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Ally's Choice

Tuesday, July 02, 2013 - 07:00 PM

Producer Lu Olkowski brings us the story of a tightly-knit family caught on opposite sides of a very big divide. If you ask Ally Manning's mom and sister, they'll tell you there's no question: they're black. But as a teenager, Ally decided that what was true for them didn't make sense for her.

Lu explains how the complex racial history of two towns in Ohio leads members of the same family to disagree strongly about whether they're black or white. And Ally, along with her mom Clarice and her sister Carlotta, wrestles with what it means to choose a different identity from her closest relations.

Ally Manning, Clarice Shreck’s daughter, takes a moment before heading work to read a poem she wrote about her mom:

Photo: Lloyd Cederdstrand.

Carlotta Hixon and her mom Clarice Shreck:

Photo: Lloyd Cederstrand.

A version of this story, “As Black As We Wish to Be,” was sponsored by Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area and made possible with funding from the Ohio Humanities Council. It originally aired on State of the Re:Union."


Tim Howard and Lu Olkowski


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Comments [81]


i am the reverse of ally and i went to a predominantly black junior high school and lived in a mexican/black neighborhood. i am as white as they come and i never had a problem with being picked on. actually most the people i went to school with i am still friends with today. unlike ally i was always the new kid going to different schools every two or three years. now at a young age i witnessed bullying in a predominant white schools. the first thing i thought was white kids are mean. being an adult i noticed my white friends kids are mean too. my question is how early do white people develope this white superiority because it is shown in this documentary. now allys son was influenced by his dad but what if people dont have this influence would racism still exsist? side note i think its alittle bit of karma kicking at ally.

Oct. 18 2017 01:57 PM
Rowan from Brisbane

I grew up in Scotland with English parents and experienced similar hatred as a child/teenager and couldn't wait to get out. I moved to Australia at 23. I'm 52 now and still searching for a sense of belonging and I'm still wary of scottish people.

May. 30 2016 05:51 PM
s from seattle

This is painful to listen to.

Nov. 24 2015 12:59 PM

My heart breaks for Carlotta Hixon.

May. 08 2015 02:44 PM
BRANDON from Iowa

It doesn't matter what you think you are its what society perceives you as! I have kids that look full white and ones that completely black!

Apr. 15 2015 03:33 PM
Ayn A Tennyson from Oviedo FL

I understand that some people may not be comfortable with their heritage/background. This is no excuse to treat others poorly. If somebody is ashamed of themselves, they should always try to embrace their "flaws" and allow it to make them into a stronger and better person. If Ally is embarrassed of being black, she is letting her weaknesses overcome her and eventually corrupt people around her.

Mar. 23 2015 04:28 PM
annicemichelle from United States

I was quite disappointed in Ally in this video. Because she has developed a hate for a part of her. Whether she likes it or not having black in the family is not the same has having the heritage. So she is lying to her son because of her own hang ups. FYI I know black people that look just like Ally and claim that they are black. So to say that she is not black because of her hair color or skin tone is bs. The texture of that hair and those very dark brown eyes are a dead give away.

Mar. 08 2015 04:53 PM

This story was great and speaking as a Black person, the worst thing about it was Ally's treatment of her sister. Not only was she a....hmm...thought about saying bitch but dogs are fiercely loyal so that's not the right word. Maybe a cretin. Anyway, I kind of understand her wanting to distance herself from her sister at the time (Something I would have never done but I'll give her that one.) but she didn't seem to have any remorse about the situation. Seemed like to this day she doesn't care that she treated her sister lower than dirt when her sister hadn't done anything to deserve it. Hope your White privilege was worth trading in your family.

Sep. 30 2014 09:44 PM
Michelle from Huntington, WV

This was an interesting piece. It would have been much more enjoyable had the narrator not continued to butcher the mom's name. It's not Clare-eh-see. She said so herself at the beginning it was Clare-eece. Where would you even get Clare-eh-see?

Jul. 28 2014 02:56 AM
Laura from Salt Lake City

Ally's disloyalty to her sister is what makes her despicable, not her race. Too bad the townfolk are too steeped into identity politics to know an asshole when they see one.

Jun. 25 2014 12:55 PM

I'm really sick of people in this country "identifying" with a specific race. That is what fuels the racism that exists in America. The only effect race has on a person is the way they look. That is it. Culture and experience makes up the rest of it. I think it is important to talk about the issues that exist in America and the world, but the more we focus on race fueled issues, the more those issues will continue to arise. I think they should have emphasized the fact that the people in this story come from a specific area that still suffers from extreme racism. I think this story is about self identification and bullying and judgement. Not about being "black" or "white".

Jun. 06 2014 04:28 PM
Anthony from Brooklyn

What's not being noted here is that some people, given the choice, will take the easy way out when it comes to dealing with race. Whether it's by not talking about it, or identifying yourself as white because you can. I do not blame Ally one bit for the choice that she made. I'm from the islands, make of that what you will.

What we need to consider is that folks who are black go through the same trials and tribulations as Ally on a near daily basis. Only they do not have the option of telling people "I'm not black". Most black, or part black folks who did that would not be believed. Luckily/Unluckily(?) for Ally, she can.

Mar. 28 2014 07:30 PM
lesley from N8 9LA

I am from London Uk.
I enjoyed this Radiolab and in fact all the Radiolabs I have heard and I like this American Life too.

