hosted by the great Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and more recently it's been taken over by the chef and cookbook editor Francis Lam, who is doing a fabulous job.

DONNELLA: He really is. I loved the show when Lynne was doing it, and I was a little nervous when it changed hands. But I love Francis, too. The way he talks about food is so soothing to me. Like, no matter what kind of recipe or ingredient someone's describing on the show, Francis' response is some version of, wow, that sounds amazing.


LAM: I love it.

That sounds super awesome.

Oh, that sounds great.

Oh, that sounds so good.

Super delicious.

GRIGSBY BATES: Yeah. I've never heard him go, ick, I just threw up in my mouth a little.


GRIGSBY BATES: So, Leah, back up because I know a big part of the show is sharing recipes and cooking techniques, but that's not all it is.

DONNELLA: True. The show will go really deep on just about any aspect of food culture. So the guests range from chefs, of course, but also historians, scientists, cultural critics. And because it's been around for so long - since 1997, to be exact - they're able to get really, really specific with subject matter. So they had a whole episode on rare mushroom foraging...


EUGENIA BONE: You're walking in the woods, and you see nothing and nothing and nothing, and you're looking, and nothing's happening. And then, for whatever reason, your eye falls on a mushroom. The pattern recognition sets into your brain, and it's like the forest has lifted her skirts and showed you...

LAM: (Laughter).

BONE: ...This hidden or unseen world.

DONNELLA: ...One on different pasta shapes.


LAM: Every pasta shape is righteous and beautiful and deserves its place on this good earth except for Bucatini, which is a sick joke...

DONNELLA: And a recent one I really liked got into the shrinking biodiversity of food. They told a story about how a lot of wild citrus actually used to be super sour and bitter.


DAN SALADINO: And then ingenious fruit breeders took them and then, you know, made them bigger, in some cases made them seedless, but in most - pretty much all cases, made them sweeter and sweeter. And as the bitterness disappears, the fruit becomes fragile to pests and diseases.

LAM: Actually, I had a chance to visit the University of Florida a few years ago, and, you know, I was talking to people who study citrus there. And this is reflected in your book as well. There is essentially this citrus blight that is going around the world that has wiped out billions and billions of dollars' worth of Florida citrus and may, in fact - has the potential to actually wipe out oranges as we know them.

GRIGSBY BATES: What, no more OJ?

DONNELLA: Exactly. But that food journalist that you just heard, Dan Saladino, says that he studies this lack of biodiversity not just to visit cool places and taste new flavors, which does seem awesome, but because the future of global food production may depend on it.


SALADINO: These endangered foods, our inheritance after thousands and thousands of years of farming, has a value beyond just thinking about these wonderful cultures. Aren't they quaint? They're a thing of the past. I wanted to make sure that I was explaining that these were resources for our future as well.

DONNELLA: They also have a ton of episodes that are right in that CODE SWITCH sweet spot - the intersection of food and identity. They've talked about what and who make American Chinese food. They talked to Sean Sherman, who's also known as the Sioux chef - that's S-I-O-U-X - about Indigenous kitchens. They did a deep dive into the famous chef and activist Edna Lewis, and they talked about the changing landscape of Southern food and all the different groups that make Southern food nowadays.

GRIGSBY BATES: This sounds so interesting, but Leah, I'm still curious. What makes this podcast different to you from other podcasts? I mean, why are you able to listen to it even though your ears automatically close up at the thought of listening to other ones after you've finished your workday?

DONNELLA: OK. Fair question - so as you know, I work from home most days, and one of the things I do at the end of the day to transition from work Leah to regular Leah is I cook. And I cook in a really leisurely way, slowly chopping vegetables, maybe simmering a soup broth, roasting more vegetables. Basically all I eat is vegetables. Anyway, this show is a really nice companion to that because at its heart it's really just about how amazing food is and what a joy and privilege it is to have some time to cook and eat a nice meal.

GRIGSBY BATES: But Leah, talk about the tone of the show a little bit. I mean, I can imagine something like this could seem really pretentious or out of touch - dare I say, very NPR, very Delicious Dish, if you remember that satire on "Saturday Night Live." I mean, you did mention that episode about rare mushroom foraging.

