Arts + Culture

"The Stoop' Is the Podcast Keeping It Real About the Relationship Between Africans and African-Americans

We speak with the creators of "The Stoop," a new podcast tackling the tough conversations surrounding the black community.

"Let's talk about it"—the simple, yet decidedly necessary premise of The Stoop, a new weekly podcast by San Francisco-based journalists and friends Hana Baba and Leila Day.

Baba, who's Sudanese-American and Day, who's of African-American heritage, created The Stoop as an outlet to discuss the topics within the black community that we all ponder, but hardly ever discuss in a productive and open space. From mental health within the black community, to the lack of affection shown in households, to the often contentious relationship between African immigrants and African Americans—the two journalists are tackling the heavy subjects head on, and  keeping it "very real" about topics that undoubtedly deserve such treatment.

We got a chance to speak with the hosts of The Stoop ahead of its premiere last week, and they told us why we should find our own spots on the stoop and join in on these key conversations.

Read the interview below.

Photo by Sean Franzen.

OkayAfrica: Let's talk about the name. Why is your podcast called The Stoop

Hana: Well Leila and I work together in the newsroom at KALW, it's an NPR station here in San Francisco, and we've both been working in a news department for many years together. We have this news magazine we work on called Crosscurrents, which is pretty much San Francisco Bay Area news and culture.

But, we were some of the only black people there, so we would always have these side conversations in the kitchen or at the water cooler, and it would always be like, "did you see this article?" Whether it's in Vibe or OkayAfrica, whatever it is, and we would have different reactions to it sometimes. I'm the daughter of African immigrants, I'm Sudanese-American, Leila is African-American, and we found that these topics would spark our fascination about our communities, each of our communities, and also about the relationship between our communities, which has always been interesting for me as the daughter of immigrants who came to this country from Africa, and that relationship between the African immigrant and the African-American.

But we also found so much overlap. We talk about hair, we talk about folks telling us we sound White, both of us getting that all the time.

But then also we talk about well, "Leila I like those head wraps that you have on. Where are they from? Or, what is that?" You know, because for me coming from the continent, it's like I know head wraps, I know we wear traditional clothing, but then when Leila has her head wraps on, that sparks some conversation about clothing and who gets to wear what and how and why.

Leila's done a lot of reporting on mental health in black communities and I've done a lot of cultural reporting and immigration reporting. So we just felt like there was so much to talk about that did not fit within the show we were working on. And the feel of what we wanted to get was like people sitting on the stoop outside of their house, where real conversation happens, where people can be frank, where you feel safe. Or like your kitchen table, or like a hair salon—that feeling of place and space that is safe for these inside conversations that you don't get to hear in public. I know there's stuff that we say in my community, that if Leila were to walk in, that conversation would stop fast, and the same for Leila.

Photo by Michaelangelo.

OKA: Is it fair to say the main essence of your show is discussing the African-American and African Immigrant relationship? 

Leila: I think it's fair to say that we realize that we agree that these conversations were not happening. We just didn't see them happening. We'd see them end in the comment section, you know, some start to happen and then finish. And we were like, "you know, this is gonna be really tough to talk about, but let's go there because no one else is really talking about it." I mean, we contemplated calling our show The Scarf and The Fro, which I actually still really like.

OKA: That's a really great name. 

Leila: Yeah, I know we're still thinking about it, we're like "oh, maybe." But, I think the issue was is me and Hana would have these conversations and I'd say, or we would both say, "wow that's touchy, how would we talk about this in a podcast?" And in a sensitive way while also bringing some journalism into it. And also being ourselves because we laugh a lot, we have a lot of fun together, we have some very different black backgrounds.

We just realize that there's this gap sometimes with these types of conversations. And I'm not gonna lie, it has been a challenge, there's been conversations that we've had that we say "are we really gonna go there?" And we'll just look at each other and say "yeah, we're gonna go there, let's just do it." And so that's what we're trying to do. And we're trying to bring our journalism background and bring this conversation to the forefront but also keep dialogue open. So it's not just these conversations that are just shutting down different points of view, but really opening it up so we can really figure out why is this getting under our skin.

