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Race Unwrapped

In America, we like to think that we’re always talking about race. Like the conversation is happening everywhere, all the time. But race is embedded in society in ways we don’t even think about — just like fish don’t see the water they’re swimming in. In Race Unwrapped, host Michelle Tyrene Johnson tackles different ways to unwrap and unpack race and identity.

Ways To Subscribe
  • Gifting a Soulful Christmas
    Hey y’all! Michelle Tyrene Johnson here. You usually hear from me in the summertime, but I’m popping in with “Gifting a Soulful Christmas,” an hour-long exploration of Black holiday music! I spoke to music experts and music lovers to share what makes Black Christmas and holiday music pull a little extra in your soul this time of year. Our experts include Otis Junior and Destiny Carter from 91.9FM WFPK and Kiana Del from 90.5FM WUOL, some of your favorite Louisville Public Media hosts. Enjoy!
  • A Black gay comedian walks into a comedy club…
    Black don’t crack, except when it comes to cracking jokes. And Keith McGill does it for a living. McGill is a Louisville native and class clown who took it to a microphone for the first time when he was in his 20s. Since then he has used comedy to talk about a range of tough topics — some tougher than others, depending on the audience. Being Black, being gay, grieving his partner of over 30 years... He believes if you set it up right, you can use humor to talk about anything. In fact, sometimes humor is the only way to talk about what hurts us the most.
  • When the voice in your head is an old white man named Everett
    On this episode of Race Unwrapped, we meet Pooja Reddy, a comedian and writer whose family immigrated from Hyderabad in southern India to Glasgow, Kentucky. Her humor draws heavily from her childhood experiences — in one bit, she describes herself as “personally victimized by the location of [her] parents’ green card sponsor.” Reddy unwraps how her childhood in rural Kentucky shaped her outlook and fuels her humor. And she talks about pivoting to comedy after leaving the straight-laced government job that made her family proud (I mean, she worked for the Obamas, but a government job is a government job).
  • NPR’s Eric Deggans unwraps the curious and careful career of Eddie Murphy
    In the early 1980s, a young Eddie Murphy stepped into the national comedy scene and revitalized a flaccid “Saturday Night Live.” His career since then has been a fascinating reflection of how white American audiences relate to Black comedy. He was the lone Black man in fish-out-of-water movies like “Beverly Hills Cop,” then pivoted to movies like “Harlem Nights” and “Coming to America” with largely Black casts, catering to Black audiences. And though his early works like “Eddie Murphy Raw” were famously edgy, it was later family-friendly stuff that brought his career back from a slump… and seemed to make him more palatable to white folks. On this episode, NPR’s TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans joins host Michelle Tyrene Johnson to explore what Eddie Murphy’s career can teach us about how Black humor fits into American culture.
  • Are you laughing with me or at me? Second City’s Anne Libera unwraps the ethics of comedy
    Sometimes people just know their stuff. And in the case of Anne Libera, her stuff is comedy and she knows it well. Libera is a professor of comedy at Columbia University in Chicago, and the director of comedy studies at Second City, and is a performance director there. This episode, we unwrap the anatomy of a comedy routine and how joking about serious topics has changed over time… and she pours a little bit of tea on some of her more famous students.
  • How could you joke about THAT?!
    A Black Baptist minister, a Chinese Buddhist monk and a White Presbyterian walk into a bar… and for more than one reason, they may not all laugh at how the joke ends. This season of Race Unwrapped we’re focused on the tie between race and humor. On this episode, I talk with Dr. Lawrence Edwin Williams about how humor connects us as humans, and how it can help us deal with difficult situations. Williams teaches marketing at the University of Colorado and received his Ph. D. in Psychology at Yale. By studying with colleagues how people used humor to cope with Hurricane Sandy, he found that there is a certain degree of time that needs to pass before tragedy becomes comedy. As a Black man himself, he has plenty of insight to share about how his findings apply to race, how people of color can use humor to connect with other people who have shared racial experiences, and how humor and time can soften tragedy and help you heal from it.
  • How Rain Pryor uses humor to explore race (and what she learned from her dad, Richard)
    Comedian Richard Pryor didn’t leave much on the cutting room floor when it came to comedy. Not sex, family, religion, or politics. Certainly not race, or being Black in America. Many of today’s comedians can trace their lineage of fearless humor right back to Richard Pryor, and that includes his own progeny. On this episode of Race Unwrapped, I talk with Rain Pryor, Richard Pryor’s daughter and an actress, director, and writer in her own right. We reflect on how different the landscape looks for comedians who honestly and authentically talk about race in America today. It's the first episode of our new season, which will unwrap how comedy helps us tackle big and hard topics about race — the vulnerable and the ugly, the joyous and the revelatory.
  • Who gets to use all the letters of the n-word
    “How come I don’t get to say the word n……” That’s the sound of the forever question in American society about why white people can’t use the n-word. Like mosquito bites in summer that you forget about in January, there is always some public controversy or private party chatter about why THAT word is straight-up off limits. On this episode, I talk with University of Kentucky English and African and African American Studies Professor Regina Hamilton-Townsend. We unwrap how the actual n-word — whether it ends with a hard “er” or the soft “a” — is not a word that should be coming out of the mouths of white people.
  • When to protest the use of the word riot
    Riots. Protests. Uprisings. Even insurrections. Each conjures up different images and feelings, doesn’t it? On this episode, I sit down to discuss that very thing with Dr. Ricky Jones from the University of Louisville’s Pan-African Studies department. We talk about how when Black people and Black allies come together to protest injustice, no matter how peaceful the protests, it almost always still gets characterized as a riot.
  • A Karen by any other name still Karens
    “Karen” has become shorthand for nosy, overstepping and entitled white women over the last few years. Whether it’s calling the police on a Black man birdwatching, Black children selling water or Black travelers entering an Airbnb, white women who assume that unknown Black people in their neighborhoods must be up to no good get the nickname. On this episode, I sit down with Dr. Kendra Calhoun, a linguist in the anthropology department of UCLA, to talk about the benefits and the downsides of having a cutesy name for a certain brand of racist behavior.
  • Asian-American hate often starts with words
    With the first outbreak of COVID-19 came an alarming increase in ugly language targeted at Asian Americans — from schoolyard bullies, cable news pundits, and even the White House — things like “China virus,” and worse. And those words don’t just hurt the ear but go hand-in-hand with actual harm. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, during the first year of the pandemic, hate crimes targeting Asian-American communities increased by 342% in eight large American cities. How do ugly words influence the rise in Asian-American hate crimes the country has seen? That’s what I talk about on this episode, with Vietnamese-American journalist Curtis Tate.
  • Race Unwrapped: When the compliment articulate doesn't sound right
    Sometimes when you’re paying a compliment, it doesn't sound like one on the receiving end. For example, calling a Black person “articulate” isn’t usually the praise you think it is. Steve Bien-Aimé, assistant professor of journalism at Northern Kentucky University, helps us unwrap how compliments like articulate and well-spoken can sometimes sound just a bit shady.