Podcast by Tricia Rose, Cornel West explores African American arts, culture, history and politics

“The Tight Rope,” co-hosted by two prominent scholars at Brown and Harvard, respectively, offers in-depth yet accessible conversations about race, social justice and African American arts and culture.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new podcast co-hosted by Brown and Harvard University scholars aims to provide deep yet accessible conversations on questions of race, social justice, inequality and African American arts and culture.

“The Tight Rope,” a live, interactive podcast that debuted on Thursday, June 4, features co-hosts Tricia Rose, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University, and Cornel West, a prominent political activist, author and philosophy professor at Harvard University.

Rose, who teaches courses on structural racism and hip hop music and culture at Brown, said the podcast’s name references how many black Americans spend their lives struggling to maintain equilibrium in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

“There are all kinds of tightropes that are being metaphorically addressed,” Rose said. “Right now, we are walking the tightrope between protesting the status quo, which helps draw attention to systemic racism, and surviving the pandemic, which disproportionately affects African Americans. For artists, there’s the struggle to stay true to your craft in a market economy. Generally, we are asking, how can black Americans move forward while holding onto their principles?”

The podcast kicked off in the first week of June with a series of five live pilot episodes. Recordings of each episode are now being released on a weekly basis on YouTube, and Rose and West are developing plans to record more episodes soon.

The first live session featured a wide-ranging discussion on the musical legacy of Prince, the cathartic and uniting power of music for African American performers and their audiences, and the unprecedented national outrage sparked by recent police violence against black Americans. Episodes that followed have featured a diverse set of guests, including Hall of Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas, activist and hip hop artist Lecrae, and provocative documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.

“We’re hoping to give voices to people who are really amazing but who wouldn’t usually be given a platform to have a lengthy conversation,” Rose said. “When we talked to Isiah Thomas, for example, we talked about his childhood in Chicago in the 1960s, and his understanding of basketball as geometry. These are conversations that are not going to happen in your typical news cycle, on your typical sports channels, not even on your typical podcast.”

Episodes of “The Tight Rope” are recorded and streamed live, offering listeners a chance to chat among themselves and ask questions of the hosts and guests.

“Because we are recording these podcasts live, the listeners are able to ask questions about the conversations that unfold — ‘You just said this, can you say more?’ ‘What about this as a counterpoint?’” Rose said. “There’s a lot of back and forth, and it’s been very dynamic.”

Rose said she and West are thrilled for the chance to work together to discuss African American arts and culture and grapple with racism and inequality — topics and issues that date to the first European settlement in Jamestown but that seem to have reached a tipping point in the last two weeks.

“People have been organizing against the carceral state for a long time, although it might have taken books like ‘The New Jim Crow’ to bring those ideas to a mainstream audience,” Rose said. “There’s been lots of toiling in the fields, trying to cultivate a movement. We still have a long way to go, but we can hope this moment is as different and significant as it feels.”

“The Tight Rope” is just one of many of Rose’s recent efforts to examine long-standing issues of inequality through the lens of current events. Earlier this spring, she and colleagues from the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America debuted “Underlying Conditions,” a virtual conversation series that draws attention to the many ways in which African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And a new CSREA e-newsletter series, “The Art of the Matter,” will showcase various ways in which artists at Brown and beyond have responded to contemporary challenges and issues.