Back in America

Stan Berteloot

Interviews from a multicultural perspective that question the way we understand America read less
Society & CultureSociety & Culture

Episodes

Listen again: Divers from the EPIX/ BBC Docuseries “Enslaved”: Diving on Shipwrecked Slave Ships
Oct 20 2021
Listen again: Divers from the EPIX/ BBC Docuseries “Enslaved”: Diving on Shipwrecked Slave Ships
This episode was originally published on December 17, 2020 In this episode, I interview three crew members of the EPIX / BBC docuseries Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. While 2020 has been a year of intense examination of racism in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Enslaved takes a deep dive at the historical realities of the Middle Passage. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, The Guardian’s Afua Hirsh, and investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, the series travels across the globe to sites of slave ships to uncover what these sunken graveyards can reveal about life onboard––lives of which there is little historical record or archive.  Our first guest is the British marine archaeologist Dr. Sean Kingsley who served as a historical advisor to the series’ diving crew.   Then two of the divers will join me: Kinga Philipps and Kramer Wimberley.  An award-winning journalist, writer, TV host, and esteemed member of the Explorer’s Club, Kinga provided a European perspective to the shoot, and also was one of the few non-Black divers for Enslaved. Next, Kramer will introduce himself as the series’ lead diving instructor who also leads “Diving with a Purpose,” a maritime archaeology program that protects the legacy of the Transatlantic slave trade shipwrecks. Each of the three interviews was broadcasted live and can be watched in full on the Back in America’s YouTube channel.   As I conducted these interviews, I wanted to understand two things. First, what did diving on the wrecks of slave ships us about the history of the slave trade. Then, I wanted the divers to speak about their own experiences as they dived and explored these sunken mass graves, especially in light of recent activism in America.   Dr Sean Kingsley Wreckwatch Mag    Kramer Wimberly Diving With a Purpose   Kinga Philipps This episode was partially edited by Back in America’s Podcast Editor Josh Wagner.   Read the Transcript
SETI – Dr. Seth Shostak – Searching for E.T.
Sep 18 2021
SETI – Dr. Seth Shostak – Searching for E.T.
Back in America is a podcast exploring America’s culture, values, and identity. This conversation was recorded live on September 17. You can watch the unedited version on our Youtube channel.  Listen to this episode to learn more about the release of the Pentagon report on UFOs to Congress. The importance of cosmos exploration. The chances of finding extraterrestrial life in our lifetime. After taking a long summer break during which my intern Josh Wagner took over Back in America with his excellent series Poetism I am happy to be back behind the mic. My guest, Seth Shostak is a Doctor in Astronomy, and an Alien Hunter working with the SETI Institute, a research organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe. In fact, SETI stands for the "search for extraterrestrial intelligence". He has published more than 400 articles on science including regular contributions to NBC News MACH, gives many dozens of talks annually, and is the host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science.”  During our conversation, he said, “The equipment is getting faster and faster. We're looking at more and more of the universe. And on that basis that I've bet everyone a cup of Starbucks coffee, that we will find some evidence that we're not alone by 2035.   The SETI Institute https://www.seti.org/ Dr. Soth Shostak http://sethshostak.com/ The Big Picture Science Podcast https://radio.seti.org/
Poetism Part 7: Can you describe it all? Scott Stevens on the Cocteau Twins & Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Aug 13 2021
Poetism Part 7: Can you describe it all? Scott Stevens on the Cocteau Twins & Brigit Pegeen Kelly
If the particular cannot be repeated, it remains forever lost; and this is why there can be no final closure to mourning. There can only be, alongside of mourning,​ learning to love new particulars ––Louise Fradenburg   In this week’s installment of “Poetism,” we’d like to ask about how words, poems, songs, and other kinds of art objects help bring life to a world. And by world, we mean a perspective, something experienced and understood in the innermost part of our being. Whether faced by inner solitude or loss, words attempt to communicate a state of affairs. But do they have to? Is there a way of placing listeners and readers directly into an experience without only describing it? Are there more direct ways of touching or “worlding” or elegizing? Or, in the words of this week’s poet, a moment: “Stands, the way a status / does in the mind.​​   Perhaps! And it is in this great abyss of a perhaps that this episode takes off. Our working theory is that the sonic qualities of words, and of language in general, can help transmit moods and sensations without the need for specific meanings. To ask such questions, Josh is joined by his college roommate Scott Stevens, a recent English graduate of Stanford University (and incoming Fulbright Scholar) who also speaks in Japanese and French. And, in the course of their dialogue, Scott they are assisted by the Cocteau Twins’ 1984 track “Amelia” off of Treasure as well as Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Field Song” from the collection Song (1995).   Over the course of their conversation, Scott and Josh touch upon the uniqueness of sound as a medium of communication, their difficulties of listening to the lyrics of a song, and poetry’s collective oral tradition. *** For more Poetism, stay tuned for next week’s two-part series finale on Rachel McKibbins, blackface, and FKA twigs.