DONNELLA: Yes. Yes. All of that is true. But the host, Francis, does, I think, a really good job of keeping things tied to the concerns and lives of, quote-unquote, "normal, real people." So even on that mushroom episode, he focused a lot on the immigrant communities in the Pacific Northwest that have been able to make a living basically searching for these really coveted mushrooms. And in every episode, he talks about things that might be on real people's minds at any given moment - so how the food that we buy affects the climate, for instance, or on a much more micro level, how to approach communal meals when someone has a really specific kind of dietary restriction. And when the pandemic first started, he talked about the exhaustion and frustration of trying to safely grocery shop and cook day in and day out for his family, including his daughter, who I think was just a toddler at the time. And Francis is a very accomplished chef, but he was basically like, I am so sick of everything that I make.


LAM: It's in part why I love to go out to eat, because it doesn't feel like food I cooked.

UNIDENTIFIED CHEF: I tell you something - I open my cupboard, and I also get that kind of blank moment in my head where I go, like, what am I going to cook? Am I - I'm not going to do that thing again. And it's funny.

LAM: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED CHEF: Like, I've published, you know, thousands of recipes over the years, and I still get this blankness. And I get the cauliflower. I'm going like, oh, do I make these fritters again?

GRIGSBY BATES: Yeah, been there. I feel his pain. Cooking for anybody day in and day out for a couple of years is crazy making.

DONNELLA: Right. You know, he said one thing that was helping him get through that was that he had started cooking from recipes, like, just following them to a T. So before the pandemic started, he'd almost always just cooked by instinct and training and memory. But when he was in the height of his isolation and he wasn't eating out and couldn't really see anyone else, he started actually opening up cookbooks and doing exactly what another person said to do. And he said that that was such a gift because it almost felt like a friend was cooking dinner for him suddenly. He was getting to taste something that he hadn't had to think of himself.

GRIGSBY BATES: I love that.

DONNELLA: I did too, and I actually wound up trying to do it. I started using Claudia Roden's giant cookbook, "The Book Of Jewish Food," and I learned a bunch of recipes that my mom made when I was growing up. So in that time, when I hadn't gotten to see my mom in person for months, it really did feel a little bit like she was cooking for me.

GRIGSBY BATES: Because, as we've often noted on CODE SWITCH, cooking is as much about feeling as it is about eating. So what was the best thing you made?

DONNELLA: It was this dish called mujaddara. Or some people call it megadarra or mudardara. If Gene were here, he would be totally grossed out by this description. But...

GRIGSBY BATES: Why, does it have mayonnaise in it?

DONNELLA: It does not have mayonnaise, but it has a lot of onions. It's so simple. It's basically just rice and brown lentils. But you slow cook onions to go on it. So you're just simmering these onions in olive oil for, like, an hour.


DONNELLA: And they become deep brown and caramelized. And it's, to me, the perfect meal.

GRIGSBY BATES: Well, don't invite Gene to dinner. But I don't live too far from you - hint, hint.


DONNELLA: That's true.


GRIGSBY BATES: Once again, that was CODE SWITCH editor Leah Donnella. Her recommendation is "The Splendid Table" from American Public Media. Thanks, Leah.

DONNELLA: Thank you, Karen.

GRIGSBY BATES: All-righty. Coming soon, we're going to have even more recommendations for podcasts we think you'll love. And things are going to get a little juicy.


REBECCA HERZIG: It wasn't just that hair was linked to ideas about beauty or ugliness, but also around racial hierarchy.

GRIGSBY BATES: That's after the break. Stay with us.




GRIGSBY BATES: And we're back with even more podcast suggestions. Up first, we're going to hear from producer Diba Mohtasham. Hi, Diba.


GRIGSBY BATES: So what is this podcast you've been listening to, and why do you love it?

MOHTASHAM: So it's called "Embodied." And it's from North Carolina Public Radio, WUNC. It's hosted by Anita Rao.


ANITA RAO: There is stuff we are never supposed to talk about.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: There are some women who never experience orgasm and can experience massive sexual pleasure. There are some days when orgasm is just too much work.

