But when it comes to creative and informative output from podcasters? That’s a totally different story. From where I’m sitting, 2017 is shaping up to possibly be the most explosive, creative time for entertainment and media, and that feeling is no different for the podcasting arena, especially where podcasters of color are concerned.
Podcasters of color are in the unique and fortunate position to provide their listeners with points of view intrinsic to the issues facing marginalized communities in America. These podcasters report on various topics, from movies, comics, current news, and more, but these creators also give their audiences lessons in how to think outside of their current perspectives and how to understand issues intrinsic to the marginalized American experience. These podcasters don’t set out to hold their audience’s hand, but regardless, listeners intent on learning come away from these podcasts better, more supportive allies and friends.
A collective of podcasters of color have collaborated to create #SupportPOCpods, an initiative to raise awareness and visibility of podcasters of color. A #SupportPOCpods live Twitter Q&A moderated by Shaun Lau of No, Totally! will take place Friday, Dec. 9 at 12 p.m. EST.
But I’ve buried the lede enough: You want to know the exact three reasons you need to support podcasters of color. It’s pretty simple.
1. Who knows what the journalism pedigree will be like in 2017. We’ll need some facts. We’re already facing malaise from having to refute or fact-check the upcoming Trump administration’s foolishness. Imagine what it’s going to be like in 2017. With newsrooms floundering to get around the learning curve that is Donald Trump, plus 24-7 news stations looking for ways to capitalize on Trump’s antics at the expense of actual muckraking, we’ll need someone out there willing to provide a counterbalance. That’s where podcasters of color come in.
Now, it shouldn’t be left up just to the podcasters to do the work journalists are supposed to be doing; the journalism industry shouldn’t be shirking its responsibilities for a quick buck. But when it comes to you wanting to retain your sanity and knowledge that yes, someone out there sees the emperor has no clothes on, then you’d be wise to turn to podcasters of color for the real truth.
2. These voices are part of the mainstream, whether the mainstream would like to believe it. There are a lot of great podcasts out there. But how many podcasts by people of color (outside of a select few) have you seen acknowledged by the mainstream? However, these voices are some of the main ones providing platforms for and education on various social justice and cultural initiatives, such as #WhitewashedOUT and #OscarsSoWhite. These voices are the ones that are driving the conversations, so it’s ridiculous that the mainstream media routinely boxes out all but a few marginalized creators.
3. It’s just good podcasting. Look, at the end of the day, we all want to be entertained, informed, what have you. These podcasters all excel at what they do, so if you’re just a shallow listener and want something fun to listen to (no shame in that), then why not listen to the Black Girl Nerds crew interview popular movie and TV stars? Why not check out Hard N.O.C. Life to learn about the latest in geekery? What about movie criticism/humor from No, Totally!? What about some fandom talk with Nerds of Prey? The list goes on and on and on.
As LeVar Burton so famously said, “You don’t have to take my word for it”: If you don’t want to hear this from me, how about reading about #SupportPOCpods straight from the podcasters’ themselves? Check out their open letter:
#SupportPOCpods: An Open Letter From Podcasters of Color
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 episode1.
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.
To iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, and all other podcast discovery and distribution platforms, we ask that you:
- 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
You gotta support #SupportPOCpods. Your podcasting queue—and your sanity—depends on it.
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