Feb. 03 2014 09:10 AM
Alex from Salt Lake City

Hey folks i was curious if anybody knows the music credits or musical score for this particular episode. I can't seem to find any mention of the music used. Particularly the song in the end of the dialog.

Jan. 03 2014 11:55 PM
Ally from Ny ny

I am a new Yorker, went to university in NYC. Had a room mate one semester from OH and she was an open racist (only with me), I tried to gently make her understand but it never sunk in. I'm also mixed (1/2 Italian-1/2 Jamaican) I'm lighter however I do look like my dads side.

Dec. 27 2013 03:07 PM
Alison from Fairfield County, Connecticut

Interesting to hear someone else's perspective although I don't understand it at all. I think it's sad that some parts of the country are still so hung up on black versus white and refuse to embrace the awesomeness that is being mixed. I'm all for people deciding how to identify themselves because it doesn't make sense for others to decide that for you. However, I do think that everyone in the story would benefit from exposure to a more diverse area of the country where people are more open-minded and to other mixed people that embrace all elements of their background.

Dec. 24 2013 01:26 PM
Laurie from Virginia

I love this story. I recently played it for a church youth group, where it touched off a discussion about race, identity, bullying, loyalty, and family. I was surprised that our teens felt this racism could not happen in northern Virginia. They are so insulated from the rest of the state! The town of East Jackson contains only 400 people, most of whom must have lived there for generations, and our youth felt that this level of racism could not survive if people had seen more of the world. While I would like to share their optimism, I am concerned that Ally's ex-husband seems determined to spread his racism to the next generation, so that even Ally's hope of escaping when she moves away after her mother dies could be doomed, if the father of her children stays involved in their lives.

Oct. 14 2013 09:08 PM
StedyRock from Brooklyn

They look Puerto Rican to me. (Considering the diverse racial heritage of Puerto Rico - it makes sense)

Oct. 10 2013 11:39 AM

Wow...I don't think I could ever forgive Ally for being such a traitor and bringing her family even more hatred and danger than they would have faced otherwise. I honestly can't imagine why her mother and sister continue to have anything to do with her.

Oct. 08 2013 11:16 AM
Zoé Cadieux from Manhattan

I'm 26 years old and a medical student. I'm from France and my english skills are so-so. But listening to this show intrigued me and helped me improve my mediocre english skills. Thanks a million!

Sep. 26 2013 08:11 AM

Why do people care so much about being proud to be a color? We're all people. This would be a nonissue if we just dropped the whole discussion.

Sep. 20 2013 04:53 PM
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Sep. 20 2013 10:45 AM
Trevor from Houston

Whoops I'm sorry I must have gotten mixed up. I came here to listen to science based radio on today's social issues, but instead I must have ended up in "This American Life". While this is a good and interesting piece, I do not think it belongs to be covered by Radiolab.

Sep. 11 2013 11:29 AM

my goodness this story is really just wow

Aug. 25 2013 01:45 PM
Arthur from Oregon

I lived in Southeast Ohio for five years and I met some odd people there. But still, this is one of those stories that made me squint and cock my head a little to the right. I think it's the gravity given to (perceived?) race, when, in this case, it would otherwise be a non-issue. Or maybe it's a provocation (in five years, I'd never heard the word "nigro") like some Ohioans' use of the word "renege" while drinking and playing euchre. Ehh, whatever the case, this story gave me pause.

Aug. 13 2013 11:21 PM
Terry in Toronto

As an adoptee I found Veronica's story compelling especially since the legal system really looks at the rights of the competing parents and not really at what she needs. So sad that in this day and age a mother is still supported in denying a father's rights and the child's right to culture and identity seem to matter so little.

Aug. 11 2013 08:38 PM

While I understand Ally wanting to fit in and denying who she is I can't forgive her for completely ignoring and encouraging how her sister was treated by her classmates. I understand that it's either be accepted or be bullied but still. It's your sister.

Aug. 06 2013 06:47 PM
vicky from canada

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Aug. 01 2013 04:49 AM

I too miss the science in Radiolab. This story showed how sad some Americans are, but wasn't particularly enriching or thought provoking.

Jul. 31 2013 11:07 AM
Carlie from Rochester, NY

In response to the story about Ally and her family:

It saddens me to see how judgmental many of the listeners have been of this family. I think this episode is a great example of objective journalism- something that is unfortunately rare in American media. Audience, consider why some of you feel so starved of an opinion that is spoon-fed to you. Why do you feel disappointed in a host who simply conveys the story?

Yes, for people from different places, this may be a very stark reflection of American culture that widespread media rarely reflects without elements of sensationalism (i.e. Maury Povitch, etc). You may not encounter this in your daily route. But you are in denial if you cannot identify a single person in your life who still sticks to the white/other paradigm or a place in your community where this polarity is present. You are not better than this family because you think differently or were raised in a community that has more dissolved racial barriers.

What should be commended here is the fact that this family is still together! So many family split apart for such petty reasons. Sure, they disagree, but they are a family. Find me a family who has no disagreements and I'll bet my grandma's grave stone that they are not real.

