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The United States of Anxiety

Author: WNYC Studios

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The United States of Anxiety: The United States of Anxiety is a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future. Many of the political and social arguments we’re having now started in the aftermath of the Civil War, when Americans set out to do something no one had tried before: build the world’s first multiracial democracy. The podcast gives voters the context to understand what’s at stake in this election. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other great podcasts including Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, and On the Media.
96 Episodes
A family’s legend about "40 acres and a mule” takes host Kai Wright on a fact checking mission to the Mississippi Delta. He finds an unexpected solution to wealth inequality in the U.S. We first told the Lester family’s story in February, when we began exploring the unfinished business of Reconstruction. Now, as the country transitions out of the chaos of the Trump administration, we revisit the story and reflect on the effort to bring about economic justice in the Biden era.  Elbert Lester has lived his full 94 years in Quitman County, Mississippi, on land he and his family own. That’s exceptional for Black people in this area today, but at one time, Black farmers owned the majority of this land. What happened to change that? Kai’s reporting leads him to a question still at the core of our national political debate: Who are the rightful owners of this country’s staggering wealth?  Companion listening from our archives:  “Who Owns the Deed to the American Dream” “A Secret Meeting in South Bend” “The United States of Anxiety” airs live on Sunday evenings at 6pm ET. The podcast episodes are lightly edited from our live broadcasts. To catch all the action, tune into the show on Sunday nights via the stream on or tell your smart speakers to play WNYC.
“Reverse racism” has haunted the fight for job equity for generations. How’d this bizarre idea become such a bugbear? One Supreme Court case, 50 years ago helps explain.  This week, our reporter Marianne McCune tells the story of that case — and its aftermath — to help explain why the American workplace is still so segregated. It’s the story of an affirmative action program at an aluminum plant on the banks of the Mississippi River. Marianne introduces us to a Black family that finally found economic opportunity through the plant’s affirmative action program — and to a white man who argued that the program violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. The outcome will surprise you.  Companion listening from our archives: Two Schools In Marin County (02/06/2020) and A Secret Meeting in South Bend (02/27/2020) “The United States of Anxiety” airs live on Sunday evenings at 6pm ET. The podcast episodes are lightly edited from our live broadcasts. To catch all the action, tune into the show on Sunday nights via the stream on or tell your smart speakers to play WNYC.
White supremacist myths turn defeated leaders into heroic victors. Will Donald Trump now get the same transfiguration as Robert E. Lee? If history is our guide -- as it often is on this show -- then there’s reason to worry about the answer to that question. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. David Blight (Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and the author of "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom") joins Kai to tell the story of the Confederacy’s Lost Cause mythology -- how it was created, why it still matters today, and how similar it may feel to the new Lost Cause of Donald Trump. Plus, we open our pre-election time capsule of your wildest dreams. Before the election, we asked you to imagine a future for the country, your communities, and yourselves. In this episode, we share some of the dreams you sent us -- including a dream of cross-species telepathy! Really, though.  Companion listening from our archives: An Invitation to Dream (11/02/2020) A Historian’s Guide to the 2020 Election (09/28/2020) The Life and Work of Ida B. Wells (05/08/2020) “The United States of Anxiety” airs live on Sunday evenings at 6pm ET. The podcast episodes are lightly edited from our live broadcasts. To catch all the action, tune into the show on Sunday nights via the stream on or tell your smart speakers to play WNYC.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry joins Kai to discuss all of our complex feelings as Donald Trump’s presidency comes to an end. More people voted in this presidential election than ever. But did it resolve anything? Are we any closer to being a truly multiracial democracy? And how do we feel about the United States and our place in it — after all that has happened? Listeners call in to answer these questions for themselves, as Kai and Melissa Harris-Perry try to take stock. Drs. Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren are the hosts of The Nation’s System Check, a new 10-episode podcast uncovering the harmful systems operating under the hood of U.S. democracy. The United States of Anxiety airs live every Sunday evening at 6 Eastern time. The podcast episodes are lightly edited from our live broadcasts. To catch all the action, stream the show on or tell your smart speakers to play WNYC, each Sunday evening.
An Invitation To Dream