Poetism Part 6: Can you experience? Michael Leon Thomas on Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders
Aug 6 2021
Poetism Part 6: Can you experience? Michael Leon Thomas on Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders
The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.   These lines, from the opening pages of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, emphasize unseen background noises as constituting an environment. The bees, working through the grass, create the biological condition of possibility for nature and the world, especially in their unseen state. And, so too, does the roar of London create the background chatter that allows the plot of the novel to take off. In this week’s installment of Poetism, we’d like to ask a similar question about our own age: what is the background noise that has made all this––society, labor, world–– possible?   Michael Leon Thomas, a professor of philosophy at Susquehanna University, joins Josh in the studio to tackle the vicissitudes and interisies of Alfred North Whitehead’s conception of philosophy alongside Pharoah Sanders’ 1973 album Izipho Zam, particularly the 28-minute titular track which closes the album. For Whitehead, a worldview is always in the process of emerging, and our language needs to follow suit. A reformed logician, Whitehead balks against a wholly systematic view of philosophy, suggesting that it is in the gaps, silences, and wetness of philosophy that something happens.   And to figure out what this something might be, we turn to Pharoah Sanders’ enigmatic, if expansive, composition which traverses through various languages, instruments, and cosmologies. The bandleader himself cannot be heard until the last third of the track, creating and leaving space (a society?) in which music creation can happen. In other words, it’s a slow reconditioning process.   Along the way, Michael and I talk about why he’s decided to spend his life with philosophy, how experience feeds into our listening habits, the postcolony of American, and why philosophy might have more in common with poetry than one might assume.   To read more about Michael’s work on music, check out an interview in Aesthetics with Birds.   Here is the 2016 Pharoah Sanders performance mentioned in the episode. ***   For Poetism, stay tuned for next week’s episode on Brigit Pegeen Kelly and the Cocteau Twins with Scott Stevens
Poetism Part 5: Can you speak for others? Lorenzo Bartolucci on Seamus Heaney and Hozier
Jul 30 2021
Poetism Part 5: Can you speak for others? Lorenzo Bartolucci on Seamus Heaney and Hozier
Across Northern Europe, so-called “bog people” have often been discovered shuffling around in the peat. While no one is quite certain where these quasi-mummified bodies come from––some date as recently as the 1940s––they have posed a strange mystery for countless poets and artists. This week, Back in America’s Poetism team takes a look at one of Seamus Heaney’s bog-inspired poems “The Bog Queen” from his 1975 collection North. Written in the spring of the May 1968 movement and the beginning of the Irish “Troubles,” “The Bog Queen” ventriloquizes the voice of its eponymous queen, pretending to experience underground life before her eventual discovery. In 2014, Irish musician Hozier released a setting of the poem, “Like Real People Do, ”removing many explicit references to Heaney himself, while keeping the ethos of the poem. For Hozier, the relationship of the fallen queen to her discoverer is one of love, even if from afar. Is it possible to love those who we will never meet? Can such a love be anything more than one-sided or wonderfully ironic? To explore these questions, Stanford graduate student Lorenzo Bartolucci joins Josh in the studio to offer his take on love, Heaney, bog bodies, and American-ness itself. *** If you’re enjoying this summer series, stay tuned for next week’s installment, featuring Susquehanna Philosophy Professor Michael Leon Thomas and the works of Alfred North Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders.