****Ally, I applaud you for your honesty and I hope you are able to find a place that provides a comfortable, accepting and enlightening environment for your children and the future of your family someday. I encourage you to consider that the idea of "race" and the extreme options of BLACK or WHITE express very little about everyone encompassed by those categories. Very little in this world has just one quality. I personally do not believe in "race" or "blood quantum" (ex: 16% black, etc). What I believe is that our cultural identity is defined by how much responsibility we hold to our community as well as where we may feel most understood. We are humans. We are people. We have the innate ability to have understanding for others who are not like us, even if we do not approve. Good luck to you and your family, Ally, and from personal experience: don't let these comments haunt you. Take from the good and let the bad eggs go. No one knows best but you and your family.

And for those who feel the need to criticize RadioLab so harshly for this episode: Take a moment and ask yourself (because you're still here, reading...)

Why did this make you so uncomfortable?

Jul. 29 2013 09:15 PM
Carlie Fishgold from Rochester, NY

As a child from what used to be a very divided family, I offer this:

What if Dustin Brown and the Cappobiancos were to be civil to each other, and act in what may truly be the best interest for Veronica, by collaborating to raise her together through joint custody?

Jul. 29 2013 08:30 PM

Thanks for introducing us to State of the Reunion--great show that I wish I'd heard about earlier. Just wanted to say that I find a lot of these comments from people in various parts of the country telling...that as Americans, if we haven't lived in various parts of the country, we can be really ignorant of the rest of it. Love how some listeners from the west coast or northeast (or outside this country) find people from cultures unfamiliar to them "awful" or their perspectives "garbage." You may think someone else is "backwards," but until you go and really get to know their community and history, you probably don't know exactly what you're talking about--at least not enough to make strong judgments. I, for one, am still amazed how other Americans who've never lived in the South have such strong opinions about us down here, including some of my family members from elsewhere. I think we'd all do well to get out of our communities or cities more and stop believing that our country thinks one way or another. Politics and media tries to make us very black & white, but we're a lot weirder and idiosyncratic than we realize. Also: people who are not mixed race who want to tell mixed race people how to identify crack me up. So wise!

Jul. 25 2013 08:49 PM

Good lord. The blatant racism in this town in 2013 is disheartening. It's like looking at a time capsule.

Both of the sisters should get out of there. There's still racism in the nation but I promise, it's not like this everywhere.

Jul. 25 2013 05:36 PM
Julia from Kansas

My 3 year old granddaughter asked my husband "why don't you have a tattoo on your forehead?" She is approx. 1/4 black and her white mom is now associating with people of questionable character. My husband and I are both mixed race-so our children are mixed race. The general attitude that anyone with brown or black skin must be a stereotype needs to stop. Beginning in the sixties, all though college in the seventies, and today, people assume that you are poor, from a single parent family, a criminal, on drugs and ignorant. It does not occur to people that only 1/4 of black Americans fit in these categories. Most live in suburbs surrounded by whites. There are only 10 blacks for every 100 whites in this country. The perception of poverty, though black home ownership I 60% meaning only 40% do not own homes, and such statistics needs to be put in the positive, not the comparative or the negative. Every ten years the IQ of blacks is viewed as lower than whites. I once attempted to explain that most people fall within the normal range under the bell curve, regardless of color and was totally slammed because the news showed two lines--white on top and black on the bottom. If not necessary, people will choose white if they can pass. Remove the stereotypes ad those with a choice will just say mixed, which is what they actually are.

Jul. 23 2013 07:55 AM

When I was young I wanted to be black. I thought it was the best thing ever! You had a day all to "your people" and everything. Gosh, what a stupid kid I was. To more I grew the more I realized that the color of your skin doesn't say anything about who you are and if it seams that way it is the people's fault. Civilization makes this happen. The color of yout skin, just like the size of your eyes or how curly your hair is does not defy anything about you, other then maybe the kind of shampoo you are most likely to buy. We all look the same in the dark. We are all equal!

Jul. 22 2013 06:16 PM
Richard Sharp from Geneva, Switzerland

Coming from outside the US, the whole idea that if a part of you is descended from Africans you need to describe the whole of you as black is plain weird. Why is Obama any more black than he is white, for example?

It's a notion that stems from slavery and ideas of racial purity; it therefore belongs in the garbage. This Radiolab story is a great example of how ludicrous it is when people are forced to choose between two sides when the differences between them are more psychological than real.

Jul. 22 2013 04:08 AM
Ally from Piketon, OH

i loved the feedback from everyone I'm Ally from Ally's choice and I enjoyed reading some of the comments.

Jul. 18 2013 01:20 PM
Alvin from Texas

I was quite shocked at most of the responses from the listeners in the comment section. Many people say that people would not understand and/or this was the worst show RadioLab has presented. I thought it was one of the best. This is as American as a story gets. We are a mix of many things and many of us get to define what we identify ourselves as despite how others may feel about it. I appreciate RadioLab for presenting stories that challenge us. It is conversations like this that help us continue to struggle with how we simplify very complex identity issues in this country. Keep'em coming RadioLab!

Jul. 18 2013 09:25 AM
caramella from West Coast

Amazing how horrific and small minded Ally is to her family. She showed her true self as a kid- turning her back on her sister. Conversely it is a tribute to the sister and Mother that they would have anything to do with the "white" sister. It is hard to believe that this hateful backward little scary town of Waverly exists in the 21st century in the US! Baffling actually. I wonder how many churches exist there.. Hmmm. I am sorry- this is as civil as it gets for learning about such a shocking and appalling place- Waverly.