An Invitation To Dream


Radical imagination is now essential. What can we imagine for our country, our communities, and ourselves beyond this election, and beyond this pandemic? In this episode, we face our fears and dream big. Help us make a time capsule of our imaginations. Record a voice memo with your wildest dreams about the future, and send it to  Plus, Ashley C. Ford, writer and co-host of the HBO's Lovecraft Country Radio podcast, joins our producer Veralyn Williams for a discussion about American horror, power, race and so much more. Plus, we invite a few friends of the show back to imagine a future that lives up to the American Dream and the ideals of our democracy. You can vote safely in-person across the country this Tuesday, November 3, 2020. To locate your designated polling place, visit or if you live in New York City.
Voting is a hallmark of our democracy, but it is not guaranteed for any American citizen. Visit WNYC/Gothamist’s “2020 Voter Guide For New York And New Jersey” to make a plan. If you live outside of NY and NJ, visit for information about how you can safely vote this year. This week, senior editor Christopher Werth brings us a story about the not-so-secret legal crusade against the Voting Rights Act, led by law firms representing the Republican Party and the Trump campaign. And with Election season coming to an end, Historian Dr. Carol Anderson joins us for a conversation about how American voters, particularly Black Americans, had fought and continue to fight for their right to participate in the democratic process - safely and with certainty that their votes will count. Dr. Anderson is a Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of several books including “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation's Divide” (2016).
A Zombie Political Party

A Zombie Political Party


With almost two weeks left until Election Day, Charlie Sykes, founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark, joins us for a conversation about Republican party politics over the last 50 years, the Trump effect, the dramatic fight for the Supreme Court and how we all may move forward in the days, months and years following November 3rd. Conservative listeners grappling with their political identity and choices, weigh in during the show.
After a summer of outdoor dining, hiking, and staying indoors, New York City is on alert… again. Localized COVID spikes across the city have prompted lockdowns of schools and businesses, but the pandemic is back on all our minds, following the diagnosis and hospitalization of President Trump and many of the people around him. Dr. Oxiris Barbot M.D., the former commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, joins us to discuss leadership in a pandemic, the state of American public health today and the hard choices we’ve made to live another day. And reporter Jenny Casas brings us a short meditation on risk in the time of Covid-19. For information on free COVID testing in New York City, visit
Reporter Christopher Werth brings us a story from Wisconsin, a key swing state, about the legal efforts to suppress the votes of communities of color and how Milwaukee-based organizers like Melody McCurtis are determined to make sure that every vote is counted.  WNYC’s Brigid Bergen joins us to talk about the challenges that New Yorkers are facing to get their vote out amidst uncertain circumstances. Visit (NYC) or to ensure that you are registered to vote and make a plan.  Listen to Brian Lehrer’s special, “America, Are We Ready to Vote in a Pandemic?” here.
As the country confronts racial tensions and class conflicts, the question begs: how did we get here? We look back to a moment in our history when our country was struggling to become a true, multiracial democracy-- meeting a lot of roadblocks, many of which persist today. Historian Eric Foner gives us a primer on the Reconstruction Era amendments that we explored in season four and producer Veralyn Williams rides along to help us make sense of what it means today and how we can move forward as one nation.
A Court On The Edge

A Court On The Edge


The Republican Party has long sought a stable conservative majority in the Supreme Court. With the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat up for grabs, that could become a reality - but not without a fight. WNYC's Jami Floyd (Senior Editor for Race and Justice) and Elie Mystal (Justice Correspondent at The Nation) join us to set the scene for the battle over the Supreme Court and what a vacancy on the bench of the highest court in the nation represents for Election 2020 and our collective future.
In this special episode, we reflect on the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, following her passing on Friday. Kai is joined by Emily Bazelon (Staff Writer at The New York Times Magazine and Co-Host of “Political Gabfest” at Slate), WNYC’s own Brian Lehrer and callers like you to talk about the impact of the “Notorious RBG” on the nation and its citizens.
Many teams have been playing without crowds this year but stadiums still have a captive audience. Sports editor and “Edge of Sports” podcast host Dave Zirin joins us for the hour as we explore how and when in our history athletes have taken a stand for civil rights and social justice. WNBA point guard Renee Montgomery talks about what led her to sit out the 2020 season to pursue change and uplift Black communities.
The Necessary Work

The Necessary Work


2020 has been a year of reflection, mourning and perspective. This Labor Day, we look back at the last major fiscal crisis in New York City before delving into the history and experiences of the “essential workers” who have kept the city running during the COVID pandemic. Reporter Jenny Casas gets into the gritty work and history of “New York’s Strongest,” the Department of Sanitation. Ai-jen Poo, the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, joins us to talk about the state of care and domestic work today. Plus, we take calls from listeners who work in homes across the Tri-state.
Scared in the Suburbs

