Does Public Radio Sound Too White?


February 3rd, 2015


The Washington Post takes a stab at answering that question in an article called “Does Public Radio Sound Too White?” The paper says it’s a question whispered but never boldly confronted. The topic was front and center in a Thursday “All Things Considered” commentary by African-American assistant professor of communication studies at Clemson Chenjerai Kumanyika. Kumanyika said while editing a script aloud for another public radio program last June, he realized he was “imagining another voice, one that sounded more white.” The professor was challenging the “whiteness” of radio.

As a result, he concluded: “Without being directly told, people like me learn that our way of speaking isn’t professional. And you start to imitate the standard or even hide the distinctive features of your own voice. This is one of the reasons that some of my black and brown friends refuse to listen to some of my favorite radio shows despite my most passionate efforts.”

The Post says Kumanyika was referring to the subtle matter of code-switching, or speaking one way to one’s immediate peers and another way — call it more “white” — to a larger group. No matter the racial or ethnic identity of the speaker, people on public radio sound white, he suggested. “I was hoping to expand the conversation. This is not only about race but about class and ethnicity, too. I was hoping that audiences and listeners can begin to rethink what their expectations are and what we’re missing if we don’t challenge our comfort zones.”

The topic immediately blew up on Twitter, drawing thousands of comments in a long-running “tweetup” (at #PubRadioVoice) hosted by several of NPR’s African-American and Latino journalists, including Audie Cornish, a host of “All Things Considered.”
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