Seven ways I challenged and broaden my experience or understanding in 2016


I find one of the most damaging elements to not only my own intellectual growth, but also to the health of civil society is a blindness to personal bias. This is why I am always seeking new ways to challenge myself to discover new sources of information that offer insight outside of my own experience. Sometimes those discovers appear to fly directly into the face of deeply held personal beliefs.

In general, I visit a lot of different news and special interest group sites (some of which I am to this day deeply offended by and whose message I am opposed to). I also ask friends, family and others what they’re reading, watching or listening to.

With that as preface, here are seven sources of information that challenged, informed and broadened my understanding of the society I live in 2016.

“13th”

“13th” takes its name from the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution that made slavery illegal, but left provisions to strip people convicted of crimes and imprisoned of certain rights. The film primarily explores how elected officials since the 1970s shaped public policy to target African Americans after the adoption of equal protection laws passed in the 1960s that dismantled outright racist Jim Crow laws in the South. The documentary makes its argument through news clips, data and interviews with scholars and Republicans and Democrats who often helped craft said policies. The opinions and frankness of the politicians are particularly eye opening. The documentary is available for streaming on Netflix or can be watched online here.

There Goes the Neighborhood

This limited series podcast from WNYC tackles the ongoing gentrification of Brooklyn and the burrough’s history of housing policy that created the current situation. In the process the show’s producers show how northern cities segregated neighborhoods through market forces versus outright legislation. You can learn more about and listen to the full podcast series here.

“Between the World and Me”

The book by  Atlantic staff writer Ta-Nehisi Coates published in July 2015. I didn’t discover it until this past summer. The 152 page memoir, which Coates writes as a series of letters addressed to his son, is a meditation on growing up black in the United States. Coates shares powerful insights illustrating an American experience I can only begin to fathom, but does give context for moments such as Black Lives Matter.

More Perfect

A spinoff of popular public radio program and podcast series “Radiolab,” “More Perfect” takes a deep dive into the history and issues surrounding the United States Supreme Court. “Object Away,” the episode embedded above, focuses on a Louisville-based court case and Supreme Court decision that was supposed to end race-based jury selection in criminal trials. The outcome though only made the issue worse.

The Read

As a middle-aged white guy, I can confidently state I’m not the target audience for this weekly podcast. Hosts Kid Fury and Crissle riff on black pop culture, weekly headlines, answer questions submitted by listeners and occasionally hammer white culture while they are at it. The best part is their back-and-forth typically has me laughing out loud while making me look at the world (as much as I am able) outside of my own experience.

Reveal

Reveal, a regular podcast produced by  non-profit The Center for Investigative Reporting, takes deep dives into the inner and behind the scene workings of business, government and communities. It often offers challenging views on sometimes unpopular topics from the vantage point of those unable to challenge the powerful systems they live in.

Reason

I hold no strong feelings for or against basic libertarian principle Reason represents. My biggest issue with its largely hands-off approach to government and faith in a truly self-correcting free market that will guarantee individual liberties has always been that it feels a little too idealistic about human behavior. As a pessimist I can’t help but believe that left to their own devices most people are too selfish for such a system to exist and that by stripping away too many laws and regulations open the government we have to unchecked abuses or oppressive rule that unfairly benefits one special interest while harming others. With that said, I started reading Reason as a way, once again, to challenge myself. What I find through regularly reading Reason is some common ground and arguments made by some pretty insightful, principled people who offer a healthy dose of skepticism toward both major U.S. political parties and thus push me out of my own experience and ways of thinking.