In the aftermath of the United States’ 2016 presidential election, many white Americans are asking how a candidate so inexorably tied to white supremacy was able to secure a seat as the leader of the free world.
People of color in the United States, however, are somewhat less surprised. We’ve seen, felt, and suffered under white supremacy as long as we’ve been alive.
Discussions examining the conditions resulting in the President-elect’s ascension have largely been variations on a limited set of themes, and are often confined to the world of political machinery. Was it the relative political weakness of his opponent? The failure of mainstream media to do its job?
At a human level, however, the story is intimately familiar to marginalized people: we are the “other,” and our position within society’s hierarchy breeds condescension, derision, and hate. Regardless of other factors, it’s no surprise to us that a candidate promising to return the country to “real Americans” could appeal widely enough to become its leader.
Traditional entertainment media has played a shameful role in normalizing the passive white supremacy successfully mobilized by our President-elect. From television news to television dramas; from independent film to Hollywood blockbusters, talented people of color face nearly impossible odds when charting career paths in the industries that shape American culture.
Even if we overcome these odds and break into mainstream entertainment, we are often unheard, unseen, or poorly represented. The vast majority of our roles are written, directed, or mediated by white people. Erasure and poor representation reinforce harmful stereotypes, robbing people of color of our individual humanity, and bigotry thrives in an environment where “others” are not humanized.
Podcasting, as a medium, can provide a powerful remedy for these ills. Unlike other forms of mass media, its low cost of entry means that podcasting isn’t intrinsically prohibitive to the historically disadvantaged in this country. Podcasting provides people of color with the opportunity to circumvent existing content creation and distribution systems that privilege whiteness.
As podcasts continue to carve space in mainstream consumption habits, however, the industry’s infrastructure seems to be perpetuating, rather than resisting, the original sins of the white-favoring context of mainstream American culture.
Consider the iTunes charts, where white-dominated public radio reigns supreme, represented by shows like This American Life, TED Radio Hour, and Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. When the top spots aren’t held by public radio, they’re often occupied by the white male-dominated comedy industry, in the form of Joe Rogan, Bill Maher, Mike Rowe, or Chris Hardwick.
Consider the challenges people of color face after crossing the aforementioned low barrier of entry into podcasting. Creating a platform is easy and inexpensive, but sustainability via profitability and increased reach is often predicated on the ability to make further investment, both financially and in terms of time. People of color in America, however, are paid less and have fewer free hours than their white counterparts.
Advertisers have become a tried and true option for podcasters to monetize their content, but listenership thresholds placed on advertising consideration exacerbate this divide. Even the methods used to gather reliable listenership data are in danger of exclusionary stratification.
Podtrac, which has been around since the early days of podcasting, provides listenership metrics for free. By contrast, however, Slate’s Megaphone platform, billed as a next-generation solution for data collection as well as publishing, is restricted to networks and podcasts with average downloads of 20,000 or more per episode. For context, in September of 2015, the median number of downloads per podcast episode was around 160. Only the top 10% of podcasts reached 5,000 downloads per episode.
The digital divide, which describes the difficulty of vulnerable people to obtain internet access, is in danger of being replicated in the world of new media. In a culture that favors whiteness, simply applying business as usual to a revolutionary, naturally inclusive medium will result in a podcasting landscape that places undue downward financial pressure on podcasters of color.
When people ask, “How could we have stopped a bigot from reaching the White House?” one answer is that we need to love each other. To love each other, we must know each other. Podcasts provide people of color with a direct, unmediated line to fellow Americans who may never hear us otherwise.
We request that podcast advertisers and curators begin making counterbalancing efforts to provide creators of color an equal chance to succeed.
- Create a top-level genre for independent podcasters of color, increasing ease of discovery for those looking to engage directly with people of color. This genre should coexist with, rather than replace, current genre assignments; in other words, a sports podcast by people of color should be found in both the “Sports” and “Podcasters of Color” sections.
- Include at least one independent podcast produced by a person or people of color at all times in highly visible promotional areas, such as the iTunes Store podcast section front page.
To any media organization creating “must-listen” podcast lists or writing stories about podcasting, we ask that you:
- Aggressively seek out and recognize independent podcasters of color. True to our nature as podcasters, we can be found on all social media platforms promoting our work.
- Recognize that podcasters of color are not a monolith, and that we exist in all genres beyond our ethnicities. If you are writing a story about a “race-neutral” podcast genre, recognize that race-neutral prioritizes a white perspective and fight this by finding a podcaster of color in that genre. People of color podcast on all subjects, including, but not limited to, our race.
To listeners, we ask that you:
- Help us overcome the limitations of systems that prioritize white podcasters by doing what those systems often don’t: share and promote the content you love by people of color.
- Keep a watchful eye on podcasting platforms and media organizations. Call them out when their content gives the impression that only white podcasters are eligible for success.
Independent podcasters of color have made, and continue to make, inroads declaring our worth via the quality, thoughtfulness, and humanity of our content. We believe that we are major contributors to a culture that can resist the normalization of overt scapegoating and bigotry. We ask the aforementioned organizations to take these actions in the hope that all of us may reverse the tide of hate by awakening empathy.
Please join us.
Shaun Lau, Host of No, Totally!
Shannon Miller, Founder and Co-Host of Nerds of Prey
Melissa Perez, Co-Host of Nerds of Prey
Lauren Warren, Co-Host of Nerds of Prey
Cameron Glover, Co-Host of Nerds of Prey
Stephanie Williams, Curator and Host of The Lemonade Show
Britney Monae, Co-Host of DC TV Classics
Karis Watie, Founder and Co-Host of Vocal Vixens
Matthew Eng, Asian Oscar Bait
Dap, Host of REELYDOPE Radio
Tonja Renée Stidhum, Co-Host of Cinema Bun Podcast
Berook Alemayehu, Co-Host of Cinema Bun Podcast
Alycia Snow, Founder and Host of Hiroja Shibe’s Space Odyssey Network
Keane Roberson, Host of #AllPodcastsMatter
Esta Fiesta, Host of Poised n Polished
Kaitlyn Rose, Co-Host of Fireside Friends
Ryan Persaud, Co-Host of Fireside Friends
Allen Ibrahim, Co-Host of Fireside Friends
Berry, Founder of PodcastsInColor.com
Christine “Xine” Yao, PhD, Co-Host and Founder of PhDivas Podcast
Liz Wayne, PhD, Co-Host and Founder of PhDivas Podcast
Viktor Kerney, Co-Host of MEGASHEEN
Nick Porter, Co-Host of MEGASHEEN
Quincy Surasmith, Host and Producer of Asian Americana