Jul. 18 2013 03:44 AM
Todd Elliott

This is about an awful mother and two terrible daughters in a racist town who are borderline abusive to their children/grandchildren with very little analysis or insight provided by the host. I have to agree with others that this episode is well below the standard that I expect from RadioLab in terms of content and character.

Jul. 17 2013 08:03 PM
mav from Yellowknife

"Don't call it a comeback..."! Great short, Team!

Jul. 17 2013 06:24 PM
Sara from SF, CA

Clarice is proud to be black. That's all that should matter.

Do your thing Clarice!

Jul. 16 2013 05:23 PM
Mat from Reading, PA

Why does the producer keep saying "Clar-i-see"? I've never heard anyone pronounce "Clarice" any way other than the way Hannibal Lechter does.

Jul. 16 2013 02:20 PM

Wow! There was not a sane person in this story - that includes the minor characters like school kids that made fun of people from another town by calling people with a predominately European heritage "nigger". Some black or African American ancestors does not make a predominately Caucasian person a "negro." Does any one other than Ally's mother even use that term anymore?

I know that this is a short that radiolab borrowed from another show, but I would have liked some analysis of the history to make white people embrace blackness that doesn't exist or an analysis of the very unusual usage of the term negro, or how the 'one drop rule' continues to be so feverently embraced by these communities. This is a slice of crazy and hick throwback to the early 20th century; I'm not asking for hard science, but I'd like some analysis or attempt at explanation for the crazy.

Jul. 14 2013 12:11 PM

To go with my previous comment, this is sociology, which is classified as a social science.

Jul. 13 2013 01:05 AM
Jesse Lester

I must admit, all of the debating/complaining is getting rather annoying. I like both the science and the non-science stories. So it would be nice if all of this to stop.

Jul. 13 2013 12:47 AM

it is difficult to describe how awful this episode was

Jul. 11 2013 07:57 PM

I really wish this radiolab would have provided a discussion about privilege and what it means to be able to claim one race or another. Most white people would not get the gravity of this situation, and I think there was a HUGE opportunity missed by not having that discussion.

Jul. 11 2013 10:40 AM
Andrew from Cambridge

The Indian gentleman at the end who read the liner notes did a superb job. Kudos to you on a job well done sir.

Jul. 10 2013 10:12 PM

I miss the old Radiolab, when it was actually about Science. It has slowly turned into This American Life.

Jul. 10 2013 06:02 PM

Lady_Beardman, thank you for your post. You've summed up my feelings about RL of late. I will go on to say, that in my market, we just got Radiolab and I pretty sure that it's being billed as a science show. If you're going to keep doing these slice of life stories, perhaps consider changing the name.

The definition that I see for a laboratory is "a place equipped for experimental study in a science or for testing and analysis." I don't see where anyone is doing this in these episodes. Not Jad and Robert. Not the subjects. Not anyone. It's the difference between Analysis and Summary.

I think that a lot of us have found the show refreshing and unique and novel in the past. Now, it's joining the dozens of shows that do the same thing. Sure, we could all go quietly. But, we're saying that we love you guys and we want to give you our time (and money in some cases). But why do I need to listen to Radiolab too when I can get similar content on the Moth, TAL and Snap Judgement for stories like this, or All Things Considered and Frontline for stories like the recent Native American adoption case edition?

Jul. 09 2013 07:19 PM
Julio Cardenas from Wilmington, NC

I came to this country in 2007 to study a PhD in chemistry. Since then, I have graduated, married and now have two kids, but one of the most strange things I have experienced in the USA happened during my first week here. I had to get social security and fill out tons of paper work for school, and in every single document I had to select my race/ethnicity. It was confusing because I had never thought about myself as anything else but Mexican, my mom would be classified in the USA as Hispanic and my dad would be more of the white type (the ones from Spain/France), I have a mixture of European and Aztec in my blood. Thus, none of the categories used by the USA census really described who I am. I am not Aztec, I am not Spaniard or French, I am a just me, I am just other.
Now , this question continues for my kids, whom have a Polish/German mother and a Mexican father. I don’t they should be boxed into a category, I personally thing it is irrelevant.

I never hear anybody in Mexico talking about themselves as Irish, German, Japanese, Aztec, etc. People from all over the world have immigrated to Mexico since 1492 and perhaps that is the reason that tracing your ancestry is so difficult, and we just are Mexicans. Hopefully, we will make race less important in this country and just become Americans, members of a great country with a common dream.

Jul. 09 2013 04:28 PM
Rob Fatland from Bellevue WA

I absolutely love RL; primarily because I can learn, reflect, agree, disagree... it is a launch pad for my mind. And it is usually pretty dense and I am usually content to appreciate it quietly; but I found the Ally's Choice podcast to be an unfortunate departure from practice: It was sooooooo long and repetitive I had the thought "Jad and Co. must not have had time or something to edit this down to one tenth duration... which would be more than long enough to make the point..." I'm not ready to abandon shark just yet but I do want to respond to Ellen's remark on 10 years of science stories. As Robert explores a bit in 'What does tech want?' (IIRC) there is a lot of groundwork needed for a Big Punchline; and if one were as talented as RL at telling stories then I claim that one could get another 40 years of episodes just exploring that groundwork. I provide two examples that have occurred to me in the course of listening to back episodes... but seriously I could write you up a LOT more.