Scared in the Suburbs


The suburbs are in danger, according to the speakers at the Republican National Convention last week. President Trump and Republican voices leaned into the anxieties that some white and suburban residents are grappling with in the face of deep political division, violent unrest and rapidly changing demographics. We revisit our 2016 segment with Dr. Kwame Holmes, a historian and scholar-in-residence for Human Rights at Bard College, about the segregated history of the classic American suburbs of the past and today.  Andrea Bernstein, host of the WNYC and ProPublica podcast, Trump, Inc. and best-selling author of “AMERICAN OLIGARCHS: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power,” (out in paperback on October 6th) offers insight into her coverage of the RNC and joins us as we take calls from suburban voters who are uncertain about how they will vote come November. Following the untimely passing of award-winning actor and philanthropist Chadwick Boseman, globally known for his role as Black Panther/ King T'Challa in the Marvel film franchise, our producer Veralyn Williams responds and encourages our listeners to tell us how they are lifting their own spirits in the midst of these heavy and uncertain times.  How have you been seeking joy? What is keeping you going? Send us your voice notes to or tweet using the hashtag #USofAnxiety.  You can also follow Kai at @kai_wright and subscribe to our podcast for all of our episodes.
Do you have a story about something you’ve endured for racial justice? Producer Veralyn Williams tells us her story and we wanna hear YOUR version! How much tension and discomfort are YOU willing to endure (or not), to create the kind of equitable, multiracial society we say we want? Record a voice memo and email us at
“It’s My Party”

“It’s My Party”


For our first LIVE episode, we reflect on last week’s Democratic National Convention by exploring what it means to be a Democrat in a party divided and we take your calls about what you need to see from the Dems.  Producer Carolyn Adams takes us to Southeast Queens to meet District Leader Roslin Spigner who sheds light on civics in Black institutions and what it means to be a Democrat in a borough divided. Kai invites Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Democratic candidate for Governor in Michigan and author of “Healing Politics: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic,” to discuss progressive policies, privilege and power. And we ask listeners what they need to see from Democratic candidates going forward.
Do you consider yourself part of the Democratic Party? We want to hear from you! Tell us what the Democratic Party can do for YOU, in YOUR life? Record a voice memo and send it to us at 
Incarcerated youth do what it takes to survive in prison everyday, in the hopes of making it back home someday. In this final installment of our presentation of Caught, reporter Jared Marcelle finds Z behind bars again - following a misstep while on parole - and chronicles how solitary confinement and years of uncertainty have changed his life. Caught: The Lives of Juvenile Justice is hosted by Kai Wright and supported, in part, by the Anne Levy Fund, Margaret Neubart Foundation, the John and Gwen Smart Family Foundation, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. ‘You Just Sit There and Wait for the Next Day to Come’ was originally published on March 28, 2018. Listen to more episodes here.
In this second installment of our presentation of Caught, then-16-year-old Z grapples with a reality that incarcerated youth with mental health needs face everyday: support comes at a cost. Reporter Jared Marcelle continues to follow his journey through the criminal justice system and juvenile justice lawyer and poet Dwayne Betts sheds light on a vicious catch-22. Caught: The Lives of Juvenile Justice is hosted by Kai Wright and supported, in part, by the Anne Levy Fund, Margaret Neubart Foundation, the John and Gwen Smart Family Foundation, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. 'They Look at Me Like a Menace' was originally published on March 14, 2018. Listen to more episodes here.
Comments (3)


just started listening

Feb 17th

Nancy Loomis

Oh my, I wanted to cry listening to the degradation and violence that African Americans had to endure in Mississippi and other southern states "back in the day." And I've heard this history before...all the nasty, deadly and heartless treatment. Still, it disturbs me when I hear it afresh. I'm a white American, born in Ala, but primarily raised in Ohio & Fla., but at 63 I recall how things were & how grateful I was that I never had to experience "that." But what about others not so "lucky?"Am I not my brother & sister's keeper as the story in the Bible tells me? Aren't the words in the Sunday School song "red and yellow, black & white, they are precious in his sight" true? And we know racism & prejudice for blacks and other people of color is still alive & well with much left to be done, especially in our criminal justice system and law enforcement. I pray to God that we can get out from under a president such as Trump who fuels racism and seems bent on taking us back in time to a place that is worse for all.

Jan 31st

Jeff Burt

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Oct 24th
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