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Leah Donnella

Leah Donnella is an assistant editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.

Donnella originally came to NPR in September 2015 as an intern for Code Switch. Prior to that, she was a summer intern at WHYY's Public Media Commons, where she helped teach high school students the ins and outs of journalism and film-making. She spent a lot of time out in the hot Philly sun tracking down unsuspecting tourists for on-the-street interviews. She also worked at the University of Pennsylvania in the department of College Houses and Academic Resources.

Donnella graduated from Pomona College with a Bachelor of Arts in Africana Studies.

It happens on every road trip — you're driving from city to city, natural wonder to natural wonder. Every hour is a magical combination of rustic beauty and historic landmarks and fascinating people. Until, one day, things change: The scenery turns gray; the people lose their charm. You find yourself at a rest stop with no toilet paper, where the vending machine eats your last single. It's 90 miles to the nearest motel. Small, but menacing-looking rodents scurry across the road.

You, my friend, are in Podunk. Or as some people say, "Some Podunk town in the middle of nowhere."

There's no shortage of terrible things to think about. Our history — everyone's history — is full of them. This July marked 100 years since the start of the Red Summer of 1919, where race riots broke out in cities all over the United States. September will mark two years since Hurricane Maria devastated much of Puerto Rico. Eighteen years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Quick — think of the most beautiful person you know. Is it your partner? Your mother? Rihanna? (Wait, you know Rihanna? That's amazing!)

There are a million different reasons we find certain people beautiful. But there's no denying that a lot of current beauty standards in the U.S. are based on a particular type of beauty — one that centers a type of white femininity that's only accessible to a select few.

President Trump traveled to a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, today, continuing on his campaign to drum up support for a $5.7 billion border wall. The visit came after weeks of Congressional debate about border security that has resulted in a partial government shutdown.

Some people say New Orleans is haunted because of witches. Others say it's haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.

You can get away with calling something "white trash" in polite company, on cable television and in the headline of a magazine article. An article in The New Republic once posed the question of whether President Trump might be "a white trash icon." For some reason, the term manages to come across as less offensive than most other racial slurs.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

For many people, the dog days of July mean grabbing an ice pop, lounging outside, and letting the summer sun hit your skin. And for people of color, we're often doing those things sans sunscreen. After all, our melanin will protect us. Right?

Not so fast.

This week on Ask Code Switch we're taking on a question from Liz Mitchell, from New York. She writes:

"Dear Code Switch,

Many Americans tell the story of Black-Jewish political relations like this: First, there was the Civil Rights movement, where the two groups got along great.

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"Racist."

Some people hear that word and picture a hood-wearing, cross-burning bigot. Others think more abstractly — they hear racist and think of policies, institutions, laws and language.

It's tricky to nail down exactly what makes someone feel like a "racial impostor." For one Code Switch follower, it's the feeling she gets from whipping out "broken but strangely colloquial Arabic" in front of other Middle Easterners.

For another — a white-passing, Native American woman — it's being treated like "just another tourist" when she shows up at powwows. And one woman described watching her white, black and Korean-American toddler bump along to the new Kendrick and wondering, "Is this allowed?"

To protest, or not to protest? This week on Ask Code Switch, we're digging into a question from Shawn, an African-American high school student in South Florida, who wonders how best to take a stand against injustice:

Hello Code Switch Crew,

Hey fam —

Code Switch is planning a full year of stories about the complex ways that race, identity and culture play out in peoples' lives, across the country and around the globe. And to make sure our coverage is the best it can be, we want some feedback from you.

So tell us what you loved and hated in our past year of coverage. Tell us which stories left you satisfied, and which left you wanting more. And tell us what you're dying to hear about in 2018.

To share your thoughts, email us at CodeSwitch@npr.org, or fill out this form.

All right, so you could get in the Christmas spirit by telling the same old tale about a jolly old man who slides down the chimneys and rewards well-behaved kids with mountains of toys.

Some people hold fast to their Christmas traditions, and there is nothing wrong with that. But think how magical it can be to revamp Christmas stories to better reflect the time and country that we live in.

It's time for another Ask Code Switch. This week, we're getting into the gray area between yellow and brown.

Amy Tran, from Minneapolis, asks:

So, you're at your friend's elaborately decorated Halloween party. There are cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, bloody handprints on the wall, a frothing potion brewing on the stove. It's creepy! And scary! But is it ... spooky?

They say if you want something done right, do it yourself. But for Ray Halbritter, it was more a case of, "if you want something done at all."

Halbritter, the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, wasn't seeing stories by or about Native Americans in mainstream media outlets, and on the rare occasion those places did try to write about indigenous people, the stories often got distorted.

Mélisande Short-Colomb knew her family had been enslaved. But until recently, she didn't know that they were enslaved, and later sold, by Georgetown University.

She found out about that part of her history when she got a message from a genealogist for the Georgetown Memory Project, which is dedicated to finding the descendents of the 272 people sold by the university in 1838.

Remember Katie? She is the woman from Delaware who is thinking about getting married, but her boyfriend doesn't want her to take his last name. "He was strongly against it," she wrote. "He doesn't want an obviously Latino surname (think: Lopez or Garcia) to affect me negatively."

This viral video out of Hollywood raises an interesting question: What does racism look like from one Latino to another?

Welcome back to Ask Code Switch, a segment where we dissect your trickiest questions about race. This week, we're tackling one version of a question that we hear all the time: What do you do when people just won't stop making assumptions about you because of how you look?

Franchesca in San Francisco writes:

As the debate rages over what role Confederate monuments do — and should — play in commemorating U.S. history, Jennifer Allen says we can learn a lot from Germany.

Allen is an assistant professor of German history at Yale University, and she specializes in something called memory politics.

Jared Taylor was not in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. But Taylor, one of the leading voices for white rights in the country, says it was clear what really happened at that rally.

Imagine finding out one day that many of the stories that you told about yourself weren't really true. The way you understood your family history, the way you explained your personality ("I'm Italian, of course I talk loud!"), the way you talked about your hair — what if all of it was just, well, stories?

Or maybe even stranger: What if you found out that you had a whole hidden history that you'd never known about? That generations of your family had lived through events that you had no idea you were connected to?

Would that change who you are?

When social interactions become racially charged, sometimes even the most woke among us are prone to faux pas. What do you do when your dad pretends not to speak English whenever your gringo boyfriend comes around? Why does your coworker scowl at you every time you drink Fanta? Should you automatically cut off contact with someone who doesn't like hip hop, or is there a way to compromise?

One year ago, Barack Obama was winding down his final term and Donald Trump was ... a candidate for president?

Editor's Note: This piece contains language that some may find offensive.

It's Flag Day! On this week's podcast, we explore the ways that communities of color in the United States relate to the Stars and Stripes.

And we thought it worth a few moments to celebrate a flag created nearly a century ago for black Americans.

It's tricky to nail down exactly what makes someone feel like a "racial impostor." For one Code Switch follower, it's the feeling she gets from whipping out "broken but strangely colloquial Arabic" in front of other Middle Easterners.

For another — a white-passing, Native American woman — it's being treated like "just another tourist" when she shows up at powwows. And one woman described watching her white, black and Korean-American toddler bump along to the new Kendrick and wondering, "Is this allowed?"

Ask some actors about their dream role, and they're likely to offer range of answers: a character from Shakespeare, a superhero, the lead in Phantom of the Opera. As for Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-American actor who has had roles in Lost, Crash and most recently Hawaii Five-0, his dream is to play a romantic lead. Any romantic lead.

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