First, as far as I know RL has never gone back over the casually tossed-out statement that Alan Turing singlehandedly shortened WWII by two+ years. I've never heard Enigma satisfactorily explained, which is right up the RL alley, as is the human side of how Churchill had to deal with this source of intelligence. You say I missed the episode where that was covered? Ok; well then RL might further explore Turing machines (they really *are* built in practice despite being 'never *meant* to be built') and see if you might jump across to cellular automata (which gets you to Conway) and then to arrive at Rule 30 and Conus textile. And so forth and onwards, just from Turing...

A second example: Sure RL has taken a good crack at Mendeleev; but has it done justice to the existence of those elements? Is stellar nucleosynthesis not grist for the mill? I think that getting past the great Lithium bottleneck of the big bang to arrive at elements we are parochially fond of like carbon has a lot of play left. How bout platinum and the matter of running out of (rather than simply burning) fuel? I would support an episode just on the story of how the Burbidge+Burbidge+Fowler+Hoyle paper came to be.

Ok, well, apologies for venting, but I was a bit shocked. And thanks. r

Jul. 08 2013 05:05 PM

can't understand everyone freaking out over this episode. radiolab has always said that it was not just a science show. I love their scientific stories and i love their human interest stories. plus studying social structures and racial issues is a form of science.

Jul. 08 2013 02:26 PM

There was recently a Moth podcast that explored race and the woman who gave the talk wrote a book about finding out some family secrets in terms of race.

I just looked it up. It is Bliss Broyard, the moth podcast episode/story is called 'A Tale of Two Dinners' and her book is called One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets.

I urge any of you who find this story interesting to explore these.

Jul. 08 2013 11:57 AM
Tyler from Ottawa ON Canada

This episode was so foreign to me. It was a painful listen due to the racism involved. Being from a large city, I never experience anything close to this.

When Ally expressed her wishes to leave, I felt like that would be the best choice considering that her children were in danger of being swept up in the racism which seems to dominate the area. Then again, how could she leave her mother who feels so proud of her heritage and home.

Thanks for making me think and presenting such an interesting perspective of which I would never be exposed.

Jul. 08 2013 10:42 AM
Sam from Washington DC

I'm surprised by all of you who think Radiolab is a "science" show and that anything without science is uninteresting. Radiolab has ALWAYS been about curiosity in all it's forms. Many of the most memorable stories have little or no science. Where is your curisority, people? Where is your humanity?

And please, Ludd, the people who take part in stories are real people. Sounds like you grew up in a place without problems like this, good for you, you're lucky. Show some respect or please refrain from commenting if you can't.

Carry on everyone!

Jul. 08 2013 08:33 AM

An update about an Indian law adoption of a 1% Indian, contained within a show about a racist community and identity issues?? What did I just listen to?

SMH Radiolab.

Does anyone out there know if there is an underlying reason for the way the show has turned? A new producer, or stated goal? This is baffling.

And JD - You're angry about people writing lengthy screeds, and you wrote that epic brown-nosed apologist letter? Consider that there may be a reason that the people that started listening to this show dislike the fundamental change in its topics.

Jul. 08 2013 04:14 AM

Why the mispronunciation of her name? Claracy, Claricy? She says clearly that her name is "Clarice" -- very distracting. Nobody caught that?

Jul. 08 2013 04:04 AM


I really appreciate hearing from Radiolab on this, finding myself torn between some childish, knee-jerk impulse to troll here because Radiolab hasn't been "sciencey" enough for my tastes of late, and generally appreciating all the content you all put out, including this program which really unsettled me, and formed a nice bookend to the Adoptive Couple episode in exploding these confused, mixed, ultimately irresolvable notions of "blood," race, and culture.

There is a somewhat disturbing notion in your comment though; that perhaps Radiolab is shying away from science stories it doesn't find shiny enough. I take the story of really groundbreaking science to be something that develops very very slowly, and with rare points of popular interest. Rather than Radiolab feeling it needs to keep it light and accessible why not just dive in, taking the risk of boring the pants of people from time to time -- at least in the shorts. I have many friends in academic science, none of whom (with the right prodding) have any trouble wrapping me up in their research, which is often tedious in practice.

I fear that the Jonah Lehrer controversy had made the program cautious about getting into "gee-whiz" grand-unified science, and rightfully so. Rather than let that caution squelch great stories, perhaps combat it by offering more serious and focused science tales. I encounter excellent stories so often on the web and in other podcasts, I know they are out there.

Jul. 06 2013 07:10 PM
Sol from Ca

Hi Lu,

That podcast merits much more thoughtful context. As an african american listener I shuddered throughout the entire episode.

Maybe I am being presumptuous about Radiolab listeners in assuming that they are aware that impoverished areas beget uneducated and ignorant attitudes.

Jul. 06 2013 12:37 PM
Nick from USA

This is not unique to area in which the Mannings' reside. It's commonly referred to as the "one drop" rule which is to say that if you have one drop of black that makes you black regardless of how "white" you may be in appearance. This any an attitude that has a long history in the United States and isn't relagated to these two Ohio towns. I don't consider the mother nor the sister delusional for insisting on their blackness. What Ally seeks to do is what thousands of black people before her have done which is to "pass", also nothing new, and has a long history in the United States and not unique to this community. The problem with "passing" and why some black people find it abhorrent was touched upon during the podcast; you have to deny your family that can't or won't "pass" with you, because you can't be white and black at the same time if the "one drop" rule is the prevailing attitude. The idea that someone could be black and something else is a relatively new idea that begain gaining only real traction in the 1990s. The U.S. Census only begain allowing individuals to choose more than one race in 2000.

