Every fall, audio producers from around the world (mostly the US) converge on the Third Coast international Audio Festival in Chicago. Eighteen years ago, long before the so-called podcast boom, WBEZ alumnus Johanna Zorn founded the conference as a way to celebrate the best of audio documentary from around the world. It’s become a place for freelancers who can afford the steep registration fee to eat build-your-own-tacos next to producers from some of the biggest shows in podcasting.
The vibe’s always been more or less convivial, but something broke this year. The conference usually ends with the Third Coast awards ceremony; the self-proclaimed “Oscars of Radio.” This one began with producer Phoebe Wang accepting the award for Best New Artist for her thoughtful piece “God and Gays”. Instead of the usual “This-story-is-so-important-to-me-and-I-couldn’t-have-done-it-without…” type of speech, she used the platform to call out the overwhelming whiteness of the industry. You can read the full transcript, but here’s a taste:
I hear people say all the time that, “We tried our best to find a person of color for a job opening and we couldn’t find one, because not enough people of color applied or because they weren’t qualified enough for the position.” And I think that is total bullshit.
Because what I hear when people say we tried our best — what I really hear is: “We chose to spend our time and our money on something that we decided was more important than hiring a person of color.”
And what I also hear is: “We’re okay with alienating a massive group of listeners who don’t have any space or emotional energy to hear from another straight white dude talking at them, and we’re okay with having massive blind spots when we share stories about people of color.”
So if I could offer some suggestions: Don’t wait for people to come to you. Go on the internet, recruit people, invite them to apply for your position, invite them to join your applicant pool.
This isn’t the first time anyone’s levelled this critique in general, or on the radio/podcast industry in particular. Writer and radio producer Stephanie Foo has talked about it more than once, but it might be the first time it’s been followed up with a list of 46 POC audio producers, read aloud, in a room full of industry decision-makers who have no choice but to pay attention. The speech ended with Phoebe challenging anyone who has the capacity to fix this problem to email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the response has been huge. If you’re an employer, send us an email.
Drawing on the momentum from Third Coast, a few of us—Phoebe, Adizah Eghan, Afi Yellow-Duke, and Zakiya Gibbons and me—got together and started working on a plan to help solve the problem that POC producers are “too hard to find” by creating a directory. At the time of writing, there are over 400 entries, and it’s still growing. We hope that it’ll serve as a resource to connect more potential employers with POC candidates across the industry, but it’s also a space for us to connect to one another, which means that you don’t have to be looking for a job to be a part of it.
So if you’re a POC audio person of any kind, get in this directory.
A final word, from all of us:
To white people: Do better. The lack of racial diversity in the audio industry is not our responsibility to fix. And remember, your responsibility doesn’t end when you hire people of color.
To our POC family: We see you and we stand with you. Let’s continue to support each other.
Adizah Eghan, Zakiya Gibbons, Aliya Pabani, Phoebe Wang, Afi Yellow-Duke