Poetism 3: Can You Feel It? Johnnie Hobbs on  D’Angelo and Amiri Baraka
Jul 15 2021
Poetism 3: Can You Feel It? Johnnie Hobbs on D’Angelo and Amiri Baraka
She listen to a little of that D’Angelo music, some love’s melody, sophisticated-type rap, which she say sounds more like real music, like intelligent music, than some of that other music, then she cuts the radio off ––Gayl Jones, The Healing   Like the narrator in Gayl Jones’ The Healing, this week’s installment of Poetism focuses on and around “black music,” that is music which conveys a specific feeling of a sensation or time without explaining anything. For me, it’s like being a child at an adult’s card table; no one tells you how the game works, you have to learn by being attentive and tuning into the tricks at hand. But the joy is in the puzzle, almost as much as in the rules of the game.   When his producer tried to market his serpentine music as “neo-soul,” D’Angelo rejected that moniker for the more expressive and expansive “black music.” There’s history and respect in his 2014 collaboration with the Vanguard, “Black Messiah,” but also affection, nostalgia, and rage. In scholar D’Angelo’s own words, “it’s all about capturing the spirit. It’s all about capturing the vibe. I’m kinda a first take dude.”    To tackle such questions of lineage and history, actor and tap dance instructor Johnnie Hobbs joins me in this week’s episode. Our conversation starts with Johnnie’s own background and love for films––especially the rare period piece that displays the mundane. As Sumana Roy and Xander Manshel have noted, it’s rare for art made by people of color about the everyday to be accepted by mainstream culture. The vast majority of literary awards given to writers of color are for historical novels which focus on their ethnic identities. To be taught within the university, Indian novels need to be about what it means to be a postcolonial subject;––it’s uncommon to see a novel about one’s dreams of becoming a famous poet, midnight walks, and family fights.   And Johnnie has developed his own test to see whether a historical film can do more than just showcase violence against Black bodies. In the final minutes of the podcast, we turn towards Amiri Baraka’s “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” (1961) to unpack it’s own relationship to Black suffering and its future(s).   Stay tuned for next week’s episode on bubblegum pop and Old English verse in Jos Charles’ feeld (2018) and SOPHIE’s “Immaterial” (2018)––guided by anesthetic wizard Gabriel Ellis, who you might remember from his cameo in last week’s installment.
Poetism Part 2: Are we numb yet? Lisa Robertson and the Airborne Toxic Event with Mitch Therieau
Jul 8 2021
Poetism Part 2: Are we numb yet? Lisa Robertson and the Airborne Toxic Event with Mitch Therieau
Why are we so blind, why do we see so little, when there is much around us to see?   So asks philosopher Alva Noë in Strange Tools, an exploration of how art objects contain, persuade, envelop, and direct our attention. What happens when we love a song, poem, or a moment in a day? How do these works of art direct and misdirect our attention? What––physically, emotionally, actually––happens to us in these moments of transport? And how can we talk about any of this without poorly paraphrasing that direct experience?   These are the questions Podcast Editor Josh Wagner was left with at the end of our last episode of Poetism. So, in this week’s installment, Josh invited Mitch Therieau, a Stanford researcher working on contemporary literature, to unravel the interstices of Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat (2010) and the Airborne Toxic Event’s 2011 hit “Numb” off of All at Once.   Robertson’s poetry captures fleeting moments of stillness and the everyday, placing them in complex and abstract forms, while Numb’s soundscape desensitizes listeners to the world around them. Over the course of their conversation, Mitch and Josh plumb the surface-level depths of Robertson’s avant-garde poetry and trace the music history at the core of the Airborne Toxic Event’s track.   Longtime listeners might be interested to compare Mitch’s idea of what America is with Josh’s––way back from his first episode with Back in America.   Stay tuned for next week’s episode with Los Angeles-based filmmaker and tap dancer Johnnie Hobbs, featuring Amiri Baraka and D’Angelo and The Vanguard.   Check out frontman for the Airborne Toxic Event Mikel Jollett’s 2020 memoir Hollywood Park.
