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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.
73 Episodes
Zoned for Resistance

Zoned for Resistance


As Covid-19 first spread through Chicago, the residents of Little Village faced another imminent crisis — the hastily-approved demolition of an old coal-fired power plant that left the neighborhood shrouded in dust during a pandemic lock-down. This week, reporter Jenny Casas tells the story of Kim Wasserman's decades-long fight for environmental justice in Little Village and the lessons it offers for protest movements sweeping the country.     You can read the full history of how Chicago's coal power plants were closed in Kari Lydersen’s book, "Closing the Cloud Factories: Lessons from the fight to shut down Chicago’s coal plants" as well as view the most recent coverage of the fallout from the implosion via Mauricio Peña on Block Club Chicago here.
Juneteenth marks a triumphant moment for not just Black Americans, but all people who have sought liberation globally. On June 19th, Kai Wright hosted a special episode of “The Brian Lehrer Show” with a series of conversations about the history of the national holiday, classical music and Black politics - then and now. Guests include WQXR's Terrance McKnight, historian Dr. Daina Ramey Berry and calls from listeners about their family histories of emancipation. Listen to Terrance McKnight's Juneteenth special, "The Black Experience in the Concert Hall," at
Rage, Grief, Joy

Rage, Grief, Joy


After months of fear and mourning amid a global pandemic, we’re now in the streets. This week, we talk about catharsis and the ways we gather to fight, to grieve and to show up for each other. We hear from Shanika Hart, First Lady of The Gathering Harlem, on being a Black mom, fighting for Black lives. And we learn about the life of beloved Brooklynite Lloyd Porter, who died of Covid-19, and the unique way his community gathered to mourn him.
As the nation faces the dual brunts of the pandemic and the on-going brutality against black bodies, people more than ever are finding ways to “do the work” in their communities. This week our reporter Jenny Casas takes us to a neighborhood in Chicago where Mexican residents are confronting anti-black violence. Anjali Kamat reports a dispatch from her neighborhood in New York, one of the American epicenters of Covid-19 cases, Jackson Heights.  Read more coverage of what happened in Chicago from the South Side Weekly.
It’s hard enough when there’s no pandemic to keep mentally ill inmates from falling through the holes in a patchwork system when they come out. Now it’s harder than ever. A huge number of people who are locked up in this country are mentally ill or addicted to drugs or both. This episode, we go to Cleveland, Ohio to follow a psychiatrist and a social worker as they, first, try to find and, then, support recently released inmates, all while social distancing. The United States of Anxiety’s health coverage is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Working to build a Culture of Health that ensures everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. More at
The week Ida B. Wells’ reporting on lynching received a Pulitzer Prize, a video of 25 year-old Ahmaud Arbery being chased and killed began to circulate on social media. It was one of the few news stories that have grabbed widespread attention amid the coronavirus pandemic. But how do we all process such horrible violence, even as we continue to face the daily tragedies of a pandemic? To answer that question, host Kai Wright sat down for a video chat with a writer whose debut collection of dystopian short stories has won widespread acclaim for reimagining America's responses to anti-black violence. In this episode, Kai and Friday Black author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah reflect on how they each deal with the spectacle of anti-black violence, what they learned from their elders, and the mind-scrambling experience of living through a pandemic at the center of global capitalism.
Journalist and activist Ida B. Wells was in some ways, a forgotten figure, overlooked even in black civil rights history. But her reporting on lynchings across the South was unwavering in its mission: calling America out on racial injustice. And this week, that work received a special Pulitzer Prize Citation. Also, in 2018 we recorded a live episode remembering the life and work of Ida B. Wells at The Greene Space. Watch the whole event here.
Three months ago, Kai Wright joined The New Yorker Radio Hour's David Remnick, for a special episode about the effects of mass incarceration and the movement to end it. And now, as the coronavirus pandemic puts inmates in acute and disproportionate danger, that effort gains new traction. Wright and Remnick reconvene to examine the COVID-19 crisis in prison and its political effects. Kai Wright interviews Udi Ofer, the head of the A.C.L.U.’s Justice Division, who notes that “the communities that the C.D.C. has told us are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are exactly the communities that are housed in our nation’s jails and prisons,” including a disproportionately older population among inmates. And David Remnick speaks with Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, who has signed an executive order to release certain at-risk inmates from states prisons — the sort of measure that would once have been deeply unpopular and risky.
As black people die from Covid-19 at disproportionate rates, the disease is highlighting health disparities we’ve long known about. Kai Wright speaks with Arline Geronimus, a public health researcher, about what happens to black people’s bodies — on a cellular level — while living in a racist society. Plus, we hear from senior producer Veralyn Williams’ dad, an essential worker in New York who’s doing his best to weather the pandemic.