Jul. 05 2013 10:52 PM
Cassandra K from Baltimore, MD

I have to say that this week's radio lab made me revisit my past in what I understood as race. I thought it was just Arkansas that labeled everyone not Arian, black. I am greek and it was a "bad" joke that my parent was the black sheep of the community, because we were the other. It took a lot of negating my greek heritage to be seen as white too. This was in the 80-90's in Arkansas, and I still believe it to be the same today. I will never live there or any other place like it that would see people that again.

For the people that say that Radiolab is not science based enough, is social science, science?

Jul. 05 2013 04:52 PM
JD from Philly

Here is your Radiolab Dissatisfaction Questionaire! Your negative opinions are important to us! Please fill out this form to the best of your ability, and we'll get right on tailoring each and every future Radiolab episode to your exacting, ultimately impossible-to-meet standards, and no one else's!

I disliked/hated this episode of Radiolab because (check all that apply) :

[ ] it wasn't enough about science
[ ] it was too much about science
[ ] it dealt with religious ideas and I'm an atheist
[ ] it dealt with atheistic ideas and I'm religious
[ ] the guest(s) had opinions that were different from my own and therefore wrong and evil
[ ] Robert was mean to a guest
[ ] Robert was too religious
[ ] Jad didn't call Robert out on his overt religious fundamentalism
[ ] Robert giggled too much
[ ] Jad's sound mixing was distracting
[ ] Jad's voice was too nasal
[ ] Oliver Sacks didn't pronounce his "r"s correctly
[ ] it wasn't enough about science
[ ] other / I just don't like anything

After his episode, it is clear that Radiolab is (check all that apply) :

[ ] turning into This American Life, which I hate
[ ] turning into cheap heart-wrenching human interest stories, and I am not human and have no heart
[ ] a shadow of its former self
[ ] an embarrassment of monumental proportions
[ ] other / something that isn't what I want it to be, Mememememe

After this episode I will (check all that apply) :

[ ] not be listening to Radiolab anymore
[ ] will still listen to Radiolab, but only so I can keep complaining about it
[ ] be demanding a refund from my local public radio station
[ ] be starting a blog called Radiobad which will be a more proper sounding board for rants about how much Radiolab sucks
[ ] be driving 50 in the passing lane on a 55-mph highway while on my smartphone

Additional Comments/Ranting (space is provided on the other side for you to open your figurative veins in disgust at how apocalyptically horrible Radiolab was/is/will be)

Jul. 05 2013 01:22 PM
JD from Philly

To those displeased with Radiolab's content of late: nobody cares, including Radiolab. If you don't like what they're doing a show about, you don't have to listen to it. And unless you're contributing to Public Radio, you're receiving the show for free.

I understand the compulsion to write petty, long-winded whiny screeds about the content of this radio show even less than I understand why I feel the need to respond to them with a petty, long-winded screed about them.

I'm responding now because frankly, I'm sick of people saying they're sick of it. If you're sick of it, then kindly go away and leave those who enjoy the show in peace.

To those who have used the comment space of this or another episode to declare "Whelp, that's it for me! I've had enough! Goodbye Radiolab!": farewell, Godspeed (whoops, I said "Fod", ZOMG), have a nice life, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Oh, and actually leave and stop listening. Don't just say you will and then don't.

One last point: I'd recommend to all the crybabies, some of whom decry Radiolab as becoming like This American Life, to take a listen at TAL's episode on "Crybabies." I imagine for many of you it will be like listening to a mirror.

Jul. 05 2013 12:55 PM
Ludd from 'Merica

Remember when Radiolab used to have stories of substance about fascinating Scientific ideas? Remember when they identified themselves as a Science show? Well apparently that show is now dead and has been replaced by a gag-inducing pseudo-This American Life type show dedicated to delusional white people who insist that they are actually part of an oppressed minority because they have some minor genetic link to racial minorities. Seriously, I can't think of anything more idiotic than focusing on a completely absurd distinction like skin pigmentation. What century is this? By focusing on this nonsense, and these delusional people, you're actually keeping racism alive. This is especially true of this latest story which was quite honestly one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. This pasty white woman who claims to be 'negro' is essentially keeping alive the myth created by a bunch of racist lunatics who lived in the town next door. She's playing right into their hands by allowing such a stupid, meaningless distinction to rule her life. It would be like some hateful idiot calling you a moron as you're walking down the street and you take that to heart and start identifying yourself as a moron. I'd love to hear what the response from black people, who have experienced actual racism, had to this episode. I can only imagine and empathize.
So long Radiolab I can't stomach this idiocy anymore. Apparently you're trying to appeal to the most bleeding-heart segment of self-righteous liberals. Way to destroy your integrity with a bunch of ridiculous fluff pieces.

Jul. 05 2013 09:51 AM
Iris from Netherlands

Very interesting episode. Thank you Lu for making it.

I have lived and worked in several countries since I was a teenager. Cultural and national identity used to bother me too (I can identify with being teased in school!) but in my nomadic life I have come to be amazed by the diversity of ways of life - rich or poor, north or south, there are so, so many different ways to live and have a good life.

Racism destroys lives and is bullying in its worst form. It isnt even about race really, I think, but about power, about finding any old reason to put down another in order to feel good about yourself. Very low.

I think Ally is right to want to move. Weaverly sounds absolutely claustrophobic and toxic in the mind. The world is big and many parts are beautiful. I hope you will find a kinder place to live and bring up your children, Ally.

Jul. 04 2013 05:57 PM
niki from France

I feel like Radiolab is slowly turning into This American Life. The last few episodes I have listened to have been about stuff that's not science and not interesting to listeners outside the USA.

Jul. 04 2013 03:20 PM
Angela from Las Vegas, Nevada

As I tell my students --all people come from the same people and we all have African ancestry because the first humans came from Africa.

It will be a better world as people understand this.

Jul. 04 2013 02:50 PM
Michal from Auckland

This reminds me of the Moth story: A Tale of Two Dinners by Bliss Broyard.
I recommend the podcast.

Jul. 04 2013 05:00 AM
ullrich fischer

Ally's Choice is a very sad story. The worst part (even worse than a black person marrying a Klansman) is that everyone (white and black) has swallowed the lie that "black blood" is a contamination of "white purity". Both sisters are some random genetic combination of white and black people. It is perfectly understandable that people who have white phenotypes would want to "pass" (again that implication of contamination) as white, and it is also understandable to want to stand together with the heroes in their black community who are fighting for a world free of the scourge of racism. Maybe the example of an equal parts black and white president acting on behalf not of white or black ordinary people but on behalf of the 1% of(mostly but not all) white people who have corrupted the political process and use racism to distract their victims, the 99% (black and white) from the fact that the 1% are stealing everyone's futures will wake people up to the need for everyone making less than $150,000 a year to stand up for the American Dream.

Jul. 04 2013 04:20 AM
Lu Olkowski from Brooklyn, NY


Interesting that you ask about DNA. Another person in the community did get a DNA test. His story is included in Act 3 of the State of the Re:Union version. You can hear it here:

Through doing this work I've seen so many contradictions. For instance, we're all taught in Sociology 101 that race is nothing more than a social construct made by man. Why then do DNA testing companies continue to use the same construction of race where ancestry is identified as European, African and Asian?

Jul. 03 2013 08:22 PM
Lu Olkowski from Brooklyn, NY

Mary Bee,

Thanks VERY much for your note of concern for the kids.

Whether or not the dad actually joined the KKK is unknown. Ally acknowledges that he could have said those things just to hurt her. I'm sorry we didn't include that in the piece. Still, it's disturbing, heartbreaking and damaging.

Without revealing too much private information in a public forum, please know that the dad no longer has custody. The kids are safe with mom and grandma... and very well loved.

My sincerest apologies for alarming anyone out there.

Jul. 03 2013 08:13 PM
Emma from Austin

I'd be interested to see what a DNA test indicates about the racial genotypes of this family.

Jul. 03 2013 07:12 PM
Mary Bee from Texas

Ally needs to get to the nearest family court in East Jackson and speak with a judge regarding her custody agreement. Clarice should go as well to watch Ally's children while she speaks with her lawyer/a judge. Her lawyer needs to know IMMEDIATELY that dad is in the KKK and training Caleb in the ways of hate speech. Membership in a federally recognized hate group has got to be one of the quickest routes to amending a custody agreement I can think of. Any judge in his right mind would limit Ally's ex's visitation, if not grant Ally sole custody.

it's something definitely worth looking into, as it's a legal way to avoid her stated plan to grab her kids and leave the state. It's my sincerest hope someone forwards this info to Ally...I'm well aware she or someone she knows is extremely unlikely to read these comments, but perhaps someone involved in the production of this Radiolab episode will. Or the Ohio Heritage Council. I simply hope those children aren't exposed to the KKK anymore than they already have been, and I'm fairly sure the family in the story feels the same way.

Jul. 03 2013 07:09 PM
Tanko from Brazil

My English skills are still unpolished but thanks to Radiolab I started to listen to podcasts in this language and now I can understand about 99% of the shows. I also got more curious about science and the specific vocabulary helped me a lot while reading related material over the internet. I even watched an entire Psychology class (about 10 encounters) from Yale`s website and was able to get most of it.

I listen to the shows while I`m inking comic pages and was able to listen to the past shows all over again and I noticed Radiolab is not the same nowadays. While I`m glad for the joy and knowledge Radiolab brought to my life, it makes me really sad it`s going only for the stories with not much of the old interesting reflections and points of views... I think the other listeners (Zooltar and Lady Beardman) were able to express it better and I have to agree with them.

It`s like I`m suffering from a weird kind of Capgras delusion, I listen to Radiolab lately and can`t recognize it. I miss you, Radiolab.

Jul. 03 2013 06:12 PM

Lady Beardman has made a valid point in asking for a certain level of culpability from the creators of this exquisitely crafted, endlessly brainy, and just plain addictive program. She has adroitly asked what the rest of us have merely spoken softly to ours, "What...happened?"

Not only has Radiolab slipped from the pedestal of the most authoritative and surprisingly fresh science podcast out there, it has swiftly been sublimated into the sea of teeming podcast mediocrity which sacrifices stirring, unusual content for the most banal of human interest pieces.

Sure we're not lost in total didacticism, for the most part. Thankfully. But there is something missing from the last few episodes. And I don't think it has anything to do with the subject matter. Radiolab has always focused on human triumphs, human folly, human degradation (Typhoid Mary, the Carnegie Hero fund recipients, and the athletes who narrated their superhuman track-event time-perception come to mind, not to mention those basketball all-stars).

Its simply that a shift has occurred. I think it began last season. The grandiose history lesson/scientific victory (or indeed chagrin--see that poor fellow who felled the oldest tree) is no more. Scrubbed clean. We Radiolab listeners seem to have fallen from our perpetual motion machine and are stuck in the present, which apparently doesn't contain a whole lot of science? A lot of 'inconclusive' and 'flimsy' studies, eh?

Well if the present is a brick wall, why not shift the focus back in time? Do a Hallucinogens episode and tell us about Albert Hoffman--I can hear the twingly, twangly sound-effects now. You could even bring back lovable Oliver Sacks; he wrote a book on the subject!

To be honest, Jad has come to sound rather listless as he and Robert wade through recent episodes, almost as though he has exhausted himself. I cannot believe that. This show is too smart, too witty, too lovingly-created and resilient. Bring us back into time we cannot fathom, to explore men and women whose stories we think we know. Transport us into the truly miraculous spaces within ourselves like you once did.

Thank You

Jul. 03 2013 05:04 PM
David Brake from London

This is a terrific short but I think you should divide it into two parts - at least here on the page - so people can share the Ally's Choice part without having to tell non-regular listeners to skip the first 9 minutes!

Jul. 03 2013 03:24 PM
Ellen from Radiolab

Lady Beardman, thanks for your comment.

First of all, wrestling with race has a long history at Radiolab. This story would have had an ideal home in our "Race" episode from 2008, for example.

From our perspective, Radiolab is still interested in science. But, as from our very beginnings as a show, our curiosity doesn't stay easily contained within the boundaries of any particular discipline.

I will say, for myself, after 10 years of working on Radiolab I do think the mind-blowing science story is harder to find for me. This might be because it's harder to surprise us, or it's harder to find profound implications of science research that wouldn't be retreading too closely past content for us, or maybe it's because we're more and more critical of small, poorly constructed studies which may sound earth shattering but when you dig into the details seem much more flimsy and inconclusive.

Thanks again for the feedback. I suspect your find the hour that's coming later in July very much to your liking.

Jul. 03 2013 12:28 PM

The thing that bothers me most about recent episodes of Radiolab isn't that we've lost its focus on science, but that Jad and Robert have doubled down on human interest stories while proceeding to act like it's the same show as it's always been. It's not the same. What's worse, the periodic lip service to the idea of having a dialogue with science compels me to tune in because, "Maybe — just maybe — this episode will be different. There'll be unearthed, somewhere in the details of this story, a universal, sublime truth. Just like the old times."

But that optimism, this feeling that's kept me listening in light of episodes like 'Are You Sure?' — Robert might even call it my "faith" — never condenses into a tangible satisfaction. And I'm losing hope that there's even an *interest* in returning to doing a show about the immutable kosmos. Whereas I, and a lot of other Radiolab listeners I know, think of these recent episodes as aberrations, I'm starting to think that Radiolab is actually very proud of its recent transition into docudrama and wants to do *more* of it.

That's really heartbreaking. And if that's true, Jad and Robert owe their fans an honest window into their thought process. I think it's only fair to those of us who've listened to Radiolab for many, many years to articulate where we're going from here, and why we're triangulating into long-form storytelling, and why the old format was insufficient for making the podcast we needed to hear. What are we *doing* on the topic of race, that This American Life isn't? Why aren't representatives of the science of genetic difference, like John Forest from Harrisburg, PA, considered worthy of airtime anymore? Is it because of a knee-jerk reaction over the Yellow Rain furor? Is it because Jonah Lehrer lost his wings, isn't around anymore to give us a neat-and-too-tidy admixture of science and human interest — so we've given up on the idea that it's possible?

Jul. 03 2013 11:23 AM
John Forest from Harrisburg, Pa.

Recent scientific examinations of the biological basis of race have obliterated our out-dated notions of race. According to Alan Goodman (professor of biological anthropology at Hampshire College) Scientists have actually been saying for quite a while that race, as biology, doesn't exist - that there's no biological basis for race. And that is in the facts of biology, the facts of non-concordance, the facts of continuous variation, the recentness of our evolution, the way that we all commingle and come together, how genes flow, and perhaps especially in the fact that most variation occurs within race versus between races or among races, suggesting that there's no generalizability to race. There is no center there; there is no there there in the center. It's fluid.

Basically, we have conflated the ideas of race, racism, prejudice, in an incorrect, unfounded, and (I would argue) unhelpful way. The tiny biological differences that occur on a molecular level give rise to certain visible surface expression on our bodies upon which we have focused beyond all reason. This is quite understandable as an expression of human nature. We are very visual creatures and we "notice" and apply importance to novelty and difference. This has proved useful in determining "in-group" and "out-group".

In a nutshell, we (ie; humans) are not what we have long imagined ourselves to be. Our notions who and what we truly are and our cultuaral policies and procedures will need to adapt.

Jul. 03 2013 09:00 AM

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