Doug Steinel: Cancel Culture in Classroom
Jun 25 2021
Doug Steinel: Cancel Culture in Classroom
Before we dive into today’s episode, a personal note: This summer, I will be going back to France for the first time in two years, and I will take a break from podcasting until September.  However, my interns Josh and Emma will be keeping the lights on by releasing podcast episodes and newsletter articles (subscribe here). Josh has been working on a series of episodes discussing American music and poetry, which will be released weekly in July and August. So, Back in America will be in summer mode, and I know you will love it! Now, it is time for our interview. Starting this podcast back in November 2019, I wanted to make sense of the Trump years, and the sadness I felt for a country I loved but no longer understood. In more than 50 episodes and countless conversations, I have time and time again asked my guests: What is America to them?. Careful listeners to this podcast might have gained a better understanding of the fabric of this country––I know I certainly have.  In this episode, I turn to Professor Douglas Steinel, a man whose life has been dedicated to just that: understanding America. His students have praised him for forcing them to confront opposing views, and his course syllabi require reading political critiques from both sides of the aisle. Professor Douglas Steinel has been a professor of American Political Thought since 1982 at the George Washington University, just a few blocks away from the White House.   Professor Steinel's book suggestions   Plato's Republic   Bertrand Russell Collection, Selected Works, 1912-1922: The Problems of Philosophy, The Analysis of Mind, Why Men Fight, Free Thought and Official Propaganda   Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects  by Bertrand Russell    The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite by Michael Lind
Navi Radjou: Is Frugal Economy a Viable Alternative to Capitalism and Could it Save our Planet?
Apr 30 2021
Navi Radjou: Is Frugal Economy a Viable Alternative to Capitalism and Could it Save our Planet?
In this episode, Back in America’s host, Stan Berteloot speaks with Navi Radjou, internationally renowned Indian-French-American scholar, innovation and leadership advisor, and bestselling author based in New York. Navi’s most recent book, Frugal Innovation: How To Do More With Less, shows how companies can innovate faster, better, and more sustainably.  The conversation focuses on Navi’s work on developing an alternative to capitalism and concrete actions individuals and businesses are taking to build a better, more sustainable world. “My job is to introduce Americans to new ways of doing business, new ways of creating economic and social value in a sustainable way,” says Radjou.  He describes the “frugal economy” as a new economy that is built on business-to-business (b2b) sharing, local production from micro-factories, the notion of regeneration, or how companies can consciously have a positive impact on society and the planet. Since Navi is multicultural, the episode focuses on the values, culture, and identity of America. Navi comments on an excerpt from a previous Back in America interview with American writer and thinker John Michael Greer.  In the audio clip, we hear Greer say that America is all about independence and every man for himself, while European countries have a more communal attitude. In response, Navi asked: “Why do we have to choose? Why can we have both? Why can we go into a kind of the third dimension where we try to integrate the goodness of America, the goodness of Europe? The ideal society,” he says, “is the one that tried to find the sweet spot between maximizing individual expression while contributing to social integration.” Navi backs up his theories with concrete examples of companies, such as Xometry, People + Work Connect from Accenture, Unilever, Civica RX, or Convoy that are currently working according to the frugal economy precept. Here are two of Radjou’s articles on Frugal Economy and B2B Sharing : The Rising Frugal Economy The sharing economy’s next target: Business-to-business Navi Radjou’s Movie and Books Selection The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium Paperback  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  The Life Divine Paperback  by Sri Aurobindo Movie Losers on Netflix    Watch the full, unedited, interview on YouTube
How would you go to Zoom School as a homeless youth? We asked Bridging Tech, a charity devoted to overcoming the digital divide
Apr 16 2021
How would you go to Zoom School as a homeless youth? We asked Bridging Tech, a charity devoted to overcoming the digital divide
Bridging COVID-19 Isolation and the Digital Divide with Bridging Tech   In 2021, it is nearly impossible to get anything done without a laptop: apply for a job, go to school, safely connect with friends, or schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Yet, there are fewer laptops in existence than humans on this planet, presenting a unique challenge for unhoused students. Not only are they disadvantaged in terms of their living situation, but also have to deal with this extra technological hurdle known as the digital divide. Naturalized Americans have a unique set of familial and institutional knowledge about how to navigate the complex and confusing American system: What is an SAT? Who can I ask for help on my math homework? Where can I get free public Wi-Fi? While these questions might seem obvious to a second-generation resident, they are anything but for immigrant and first-generation communities. This week’s episode of Back in America, hosted by Podcast Editor Josh Wagner, highlights Bridging Tech, a charity devoted to providing hardware and other educational resources for unhoused students. Having donated nearly 1,000 laptops nationwide, Bridging Tech is developing infrastructure for companies and individuals to donate disused computers to be wiped/refurbished before being donated to unhoused communities. Founded by rising Stanford seniors, Isabel Wang and Margot Bellon, Bridging Tech is committed to listening to the unhoused community and creating actually helpful resources, rather than assuming what would be best and offering potentially unhelpful solutions. Holly Giang, Bridging Tech’s Foundation Relations Manager, also joins us for the interview. To find out how unhoused youths can go to online school, what policy measures are holding back their success, and how to get involved with Bridging Tech, listen to our episode! ––– In the coming weeks, the Back in America team will be launching an eight-part series investigating the relationship between music and poetry, tentatively titled “Rhythmic Verses.” Join Podcast Editor Josh Wagner as he poetically travels around the country, asking the age-old question: What is American to you?
