• Sinclair Barbehenn

What I’m Listening To -- to stay informed and amplify Black Voices

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

I live a privileged life as a white upper-middle class American woman. I’ve realized more and more everyday how much privilege I have and how others are negatively affected by the same system I benefit from. I am actively learning how to be anti-racist and what I can do to help fight the injustice and inequality. Through this process, I'm educating myself on certain issues from U.S. history to the Black American experience, and staying informed on current events. In an effort to do so, I’ve been listening to various podcasts that help break down and explain particular topics really well. I am also listening to music that shares experiences and feelings on what it means to be Black in America whether it be discussing their struggles or celebrating their Blackness. Below is a taste of some things I’m listening to that I think you should too.

Image credit: NPR.org


1. Code Switch by NPR

This podcast is hosted by NPR’s journalists of color and discusses topics surrounding

race. It covers just about everything surrounding race and culture with episodes on Karens, the 2020 Census, to the Limits of Empathy and how xenophobia spreads like a virus, and why we are talking about all this now. These conversations are entertaining and important to listen to, and they encourage everyone to be a part of the discussion.

2. Throughline by NPR

As NPR describes it so well, “the past is never past. Every headline has a history. Join us every week as we go back in time to understand the present. These are stories you can feel and sounds you can see from the moments that shaped our world.” Throughline is one of my new favorite educational podcasts. This series covers relevant issues and events from our past and present, from the 1918 Flu, White Nationalism, masks, conspiracy theories, to America’s Caste System. Each episode is extremely insightful and enlightening, I would highly recommend giving it a listen.

3. 1619 by The New York Times

This podcast takes a deep dive into the past and present of American slavery. Each episode examines something different from how it all started, to democracy and to the economy, to American music. It is extremely informative and brings to light many things that White Americans and many others should better understand.

4. Stuff You Missed in History Class by iHeart Radio

I’ve never been a history buff but in recent years I am understanding the importance of history. I’m learning more and more that there are many things about our history that I didn’t learn in school. I am shocked that our public school system failed us by leaving out so much important history we ought to know, and I’m also shocked by my own nativity. To try to fix this I have started listening to Stuff You Missed in History Class which talks about fun and interesting things you probably don’t already know about, from Sea Monkeys and Bacon’s Rebellion to Frank McWorter and Orphan Trains. History teaches us a great deal about ourselves and shapes our present and the future, so do yourself a favor and learn more about what happened in our past.

5. The New Yorker's Radio Hour by WYNC Studios and the New Yorker

This is a great podcast for stories and conversation starters. It is well written and well produced to provide a fun form of journalism. These informative and captivating pieces cover a range of topics, from Shakespeare, to covid-19 and reopening schools with numerous celebrity features.


Photo credit: Brother's in Raw

1. I Can't Breathe by H.E.R.

H.E.R., a well known R&B artist from Vallejo, California started her career anonymously. She has since collaborated with many big name artists and in 2017, her album ‘H.E.R.’ received five Grammy award nominations- ‘Best New Artist’ and ‘Album of the Year’ (1). In her beautiful and moving song "I Can’t Breathe" she talks about the inequalities and lack of empathy that have divided America by race.

We breathe the same and we bleed the same/ But still, we don't see the same”

As in the title, she sings that she can’t breath and asks if anyone will fight for her, referring to herself as one of the many Black men who have died by suffocation from a police officer’s knee on their necks. She implores White America to see how systemic and deeply rooted the the problem is when she says, “the protector and the killer is wearing the same uniform...and generations of supremacy resulting in your ignorant, privileged eyes…to say all men are created equal in the eyes of God/ But disparage a man based on the color of his skin." She addresses each issue clearly and directly by saying,"do not say you do not see color/ When you see us, see us/ We can't breathe.” She like many others seeks justice.

2. The Bigger Picture by Lil Baby

Lil Baby born and raised in Atlanta started his rapping career recently in 2017 and has quickly risen to fame with his fun beats and has gotten songs on Billboards Top 10 in 2020 (2). His song "The Bigger Picture" highlights the unrest in the US in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and countless other victims of police brutality. America has taken to the streets again this summer to protest the hate and inequality, and to fight for justice. Change is not easy but it has to start somewhere. As Lil Baby says, “it's bigger than black and white/ It's a problem with the whole way of life/ It can't change overnight/ But we gotta start somewhere/ Might as well gon' 'head start here/ We done had a hell of a year/ I'ma make it count while I'm here.”

3. Chains by Usher feat. Nas and Bibi Bourelly

Born in Dallas but grew up in Tennessee and Atlanta, Usher is classic. He is well known for his major R&B and pop hits but he has also made a Broadway appearance in Chicago as Billy Flynn. His song "Chains" addresses the fact that although it seems like a lot has changed since slavery in America, but in reality the same racism and inequalities are still present today. “You see these chains?/ We still in chains...The difference from how we used to be/ We still in chains.” Even though people think slavery is no longer an issue, the fact is that it was never fully abolished in 1685. To this day, Black Americans are not free the same way White Americans are. He drives his point home when he refers to famous Black civil rights activists and victims of police brutality. “I am Sugar Ray Robinson, Booker T. Washington/ W. E. B. Du Bois, I'm the modern one/ Yelling at Senators, Presidents, Congressmen/ We got a problem that needs some acknowledgement/ I am no prison commodity, not just a body you throw in a cell/ For any reason, just to bother me Just for your quota, so it's rest in peace to Sean Bell/ Sleep in peace Eric Garner (Sandra).”