Hana: And that comes from our journalism background as well. We are used to presenting all sides, getting what you think, and what this person thinks, and what this other person thinks, and leaving that question open. So that it's not just "this is what I think." There's no strong opinions, but we discuss these topics, we explore these topics. We kind of bring in our own feelings sometimes, we do get personal a little bit, but at the end of the day we're not answering the question, we're not answering whether or not it's cultural appropriation when Black Americans wear a dashiki, we're not answering that, we're bringing everyone's perspective and leaving people thinking, and hopefully, conversing.

Photo by Michaelangelo.

OkayAfrica: Do you guys have any special guests on your show? 

Leila: We have had some really great interviews so far. Yaa Gyasi was a guest, the author of Homegoing.

We've also have had Chinaka Hodge who's done TED Talks and is a poet and play-write. She was talking about black voice when we were talking about our epithet about harming life.

Hana:  We have an episode called "Coming to America" about the immigrant experience. And then we have an episode coming up called "Going Back to Africa," about people who've made the decision to go back and live there. I went to Sudan on vacation once, I got some audio from Sudan for this, but we also introduce Maame Adjei, she is one of the stars of "An African City," which is kind of the like the West African, "Sex and the City." She came to speak at Stanford and I went to talk to her about coming to live and study in the States and then going back, and what that experience is like, and why.

We have her, we also have Al Letson, is the host of Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and he's a play-write and he's a public radio superstar. We talk to him in our episode about whether or not we grew up hearing "I love you" in the home and in our various communities? We talk about black male emotional expression also in our communities. And he's our "stoop talk" which is, sometimes we just sit down straight for an interview with somebody at the end of the episode. And he was very candid about emotional expression in families.

Leila: That came out of the question where me and Hana were both like, "do your parents say I love you?" Because I feel like in my time I had a hard time, sometimes I felt awkward. It felt awkward saying "I love you" and I realize a lot of my non-Black friends would say it so easily, and then me and Hana start talking about that and she's like "You know, my parents don't really say it either." So we were trying to dig into what that is. Is it a cultural issue? What is it about saying "I love you?" We really get into where the suppression of those feelings can come from.

Another person we interviewed was Andre Walker who's Oprah Winfrey's hairstylist. He's great too.

Hana: We do want to get these kind of sit down interviews with people who are somewhat famous. But we also feel like, just the folks around us, and people we meet and, for example, we have a controversial episode coming up called "African Booty Scratcher." You know, I was called that when I was young so Leila and I talk about it, but then we bring in a millennial, a younger friend of mine, who's Sudanese-American, who also grew up being ridiculed by African-Americans in her neighborhood. And she had this sit down talk where we're just a fly on the wall of them talking about all of this. Of these African-American friends growing up feeling no connection to Africa, being taught that Africa is all bad. We'll have somebody who's well-known for an episode and sometimes they're not. Sometimes it's stoop talk, it's just honest conversation about something with people who aren't celebrities.

Photo by Sean Franzen.

OkayAfrica: Can you tell us what other subjects we can except to hear about on the show without giving away too much? 

Leila: Yeah, there's also an episode that's called—it's about hair, of course. You can't have a podcast with two black women and not talk about hair.

Hana: It's called "Are You a 4C." It's really a different take on the normal hair conversation.

Leila: We're basically going into the idea of more natural women trying to understand their hair texture and embracing the kinky. And also there has been some hair hierarchy with, you know, with a lot of us using this chart. You know, "she's not a 3B, she's a 4B." You know, that kind of thing, but in a negative way. So we're trying to switch that conversation about how can we just embrace like "yeah, I'm 4C and I love it." You know? So that's the episode where we talk to Andre Walker who invented the hair chart.