Listen Again: Guns, God & the 2nd Amendment in America - David Treibs Christian & Guns Activist - Prof. Robert Spitzer Constitution and Gun Control Expert, SUNY Cortland
Apr 9 2021
Listen Again: Guns, God & the 2nd Amendment in America - David Treibs Christian & Guns Activist - Prof. Robert Spitzer Constitution and Gun Control Expert, SUNY Cortland
As Biden announces new executive actions on gun control, the Back in America team invites you to re-listen to an episode on guns in America, initially published on Oct. 23, 2020. In his executive actions today, Biden restricted the sale of “ghost guns,” untraceable guns which are sold in kits. Today’s announcements are less expansive than the president’s initial campaign promises. Yet, administration officials suggest that these measures are only the first steps of Biden’s plans for addressing gun violence. Further legislation will require Congressional approval and include a nationwide assault weapons ban (something that Australia successfully adopted 25 years ago) and universal background checks.   The following episode is an edited version of live interviews that were recorded on October 20th and 21st. 2020. You can watch the entire broadcast on Back in America’s YouTube channel.     A few weeks ago Jon, a good college friend, visited us for the weekend. At night, we were joined by a couple living next door and we started to talk about politics as we drank beers by the fire pit in the backyard.   In the backyard were two French nationals (my wife and I) joined by three Americans.   I can't remember exactly how or why Jon started to talk about gun rights, but the conversation became serious when he professed not only his belief in the right to bear arms but also that it was essential to the protection of civilians against the tyranny of the government. Historically, the people most affected by governmental tyranny (forced displacement, slavery) have been denied access to firearms and the ability to use them.   This made me dig further into the American gun debate. I've learned that many citizens support the idea of owning any type of gun and that some believe that it is a God-given right.   What has God got to do with guns? How can a democracy work when its citizens trust their guns more than their votes? And with the recent bankruptcy of the NRA, will gun control actually work?   To try to make sense of all this we are going to hear from three people: first, my friend Jon Phebus will clarify his views; then David Treibs, a Christian and gun activist, will talk about his God-given right to bear arms. Finally, SUNY Cortland’s Professor Robert Spitzer, an expert on constitutional law and gun control, will offer his interpretation of the constitution and bring some historical context to the debate.   Books and Movies Recommendations:   David Treibs Love Letter to America by Tomas Schuman The Persecutor by Sergei Kourdakov  Marx & Satan by Richard Wurmbrand   Professor Robert Spitzer The Politics of Gun Control by Robert J. Spitzer Casablanca (1942)
International Women's Day - Listen Again - Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings: Black Feminism, Civil Rights…
Mar 8 2021
International Women's Day - Listen Again - Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings: Black Feminism, Civil Rights…
Today is March 8, International Women's Day, and on this day I suggest that we listen to Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and her work for civil justice. This episode was previously released on Jan. 22, 2021. In this episode of Back in America, I speak with Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, political consultant, and activist. She recently ran to represent Maryland’s 7th District in Congress after undergoing a double mastectomy. Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings is the widow of Congressman Elijah Cummings, a good friend of former Congressman John Lewis. When Lewis died in 2020, hundreds of Twitter account accidentally posted memorial photos of Cummings since the two looked so much alike! On Back in America, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore. Cummings discusses the ongoing fight for civil rights. “I fight for the right to exist. I fight for the right of everyone to be recognized on the level of our common humanity. I fight for the history in this country that has been suppressed. I am the fourth generation from slavery in this country. My parents grew up in the Jim Crow South. My late husband, Elijah Cummings grew up in the Jim Crow South. They were born into a world that denied African Americans the right to exist,” she said. We also spoke of Black feminism and the importance for Black women to take charge of their struggle against racist and institutionalized patriarchy. In recent months, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings has been working to publish We're Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy, her husband’s final, unfinished book. The book came out last September and she talks to me about the importance of getting her husband’s voice out there. We're Better Than This - My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy