The Gray Area with Sean Illing

The Gray Area with host Sean Illing is a philosophical take on culture, politics, and everything in between. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we do offer a space for real dialogue. Resist certainty, embrace ambiguity, and get some cool takes on a very hot world. Formerly the Vox Conversations podcast. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday.


The new American Reconstruction

Sean Illing talks with historian and author Peniel Joseph about his new book The Third Reconstruction, which argues that the time we're currently living in can be understood as on a continuum with the civil rights era of the '50s and '60s. and the original American Reconstruction following the Civil War. Sean and Peniel discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, the Obama presidency — and important differences between the two — as well as the dangers of American exceptionalism and the importance of maintaining hope in the ongoing fight for racial justice.

Host: Sean Illing (@seanilling), host, The Gray Area

Guest: Peniel Joseph (@PenielJoseph), author; founding director, Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin


  • The Third Reconstruction: America's Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century by Peniel E. Joseph (Basic; 2022)
  • "DeSantis claims it was only the American Revolution that caused people to question slavery" by Graig Graziosi (The Independent; Sept. 23)
  • Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Du Bois (1935)
  • "The Undoing of Reconstruction" by W. Archibald Dunning (The Atlantic; Oct. 1901)
  • Barack Obama's Speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (C-SPAN; YouTube)
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (New Press; 2010, updated 2020)
  • Shelby County v. Holder (570 US 529; 2013), in which the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • "Harming Our Common Future: America's Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown" by Gary Orfield, et al. (Civil Rights Project; 2019)
  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (551 US 701; 2007)
  • "A North Carolina city begins to reckon with the massacre in its white supremacist past" by Scott Neuman (NPR; Nov. 10, 2021)
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (One World; 2019)
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon; 2018)
  • "Why I hope 2022 will be another 1866" by Manisha Sinha (CNN; Oct. 12)
  • President Kennedy's Televised Address to the Nation on Civil Rights (June 11, 1963)


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This episode was made by: 

  • Producer: Erikk Geannikis
  • Editor: Amy Drozdowska
  • Engineer: Patrick Boyd
  • Editorial Director, Vox Talk: A.M. Hall

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 2022-10-24  1h6m