Right now, many of us are sheltered in our homes — alone or with company — finding ways to connect in our “new normal.” And as we grapple with how COVID-19 has reshaped our day-to-day, all most of us can do is wait it out. So in this episode, we’re going to turn to a poem, 45 Questions to Ask While Waiting. Our reporter Jenny Casas looks to it when she wants to get to know the people around her. The poem was written by Chicago-based artist, educator and activist, Benji Hart. The list has questions that range from the mundane (2. Where is the least-visited corner in your home?) to the romantic (5. What is the cruelest thing you have done in love?) to the deeply personal (20. What hypocrisy in yourself have you yet to amend?) — and this week, Jenny and Benji talk about how the questions have helped them think and listen while waiting. Additional resources: - Hear about Benji Hart’s work in progress, World After This One.  - Read one of the main inspirations for 45 Questions To Ask While Waiting, Dean Spade’s Questionnaire.  
When health officials ordered everyone to wear face masks during the 1918 influenza pandemic, black women in Chicago got creative and crafted jewel-studded veils to stay safe. Kai Wright speaks with The Undefeated’s Soraya Nadia McDonald about seeking joy — and staying fly — in times of crisis. Show us how you’re staying safe and stylish: Get your look together and send us a selfie with the hashtag #USofAnxiety2020. Read Soraya's full article at The Undefeated. #USofAnxiety2020 — Brandon Lawrence (@MrJuggySummers) April 8, 2020 #USofAnxiety2020Mask by my mommy. Black and white photo in the back by @photoDre. I call this double photo “Black Girls: Past and future”. — Christina Greer (@Dr_CMGreer) April 8, 2020 @kai_wright my husband @kfs47 has been missing basketball, so I made a set of b-ball print masks for us! Debuted mine today with @warriors gear and basketball tie + scarf to pick up organic groceries from our favorite local cafe, @sallyloos #USofAnxiety2020 — Erin Cathleen Messer (@ecmesser) April 8, 2020 #USofAnxiety2020 Our family took the island theme, decked out in summer clothes and sunglasses, and of course our home made masks. #covidcation — J Enebo (@EneboGirls) April 8, 2020 #USofAnxiety2020 — (@newheromusic) April 8, 2020 #USofAnxiety2020 — trish russoniello (@trishrussoniel1) April 8, 2020
We’ve got two dispatches from communities where "social-distancing" is not an option. And where decisions we made long ago about homelessness and immigration policy are getting in the way of our ability to protect against Covid 19. WNYC Investigative Reporter Matt Katz brings us calls from inside immigration detention centers. And our reporter Marianne McCune checks in with a homeless advocate, Sam Dennison, who lives and works inside San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, with the highest number of people sleeping in tents in the city. The United States of Anxiety’s health coverage is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Working to build a Culture of Health that ensures everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. More at
Our current situation has left many of us asking fundamental questions about our work, about our relationships, and the meaning of home. This week, we're checking in on one another and taking stock. Host Kai Wright calls reporter Jenny Casas on her drive from New York to Chicago. Then, he and Dr. Gail Christopher, Executive Director at National Collaborative for Health Equity, connect for a conversation about Kai's "Katrina Feeling," how racism is poised to affect us all in the face of COVID-19, and why it's important to spend some time among the trees.  The United States of Anxiety’s health coverage is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Working to build a Culture of Health that ensures everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. More at
Presenting: White Lies

Presenting: White Lies


The United States of Anxiety presents: White Lies On the United States of Anxiety, we explore the unfinished business of American history and its grip on our future.  Our friends at NPR's White Lies share that interest. Today, we’re bringing you the first episode of their series. In 1965, Rev. James Reeb was murdered in Selma, Alabama. Three men were tried and acquitted, but no one was ever held accountable. Fifty years later, two journalists from Alabama return to the town where it happened, expose the lies that kept the murder from being solved and uncover a story about guilt and memory that says as much about America today as it does about the past. Hosted by Andrew Beck Grace and Chip Brantley. Subscribe here.
Last Chance at Justice

Last Chance at Justice


History tells us that, in a time of crisis, we have to be careful about how we respond. At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Salah Hasan Nusaif al-Ejaili was working as a journalist when the U.S. military detained him inside Abu Ghraib, a prison that would become notorious for American abuses committed in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Only a handful of people were ever held responsible—all of them military personnel. But the private contractors who oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib have yet to be held accountable. In this episode, one man's pursuit to get justice 17 years after the war began.  Hosted by Kai Wright. Reported by Seth Freed Wessler, in partnership with Reveal and Type Media Center. Produced and edited by Christopher Werth.  
Black Power at the Polls