RAO: Conversations that make us feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

OMISADE BURNEY-SCOTT: I'm pregnant and I'm 41. And I'm also, like, going through some other things. Is this what I should expect?

RAO: Burning questions for others...

MOHTASHAM: And what I love about this podcast is that it approaches sex, relationships, personal health, people's bodies in such a fresh and interesting way. These are topics every single person can relate to. But, you know, for a lot of people, it can be uncomfortable.

GRIGSBY BATES: Including people in and listening to public radio, which is notoriously squeamish about stuff like this.

MOHTASHAM: Yes, very. I hear they get a lot of emails.


MOHTASHAM: This podcast breaks some of those barriers and brings in some surprising and not-so-talked-about angles through conversations, for example, on navigating dating as a disabled person. One guest actually talked about having spastic cerebral palsy and the assumptions that it raises.


JULIE-ANNE SCOTT POLLOCK: There's many people that do not have visible disabilities or any disability at all that do struggle with fertility. And no one ever assumes that like they automatically assume it with me, when that is actually not a struggle I have at all.

MOHTASHAM: Another guest talked about body neutrality, something they embraced as part of a larger movement of fat liberation.


TOVAR: And it really blew my mind. I had been a feminist. I had been anti-racist. I'd been an activist since I was 18 years old. And yet, you know, at no point anybody told me, it's OK to be fat.

MOHTASHAM: But, Karen, I want to talk to you about one of my personal favorite episodes on body hair. Probably not just me, I'm sure it's something many others have invested a lot of energy in.

GRIGSBY BATES: Yes, indeed, we have been there doing that. Ouch.


GRIGSBY BATES: From electrolysis and lasering to shaving, waxing and threading, a lot of people - and not just women at this point - spend a bunch of time and money on defuzzing (ph) themselves, ourselves.

MOHTASHAM: Yep. In the episode, Anita talks with guest Sharan Dhaliwal about their complicated relationship with body hair growing up. Both of them are South Asian. And both had a very hard time accepting their body hair when they were younger.


SHARAN DHALIWAL: I think it really does affect women of color a lot more than white women because it is so racialized. And so I think that's why the conversation hasn't progressed that far. And when you do see, I guess, representation of body hair in the media, it tends to be white women. And it tends to be, like, small, blond wisps of hair kind of, you know, represented.


MOHTASHAM: But the beauty standard of having little to no body hair is really specific to a certain place and time. I actually learned from my own research that in 19th century Persia, a thin mustache and unibrow were actually considered the standard of female beauty, which goes to show how ideas around what's considered normal or not can often reveal something deeper about society and our cultural values.

GRIGSBY BATES: Something we talk about a lot here on CODE SWITCH.

MOHTASHAM: Yeah. And "Embodied" got into that as well - how in the U.S., body hair has often been about more than just body hair.


HERZIG: It wasn't just that hair was linked to ideas about beauty or ugliness but also around cleanliness and dirt and around racial hierarchy and racial supremacy.

MOHTASHAM: That's Rebecca Herzig. She was a guest on the episode, and she's a professor of gender and sexuality studies at Bates College.


HERZIG: Even in the beginning, naturalist and natural philosophers were obsessed with differences between people based on body hair. I mean, any of the early naturalists you could think of - Linnaeus, Buffon, even Thomas Jefferson, who like to do his own ethnological observations - they all wrote about body hair and racial differences, racial variations in body hair. But as science moved into kind of greater and greater authority and clout, certainly, body hair moved right along with it. And there became whole fields - dermatology being one - that specialized in standardizing what normal or excessive amounts of hair were and what appropriate treatments for so-called excessive hair should be.

GRIGSBY BATES: So much to comb through. Wink, wink.

MOHTASHAM: Nice. At a moment when I'm thinking a lot about what it means to inhabit my body, how politicized people's bodies are, I'm just really appreciating that this podcast examines some of those things we take for granted and the incredible things about our bodies, too.


GRIGSBY BATES: So that was "Embodied" from North Carolina Public Radio. And I'm sure our listeners will appreciate it, too. Thank you, Diba.

MOHTASHAM: Thanks, Karen.

