Who The Folk?! Robin Washington

Welcome to this week’s Who The Folk Podcast, I’m Lonny Goldsmith, the editor of TC Jewfolk and we’re back after two weeks of horrible weather that forced some schedule changes. This week, we extend beyond to the border of the Twin Cities to Duluth, where we catch up with journalist, broadcaster and documentarian, Robin Washington. We talk with Robin about what it was like growing up as a Jew of color in a household where civil rights activism was at the forefront of all things, where his journalism career has taken him, and why his charoset is the only charoset you should have this Passover, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

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You are up in Duluth where you have been on and off for how long now?

Quite a while. This is my second tour of duty; I’m originally from Chicago, then was wandering up Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and up to Duluth and Two Harbors so many years ago and ran the small town paper there, the Lake County News-Chronicle. I was having a great time as a journalist, but I had also applied for a fellowship at WGBH, the flagship public broadcasting station in Boston. I got the fellowship and so what do you think Two Harbors verses WGBH? Now I go back and forth mostly between here in Duluth and Boston.

So you’ve done newspapers and written for online publications, but you’ve also done radio also; which do you prefer?

This is a frequent question. I go back and forth and that’s not just geographically speaking but media wise. It depends on the story, and for me, there are some stories that are best told in print, some are better told in a book or magazine, some are better on radio. It’s great to be able to go back and forth between the media because you can tell those stories in different ways and get different responses or different emotions.

In Chicago, you grew up in an interracial household – you’re a Jew of color – and as you say on your website you were participating in protests when you were 3 years old. How did how did that upbringing inform you going forward as a journalist but also as just a human being?

I would think the second one is probably more common than the first. If anything I decided to be a bit more mainstream if you will than my parents, especially than my mother, by becoming a journalist. I’m all about social justice and about being humane and treating people with respect and definitely equality. But somewhere along the line, I decided the best way that I can address those issues is through mainstream journalism. There’s nothing wrong with alternative journalism, and there’s nothing wrong with even radical journalism I guess. It’s called broadcasting for a reason: You’re reaching large numbers of people. So if I can bring the messages of peace, justice, and equality – which should be the norm of human existence – then I think I’ve accomplished something.

Was your mother the driving force in the family in terms of civil rights activism?

Most definitely. Not to sell my father short. My father was African American and not Jewish, my mother was Jewish and not black, and that makes me by every definition of Judaism and blackness 100 percent of both. They both were pretty radical; I mean the mere idea that they were together in the late forties early fifties is pretty radical in itself. I have no memory of not knowing what we were fighting for.

Why do you think it’s so important that Jews, not necessarily Jews of color but all Jews, recognize and take part in trying to fight the institutional racism that clearly is still an issue not just here in Minnesota but around the country?

Today with the nonsense out of Washington and the example of our president – can I put any other way? – everybody on this planet has to stand for something. We do have oppression all over the place in all different forms in so yes it’s incumbent on those of us to realize what you that our fellow human beings are suffering, or there are things that are just not right. Jews are special people with great responsibility because of our history of oppression. We should be more attuned to others being oppressed, and when we say never again, we don’t own the never again; we’re not saying never again just for us.


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