Black Power at the Polls


A lot of people have a lot of opinions about the choices black people are making in the Democratic primary. But as we've seen in other election cycles, when the dust settles, the country seems to move on. This week, host Kai Wright sits down with Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, to discuss the Reconstruction-era origins of today's coalition between black voters in the South and liberal white voters in the North... and why this relationship often precludes a conversation about actual black political power.  - LeeAnna Keith is author of When it was Grand - Normalizing Injustice is a study of scripted crime TV shows by Color of Change and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center
The United States of Anxiety presents: What Next "One person, one vote" has not always been a given in America. After the Civil War, there was some debate over who should be counted in a congressional district: every person, or every person eligible to vote? The 14th Amendment aimed to settle this question forever, but as the demographics of our country have shifted and changed over the course of our nation's history, so too have the politics of how we count the people who live within our borders. This week, our friends at Slate's What Next podcast team up with reporter Ari Berman to tell a story about how the Trump Administration has revived the debate, and the GOP's quiet plan to redefine political representation and maintain white minority rule in America. - Mary Harris is host of What Next. Hear the original version of this story here. - Ari Berman is author of Give Us the Ballot. Read his original reporting on this issue at Mother Jones.  
Mike Jackson, like many descendants of the Great Migration, has a family home that was built from protest, resilience and ingenuity. In the spring of 1950, his parents met in secret with 25 other families to create Better Homes of South Bend. Their efforts would later become a collection of homes on the 1700 and 1800 blocks of N. Elmer St. But today, the value of those houses doesn’t match the work it took to put them there. This week: what these family stories of housing in the “heartland” say about inequity in home ownership today. - Gabrielle Robinson is the author of Better Homes of South Bend: An American Story of Courage. Robinson is currently working with a Washington D.C. based playwright to adapt the Better Homes story into a play.  - Andre Perry is a Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and the author of The Devaluation of Assets in Black Neighborhoods and the forthcoming book Know Your Price.  - The full interview with Leroy and Margaret Cobb, as well as other interviews about South Bend life during the time Better Homes organizing, can be heard through the Oral History Collection of the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center.  Hosted by Kai Wright. Reported by Jenny Casas. The United States of Anxiety’s health coverage is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Working to build a Culture of Health that ensures everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. More at CORRECTION: In this episode, we say that Andre Perry's study was published "last year." It actually came out in November 2018.
Fragility in Liberty

Fragility in Liberty


Many of us associate the Statue of Liberty with the poem mounted on her pedestal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The monument has become a symbol of immigration. What fewer of us know is that Lady Liberty was originally conceived as a tribute to the abolition of slavery. In fact, what we find as we look into history is that our country's immigration policy is closely intertwined with the end of Reconstruction and rise of Jim Crow. In this episode, we tell the story of one undocumented immigrant—Carlos Aguirre-Venegas—and trace the origins of a little-known law that's now being used to prosecute tens of thousands of people who crossed the border, separate some from their children, and lock them away in federal prisons. - Jim Elkin is a National Park Ranger at Statue of Liberty National Monument - Eric Foner is author of The Second Founding - Kelly Lytle Hernandez is a professor of History, African American Studies, and Urban Planning at UCLA and author of City of Inmates Hosted by Kai Wright. Reported by Seth Freed Wessler, in partnership with Type Investigations. Produced and edited by Christopher Werth. For more on Seth's reporting about Carlos Aguirre-Venegas and the privately-run prisons used exclusively to incarcerate non-citizens convicted of crimes, see his 2016 investigation in The Nation.
As primary season kicks off, Democratic voters around the country face a deeper choice than electability: Is the best response to Donald Trump a return to comity and unity in our politics, or must they embrace the ugly conflict that fundamental change will likely require? We get advice on confronting the enormity of the choice from Deidre Dejear, a voting advocate in Iowa. Plus, a look back at another election in which voters faced a similar choice--and when politics collapsed into outright warfare. - Deidre Dejear became the first black candidate to win a statewide primary in Iowa when she ran for Secretary of State in 2018. She later became Kamala Harris' Iowa campaign chair. - LeeAnna Keith is author of When It Was Grand. Hosted by Kai Wright. Produced by Jessica Miller. Special thanks to the Public Policy Center at the University of Iowa.
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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