I love getting podcast recommendations; it’s what Pod Bible was built on, and it remains one of the best ways to discover new shows. Last week, a friend mentioned Gee Thanks, Just Bought It, a podcast hosted by Caroline Moss where her guests introduce her audience to a product they love and where to get one of their very own. Perhaps you’re thinking “a shopping podcast isn’t really for me,” but let me assure you – this isn’t just a shopping podcast.
The friend who mentioned Caroline’s show also mentioned Episode 28 specifically, in which the host interviews Danni Mullen, the proprietress of Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago. Over the past month, Semicolon has gained attention not only as a bookstore run by a Black woman, topping lists of Black-owned businesses to support as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also because of the store’s charitable work with #ClearTheShelves. This initiative allows school children to come into the store and select books for free, while also providing them the dignity of experiencing a transaction with a receipt upon making their selection.
The conversation between Danni and Caroline covers everything from the attention the store has gotten over the past month to the support the GoFundMe that financially backs the initiative has received. Overall, however, the one word best used to describe the conversation is “uncomfortable”. This is not to say the show isn’t brilliant, the episode isn’t powerful and funny, it’s all of those things and more. But what is important for everyone who listens to take away is how they feel, alone in their homes or their cars, as Danni explains the interactions she and her staff have had as more white patrons come into her store, looking for books by Black authors, about racism, and the things they feel empowered (and also entitled) to say. The shame and second hand embarrassment felt by the listener as she details the ignorant and offensive things these shoppers say is inescapable. Don’t give in to the desire to shut off the podcast; this is important.
It takes a lot of courage on the part of both women to create something like this. As podcast fans, we know that a well-crafted interview is much harder than it looks. What may be even more difficult, however, is to recognise that the measures of a so-called “good interview” are irrelevant when you are confronted with a situation in which something honest is allowed to play out.
There is nothing cruel or unusual about the interaction between host and guest. It is simply a true conversation between two individuals during a highly electric, emotional and important time. Danni presents her truth, her lived experience and what happens between the stacks at her bookstore, knowing how uncomfortable her host and many of the listeners will become. But this does not stop her because it is not the responsibility of people who experience racism to make people who have benefited from a racist society feel better. Acknowledging this discomfort, existing in it, and then moving forward in a thoughtful and actionable way are all parts of how human beings learn. To Caroline’s credit, she acknowledges how awkward she feels, but she doesn’t cut all of those parts out of the interview. As podcasters, we often value beautiful soundscapes and precise timing over the honesty of painful pauses and the stutter-step of embarrassment. Instead, Caroline envelopes us in it, like an immersion therapy in audio form.
This is not to say the podcast is 50 minutes of being hammered over the head. Danni Mullen has an incredible laugh, and both she and Caroline offer plenty of humour (in particular, her item at the end of the episode had me in tears.) What makes this conversation so real and recognizable is that it contains both bold honesty and fits of giggling. This is how we speak to one another in our everyday lives, because life exists in those moments in between the deeply serious and the levity. Learn your lessons. Hear from people who are different from you. Really listen to what they are sharing with you. Connect over a mutual point of humour. Descend into uncontrolled laughter. Regroup. Support their endeavours. Amplify their voices. And repeat.