GRIGSBY BATES: Up next, we're joined by CODE SWITCH producer, Alyssa Jeong Perry.

Alyssa, welcome back to the show. What's the podcast you're recommending to us today?

ALYSSA JEONG PERRY, BYLINE: So I'm bringing you all a podcast by Futuro Media called "Suave." It just won a Pulitzer Prize in the audio reporting category this year, so I was immediately intrigued when I heard the name. And I basically binged all seven episodes in three days.

GRIGSBY BATES: Ooh, I love a good binge. I also heard about the Pulitzer win, but I don't know much about the show. So fill me in.

PERRY: The podcast follows the journey of one man named David Luis Gonzalez, who is also known as Suave - you know, the name of the podcast - and he was serving a life sentence for a murder he was convicted of in 1988 when he was only 17. His journey of getting out of prison after about three decades is broken down over the course of those seven episodes. These episodes, Karen, are extremely scene-heavy and sound-rich, starting with the very first episode, where we hear a conversation between the journalist Maria Hinojosa and Suave while he's sitting in a makeshift recording booth for the first time - which, you know, can be small, dark and very enclosed.


MARIA HINOJOSA: Suave, I am talking to you. What is going on?

GONZALEZ: I'm cool. I'm serious. I'm cool. I'm just...

HINOJOSA: Yeah. But just tell me what just happened.

GONZALEZ: I never thought I'd be locked up in a room like this again. I'm cool.

HINOJOSA: I know you're cool, sweetie. You're out of prison.

GONZALEZ: I just had a little flashback.


GONZALEZ: It's just, like - it's too real.

PERRY: This snippet of tape is just one of the reasons why I got hooked on this podcast. That scene made me cry.


PERRY: Anyway, the rest of the episodes unfold non-linear. We hear about how the journalists retraced the murder charges and the processes that led him to being convicted. Also, we hear what life in prison was like for Suave and how he began his transition to the outside world. As a listener, you really experience how Suave is feeling through each new life step, like his excitement and nerves to date for the very first time.


GONZALEZ: Don't know what to give her. Do I take a bouquet of flowers? Do I take one rose?

HINOJOSA: (Laughter).

GONZALEZ: You know, what kind of cologne I got to wear? All that stuff. I think about all of that.

PERRY: And we also hear the pitfalls, like when he revisits the scene of the murder and how he struggles with his mental health.


GONZALEZ: 'Cause it gets to that point, it feels like you're losing your mind. You know, you start getting suicidal thoughts.

GRIGSBY BATES: AJP, I'm hearing in these clips that Maria is really close with Suave. It's - she's almost maternal with him.

PERRY: Totally. The podcast gets into the unique and complex relationship between the subject and the journalist. So Maria met Suave in 1993, when she was a speaker at his prison. Over the decades, he became a source - you know, someone who was on the inside - as she reported on the criminal justice system. From that, blossomed a working relationship and even a friendship. Although that friendship was complicated because Maria was one of his few connections to the outside world, whereas she was a busy person with a full life and a family. There's one point in one of the episodes when Suave is about to go before a judge to have his case reviewed to try to get released from prison. He needs a character witness and asks Maria to speak on his behalf. And you can really hear her struggle with that decision.


HINOJOSA: You know, it's complicated 'cause, you know, I have to acknowledge I'm reporting on Suave, right? I'm reporting on him at this point. I'm recording our phone calls. I can't get involved with a source like that. So that's, like, an issue. And also, you know, I don't really know him outside of prison. So what if something does happen when he gets out, and I'm on the record?

PERRY: For me, that moment was super fascinating because I've reported a lot of narrative stories, and the sources in those stories go really deep with you, and they give a lot of themselves to you, and you end up having a close relationship. But, usually, you just move on quickly to the next story. But this story forced me to think more about what it feels like to be on the other side of the mic - telling your story and entrusting that to one person. It made me think more about the position and responsibility we have as journalists to do justice to someone's experience, especially if it's able to help fix a bigger societal problem.

GRIGSBY BATES: As we know, the criminal justice system has changed so much since the '80s. Alyssa, how were you able to understand the complexity of the laws and how they affected Suave?

