The New Republic's flirtation with controversy has been well documented. Several journalists at various publications, most notably Ta-Nehisi Coates, have taken the magazine to task for its abuse of its prestigious standing in the world of political and cultural commentary. Given the New Republic’s complex history with ethical journalistic behavior and coverage of minorities, I was surprised to find myself so in love with one of their newest projects.
Intersection with Jamil Smith is a bi-weekly podcast that seeks to discuss the crossroads of several American identities in our current media cycle, and as anyone who's been on the 2BG site for more than two minutes could guess, such a show is right up our alley. Each episode focuses on a prominent topic in current political coverage, such as voting rights or Donald Trump, and seeks to provide a new spin by showcasing minority voices on the subject. Due to Smith’s time producing for MSNBC (Melissa Harris-Perry and The Rachel Maddow Show to be specific), he has a large reservoir of pundits and authorities to call on for this task. By interviewing and conducting panel discussions with a wide range of experts on the issues, Smith brings much-needed nuance and perspective to issues that too often seem one-sided and surface-deep. In addition to supplementing his show with big names and qualified sources, Smith’s personal conclusions on Intersection episodes show why he’s an influential addition to the new wave of writers proving that the New Republic may be turning over a new leaf.
One of the most encouraging things about Intersection is that it often succeeds at democratizing the political arena by providing first-class primers on many of the topics people assume everyone is privy to. Buzzwords such as cisgender are gracefully and expertly explained by activist and journalist Janet Mock, and Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, appeared on the first episode to offer a textbook definition, as well as several real-life explanations, of the term. While it may seem unnecessary to some, I've found these non-condescending clarifications to be really important. To me, public discussions shouldn't be off-limits to people who are unfamiliar with elite terms of discussion, but may have direct experience with or great compassion for the issues (one might argue that this kind of withholding of public conversations to intellectuals is what created the problems at the New Republic in the first place.) One can see that Jamil Smith is clearly aware of the past mistakes of his employer, and is trying to ensure that anyone who is willing to do the work can engage with Intersection.
Even with the crash courses on current topics, Smith and his guests always find a way to dig deeper on these issues. Each episode's New Republic page features a reading list in case you want to learn more about the broader conversations surrounding certain matters, which you always will after hearing the various panels. On Episode 8, Smith proves himself to be ten times more patient than me at unpacking black Republicanism, and invites historian Leah Wright Rigueur on the show to give one of the most helpful timelines of the black Republican-Democratic party shift I’ve ever heard. Episode 6’s conversations about the distinct privilege awarded to Cuban and Puerto Rican Americans, who have a (relatively) easier pathway to documented status, were especially eye-opening to me, as someone who admittedly has a lot more reading to do on Latin-American issues. I think this is one of the most heartening aspects of Intersection, though—they’re motivating and equipping listeners to do that extra educational work, no matter where they are in the process.
As liberal Southerners, many of us are accustomed to living alongside organizations and institutions with terrible civil rights records. Oftentimes, we’re forced to call these places our schools, places of employment, and even homes (speaking in particular to every black Southern girl who has had to attend schools named for Confederate officials, drive by state landmarks named after Klan members, or live on streets named for otherwise avowed racists.) Nowadays, we seem to be expected to applaud these spaces for any small leap forward they make in terms of progressivism, being longsuffering and patient when they make often-glaring mistakes. I think the wear-and-tear of this routine, which I undergo with local schools, news sources, and government policies much too frequently, made me hesitant to believe in a satisfactory turn-around from the New Republic. I’m not saying that this caution was unnecessary, or that we shouldn’t push progressive sources even further into racial justice. I just believe it’s important to acknowledge the success that our efforts may create. Podcasts like Intersection make me think we should hold out hope that our complaints and protests are getting through, however slowly.