4. Be Free by J.Cole

A now famous artists and producer overcame a tough childhood growing up in North Carolina and has shown his talents from playing the violin to graduating magna cum laude from St.John's University in 2007 with a degree in communications (4). He made his debut after signing to Roc Nation and has since made numerous Billboard appearances (4). His song "Be Free" depicts Black men’s struggles in America and when he says “all we want do is be free.” Black Americans are still fighting the same fight against racism that they were during the first Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. Today America is fighting for justice and equality for all. The music video is cinematographic and very moving, featuring a retelling of the history of injustice featuring footage of Martin Luther King Jr. and particular victims of police brutality.

5. Freedom by Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar

Hailing from Houston, Queen B started her music career with Destiny's Child before going solo and debuting with her album Dangerously in Love (5). Her song "Freedom" from Lemonade directly speaks to the inequality between Black and White Americans. Although just as dark, it also spreads spreads a more uplifting message that Black Americans and allies will not quit and keep fighting until they are just as free. “Singin', freedom! Freedom! Where are you?/ 'Cause I need freedom, too/ I break chains all by myself/ Won't let my freedom rot in hell/ Hey! I'ma keep running/ 'Cause a winner don't quit on themselves.”

6. Alright by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar grew up mainly in Compton and signed with Dr. Dre’s label Aftermath Entertainment and hasn't stop hitting the charts since. He has won numerous Grammy's including "best rap album (DAMN.), best rap song, rap performance, and music video (all for “HUMBLE.”)." Incredibly, DAMN. also won the Pulitzer Prize for music, making it the first nonclassical or jazz recording to be awarded this prize (6). Despite the fact that the racism and police brutality are plaguing our nation and are the cause of many innocent Black lives, his song "Alright" spreads a positive message of hope that, “We gon' be alright/ Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright.”

7. Baltimore by Prince ft. Eryn Allen Kane

Prince is one of the most talented people of his time as not just a singer, songwriter, but also as a dancer, performer, producer and overall musician on the bass, guitar, drums and keyboard (7). Prince displays his talent in the wide range music from soul and funk to jazz and pop (7). In his song "Baltimore" he uses an up beat temp and soulful lyrics to emphasize the message that, “if there ain't no justice, then there ain't no peace,” which is the slogan of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The song addresses how widespread the issues of racism and police brutality are across America singing, “We're tired of the crying and people dying/ Let's take all the guns away.” Although it is a sad subject the song is uplifting saying, “peace is more than the absence of war,” and “enough is enough, it's time for love.”

8. Brown Skin Girl by Beyoncé

This beautiful and uplifting song celebrates Black beauty. It reminds Black women to embrace their bodies and their natural beauty, by saying “your skin just like pearls/ the best thing in the world/ never trade you for anybody else.” Beyoncé tells us to ignore whatever people tell you and remember what your mom told you, and to always love themself. “Took everything in life, baby, know your worth/ I love everything about you, from your nappy curls/ To every single curve, your body natural'Cause you're beautiful/ Yeah, you're beautiful.” This feel good song is full of self affirmations and also references powerful Black female athletes, artists and actresses owning their Blackness and their achievements. Beyoncé reminds Black women everywhere, young and old to be proud of who they are.

9. Savage by Megan Thee Stallion & Beyoncé

Born and raised in Houston, Megan was the daughter of rapper Holly-Wood aka Holly Thomas (9). She has gained a great deal of traction in recent years with huge hits with other powerful female artists like Cardi B and Beyoncé. Her song "Savage" is an immediate confidence boost if you need something to amp you up before any big moment. It has taken over the Internet thanks to a TikTok dance and I’m here for it because this song is empowering, stating, "I'm a boss, I'm a leader...my mama was a savage...I'm a bad bi---, she's a savage, no comparisons here." Megan particualar words and female sexuality through her rap by saying, “I'm a savage (yeah)/ Classy, bougie, ratchet (yeah)/ Sassy, moody, nasty (hey, hey, yeah)/ Acting stupid, what's happening? Bitch (whoa, whoa)."

10. Tempo by Lizzo ft. Missy Elliott

Last but certainly not least, Lizzo, grew up in Detroit and Houston playing the flute in marching band (9). She is well known for many other feel good jams, celebrates being herself. Her music is an anthem for Black female empowerment and body positivity as she sings in "Tempo", “thick thighs save lives..my a-- is not an accessorary (what?)" and that slow songs are not worthy of her curves saying she "can't move all of this here to one of those (hey)/ I'm a thick b----, I need tempo (need it).”

Photo credit: grammy.com


  1. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-e-r--43111.php

  2. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/lil-baby-mn0003353669/biography

  3. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Usher

  4. https://www.biography.com/musician/j-cole

  5. https://www.biography.com/musician/beyonce-knowles

  6. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kendrick-Lamar

  7. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Prince-singer-and-songwriter

  8. https://www.last.fm/music/Megan+Thee+Stallion/+wiki

  9. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/lizzo-mn0003167672/biography

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