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The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

February 2018, vol. 28, no. 1

Letter from the Editor: Review of the podcast Seeing White

If you are a reader of The Challenge, it is probably safe to say that you care deeply about issues affecting racial and ethnic minorities, both in our country and around the world. If your passion for these issues is anything like mine, this newsletter is but a small fraction of the information that you take in devoted to exploring and challenging the issues facing minority populations.

With that thought in mind, my first Letter from the Editor for the year 2018 is a podcast review. The podcast is called Seeing White, published by Scene on Radio.1 On a scale of one to five stars, with five being “outstanding,” I would give Seeing White a total of seven stars. Maybe eight.

My enthusiasm for this podcast simply cannot be overstated.

I discovered this podcast series by happenstance. I had a public radio “driveway moment” a few weeks ago, when a piece of Seeing White aired on a Sunday afternoon. I stayed in my car until I could hear and write down a title or other reference to the program – I had to know more about what I was hearing. That evening, I learned that Seeing White is a “14-part documentary series exploring whiteness in America—where it came from, what it means, and how it works.”2 Produced by Scene on Radio, and hosted by John Biewen, this gripping podcast starts with the history of race – the very invention of whiteness in legal terms – in the land that was to become the United States of America. I listened to all 14 parts within about 10 days.

As a lawyer and armchair scholar on race and the law, there are many pieces of information in Seeing White that were not new to me. I know that race is only a social construct. I know that affirmative action was not some new concept invented to assist black Americans. I know about the Virginia Slave Code and the many steps taken to keep the African slave at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. I also know that many of our esteemed founders held some very racist views – views that they made no attempt to hide in their time, no matter how we may attempt to suppress such an unfavorable history now. And yet the way that this information is combined with true stories, historical anecdotes, quotes, guest scholars and lecturers, and legal decisions—this makes for an experience unlike any book or course I have encountered on these subjects. This is more than American legal history for the layperson. This is the self-help course for every lawyer or layperson who wants to understand “what the big deal is” when it comes to race in America.

In December 2017, National Public Radio named Seeing White as one of the nine favorite podcast series of the year.3 You can subscribe to the podcast from your smartphone, or listen online. I would love you know if you find yourself as enthralled as I was.