Hana: Some of the other names of episodes are "I've Adopted a Black Child, Now What?" and again, this idea of coming to America and going back to Africa. We have an African literature smack down and there have been differing opinions. There was this article—and again some of our episodes are really coming out of articles and their comment sections. You might recognize some of them because honestly, we read OkayAfrica a lot, we love it.

Someone wrote "I'm Done With African Immigrant Literature." These Africans who end up in London or New York or somewhere, and they write about their experience, they get so much more attention than African writers who are on the continent and stay on the continent. So somebody else responded to her with "I am not sick of African immigrant literature." And so we had those two articles read by voice actors and we're in the middle talking about each side.

We also want to talk about this idea with black music superstars, and how often do  go to perform on the continent, but at the same time they are quote-on-quote  embracing their Africanness. Taking that stuff and going back—and not just the surface, we'll do a little history, we'll do a little journalism and kind of go deeper a little bit into these things like why? The why of things. So I mean, that's a general idea of kind of our upcoming seasons.

OkayAfrica: What's the process been like for you, creating this podcast?

Leila: It's been pretty incredible. We had the idea to do the podcast a year ago. And—I wanted to just clarify—me and Hana used to work together at the radio station at KALW, I now work at Al Jazeera. We had these conversations as two journalists in the kitchen, talking about these things, and we started writing our ideas for the episodes for some competitions and we got quite far, we were chosen by NPR Story Lab as one of three podcasts that received funding to do a pilot. And then we were chosen by Radiotopia's podcast competition, we were in the top 10 finalists to produce a pilot. And so we were really getting excited, we were like "Wow, we're really on to something. People are really interested." And we got a lot of great feedback from people.

For Hana and I, starting a podcast is like starting a small business and I think a lot of people don't realize the amount of work that goes into it. I think the most important thing that I've learned through all this is the importance of collaboration. There's are so many other outlets that are out there trying to tackle some of these topics that don't have the skill and audio and storytelling to do so. That's been a really great eye-opener for us, that we can offer audio perspective to places that also want this sort of content. So we're doing a lot of collaborations.

And also I think one of the bigger things that we've been experiencing is, you know, who is our audience? We assume that our audience is going to look like us, you know? But we also realize that for some of these larger outlets and with some of this content, that we probably would have a lot of non-black listeners as well and we welcome that, and we embrace that. And we also are just really hoping that this podcast gets to the ears of people within the black diaspora—these conversations that we really want people to engage in with us.

Hana: Yeah, but at the same time, also be something that a curious non-black listener would love to listen to, as well. To understand the conversations. Because I've heard that from some white colleagues, just like "we are so excited about The Stoop because we get to be that fly on the wall listening in on what is happening within the Black diaspora, and that we'd be interested." You know, we were gaging interest first because we know our public radio audience, for example, is predominantly white, you know, and so we realize that and we understand that but we're hoping to be appealing to both.

Hana:  Another challenge we've faced is that we're journalists, and we're used to having a certain persona, you know, we do our news reporting and then in podcast land it seems that you need to be loose and you need to be laughing and snappy. So that was a struggle to get to a place where we are, we're comfortable being casual on mic, and not polished, not 100% polished all the time.

We also wanted to differentiate ourselves from the podcast style of two people sitting down and just talking. We have a lot of sound design engineering and music. Our feature stories that we make for radio—we've used those skills to make it sound rich. All of that again, takes time, and we're learning that along the way.

OkayAfrica: When should people tune in? 

Leila: Well, we're launching tomorrow (July 19) is when our first episode is going to launch. And there will be two episodes per month. We will be doing seasons, so over the next few months you'll be able to tune in on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts People can also listen on, we'll be posting lots of stuff there.

We'll definitely be putting up all these episodes on our Facebook page, on our Twitter page, on our Instagram page.

Listen to the first episode of The Stoop entitled "Nice Tribal Wear. Now Take It Off" now via their website

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