PERRY: Well, y'all know I love sticky, complicated policies. And to me, good reporting and storytelling can show those big holes in our systems and how people fall through them. So to me, that's what "Suave" does. It uses his story to illustrate what happens to young men of color who enter prison as teenagers. During the middle of the series, Suave is able to get out of prison because of a 2016 Supreme Court decision that allowed juvenile sentences to be reviewed. When he was released a year later, part of his deal was that he has a felony and will be on parole for life.


GONZALEZ: Right now, I'm at a point in life where I don't feel human. I don't feel, like, normal, you know? Like, it's always like - like, I got to walk a straight line every day - every day. It's almost like I'm still in jail. I got to ask Parole for everything. Can I go to such-and-such? Can I do that? Maybe it's just me - that I want too much. You know, is it wrong for me to want normal things? I don't know.

PERRY: Karen, I got chills when he asked - is it wrong for me to want normal things? I can hear how much the trauma of being locked up and going through a system that tells you that you aren't worth anything can really impact a person forever.


GRIGSBY BATES: The podcast is "Suave" by Futuro Media. It was the choice of our producer, Alyssa Jeong Perry. Thanks, Alyssa.

PERRY: You're welcome. Thanks, Karen.


GRIGSBY BATES: OK. It's the moment I know a lot of you have all been waiting for - my pick. Let me wind up to it a little. Even if you don't watch television much - if you've never read a book or thought about counting calories - even if none of that stuff is remotely applicable to you, you probably know who Oprah Winfrey is. That's because Oprah - she was one name before Beyonce was - is not just a television personality, an actress or sometimes diet diva. She is a cultural institution.

She just about singlehandedly boosted the publishing industry at a time when its future looked seriously doubtful and highlighted the importance of book clubs and the joy of communal reading. She's a philanthropist, with a special interest in funding learning opportunities for young people who might not otherwise get them. She wants you to, in her words, live your best life. She was, in short, the most successful talk show host in the history of television, and she's still one of the best interviewers around. You'll remember Oprah as the person who sat down with Harry and Meghan last year for that interview.


OPRAH WINFREY: Were you silent or were you silenced?

GRIGSBY BATES: Now, I listen to several news podcasts daily - from NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and a few other places. And given what's been in the news for the past couple of years, it's been hella (ph) depressing. I needed some food for thought that would balance out my audio equivalent of doomscrolling, and I found it in "Oprahdemics: The Study Of The Queen Of Talk."


LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR: She's not just an icon. She's a cultural syllabus.

KELLIE CARTER JACKSON: So together we are going to learn, unlearn, and maybe even relearn why Oprah remains the queen of talk and the queen of the interview. We are all, folks, eating at the table that Oprah Winfrey set.

GRIGSBY BATES: Yes, we are. "Oprahdemics" is the brainchild of two academics - historians Kellie Carter Jackson, who teaches at my alma mater, Wellesley College, and Leah Wright Rigueur, who is at Johns Hopkins University. Not only are Leah and Kellie both Black women historians, they're best friends who share the same birthday, and they each have three children - it's getting to weird territory - and they are both fascinated with Oprah Winfrey and the effect she's had on American culture and society. In "Oprahdemics," they break that down in a way that's full of laughter and warmth and insightful tidbits. Here's Kellie in the first episode, explaining why they started this.


CARTER JACKSON: Everyone quoted Oprah. Everyone watched her and let her be sort of this guidebook or roadmap for how we should navigate the world. All throughout, you know, the late '80s, all throughout the '90s, all throughout the early 2000s and 2010s, Oprah dominated talk show television.

GRIGSBY BATES: And she did something else, too. Here's co-host Leah Wright Rigueur.


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: One of the reasons that, you know, we talk about - a lot about original Oprah, like, the first version...


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...Oprah 1.0...

CARTER JACKSON: ...Yeah (laughter).

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...You know, when her show first comes out, part of the reason that it does so well is that she captures elements of the culture - right? - in this case, Black culture, and puts it on television essentially for the world to see. Now, Kellie and I are not arguing that all of those displays of culture are, you know...


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...Great or magnificent. Some of those things are...


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...You know, might be like, OK, wait. She was supposed to...


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...Keep that in the family. Like, she wasn't supposed to talk about that.


GRIGSBY BATES: But she really did talk about everything, from interracial dating and stereotypes about Black women to tightening up shaky family finances to Black girl road trips in places where you don't see a lot of Black folks.


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: The point is...

CARTER JACKSON: (Laughter) Yes.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...She put it out there in a really, I think, powerful way for the world to see. So now rather than people kind of just, you know, wondering, OK, what does that mean? What - now people have an afternoon insight into...


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: ...This aspect of Black culture and all of its different dimensions.

GRIGSBY BATES: And fam, when they say people, by the way, Leah and Kellie mean white people because that has always been Oprah's core audience, even though she does have millions of Black followers. And I should point out that while the two professors are big Oprah admirers, they do not admire everything she does. One of their most requested and most critical episodes was devoted to Oprah's elevation of Mehmet Oz, who was, at one point, an esteemed cardiothoracic surgeon and who morphed into something else entirely.


CARTER JACKSON: It's so necessary to understand where Dr. Oz came from, how he and Oprah formed this relationship, and how that informs all the questions about how we should understand him now.

GRIGSBY BATES: In the beginning, Dr. Oz appeared on Oprah's early shows as this affable, buff physician in scrubs who explains how your body works in really user-friendly ways. Like, he could talk to you about your poop, and you wouldn't squirm.


MEHMET OZ: You want to hear what the stool - the poop - sounds like when it...


OZ: ...Hits the water. And that sounds crazy. But if it sounds like a bombardier - you know, plop, plop, plop...


OZ: ...That's not right 'cause it means you're constipated. It means this - the food is too hard by the time it comes out. It should hit the water like a diver from Acapulco hits the water.


GRIGSBY BATES: So Oz was a real doctor with enough fans that his "Oprah" appearances got him his own show. But somewhere along the line, he veered off into what Kellie and Leah call snake oil territory by endorsing and profiting off of products that hadn't been fully vetted, like diet supplements. That one got him hauled before a Senate consumer protection panel. In 2015, some of his peers at his New York hospital sent a letter asking for him to be fired. And follow up - this year, he was removed from the Columbia Medical Center's directory. Kellie and Leah say that Oprah bears some responsibility for people like Dr. Oz and psychologist Phil McGraw, both of whom have become household names and tremendously wealthy because Oprah launched them. Leah talks about what the Oprah imprimatur has meant.


WRIGHT RIGUEUR: When it comes to how do we deal with accountability, it does change their life, even though they already have platforms of their own. It puts them in a playing field that is unrivaled by anyone except Oprah Winfrey herself. And so we both have to really wrestle with that reality, but also the truism, I think, that while Oprah can be responsible for what's on her show, she is not responsible for what these men do after they are on her show. Right?

GRIGSBY BATES: "Oprahdemics" just completed Season 1, so it's all online, and you can binge it if you want. I particularly like the episodes about Oprah taking her show here to LA to discuss the 1992 riots and the one on the school she created for girls in South Africa. They both actually had some very controversial elements. That's "Oprahdemics: The Study Of The Queen Of Talk," hosted by Kellie Carter Jackson and Leah Wright Rigueur, produced by Radiotopia.


WINFREY: You get a car. You get a car. You get a car. You get a car. You get a car.

GRIGSBY BATES: You don't. But you got some solid podcast suggestions, right?

And that's our show. We want to hear from you. Drop us a line, and tell us what you're listening to and why. We may share a few of your suggestions. Email us at You can follow us on IG and Twitter. We're @NPRCodeSwitch. I'm @karenbates. And sign up for our newsletter at This episode was edited by Leah Donnella and Steve Drummond and produced by Jess Kung. Shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam, Alyssa Jeong Perry, Diba Mohtasham and Taylor Jennings-Brown, who shared their great podcast suggestions earlier, and Kumari Devarajan, Christina Cala, Summer Thomad, Gene Demby and our newest addition, co-host B.A. Parker. Welcome, Parker. You'll hear more from her very soon.

Thanks for listening. I'm Karen Grigsby Bates. See you.


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