Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States. It’s a day off work for some people, and it's a time of reflection for many. Including me. As an openly white dude, it seems disingenuous to say I “celebrate” the holiday. Instead, I use the day to examine my position—a position of privilege—in the grand scheme of things, podcasting and beyond.
At least on the surface, and certainly outward-facing, podcasting looks really, really white. It’s hard to look at the people at big production houses, strong independents who’ve accumulated huge audiences, or to the pundits who don’t mind navel-gazing ad nauseam about the podcasting industry and be proud of our overall diversity.
Because we have yet to achieve it.
Examining My Own White Privilege In Podcasting Card
I enjoy a lot of time in the spotlight in the podcasting world. I mean, you’re reading my words right now. Others are listening to my voice. Some are watching my face speak those words on a video. My platform reaches a lot of the podcasting world.
Additionally, I’m frequently asked to be on a guest on other podcasts, something I genuinely enjoy doing. And not all of those podcasts are about podcasting. Because, believe it or not, I do have interests outside of podcasting and have racked up a few stories others like to hear.
It’s those stories—and my ability to tell them well—that gets me on a lot of stages where I can present my thoughts and ideas to others. From Ignite presentations to keynotes, I’ve had the privilege to speak to people all over the world. A good number of my speaking opportunities have been at podcasting conferences, where I’m a known entity. In fact, I can’t think of a single time when my application to speak at a podcasting conference wasn’t selected.
You can argue that it’s my credentials in the space, the platform I’ve built, or the fact that I’ve been pushing the edges of what podcasting can be for more than 16 years that earned me those spots.
But let’s be honest: the way I look certainly isn’t hindering my chances of being selected.
Stepping Back So Others Can Step Up
Every time a podcasting conference organizer chooses me to give a solo talk on stage, the conference organizer had to not choose an underrepresented voice for that same time slot. In the real world, there’s a finite number of people who can speak at a podcasting event. Conference organizers know this, and I think most have the best of intentions at making their stages more equitable and diverse.
Still, it’s a tough call. And I’m glad I don’t have to make it. But I can do more than that. I can take action to make it easier on the conference organizers so that they don’t have to make a tough choice.
I can choose not to submit to speak at podcast conferences.
Don’t worry: As soon as it’s safe to travel and gather, you’ll see me at the podcasting conferences. I still love immersing myself in “the tribe” of podcasters. There’s a charge I get from going to podcasting conferences that I’ve not found a way to replicate. And you know I’m jonesing to get back out there.
But I still want to be—and plan to be—involved in podcasting conferences. You may see me on stage as part of a panel, or perhaps co-presenting with someone else. And if asked to speak, my default answer will likely be “yes”. However, I’m going to ask some pointed questions about others participating. I’m ill-equipped to be the equity cop, but I do have agency for myself and can do my part to ensure I’m helping lift underrepresented voices instead of taking more of the spotlight for myself.
It’s my personal belief that podcasting conferences and events are made better when it’s not just the same almost-reflexive lineup of shoe-ins on the stage.
Implied within the Black lives matter message is the reality that Black voices matter. And if I can make the world a richer and more inclusive space by stepping back so that underrepresented voices can step forward, it’s almost literally the least I can do.
For me, it's not enough to say that everybody has an equal chance in podcasting. It's not enough to assume that everybody has equal access to the same tools, services, and experiences that give a purported equal shot at podcasting fame. Because even I can see from my position of privilege that that’s not true.
Sparking Ideas From Other Privileged Podcasters
My decision is something meaningful I can do to help forward the application of equity in podcasting. But it may not be something you can do. However, I’d wager each of us who podcast from a place of privilege can do something meaningful.
You can help spark that insight within another working podcaster by sharing this episode of Podcast Pontifications with them. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t appreciate the message-spreading just for message-spreading sake. But it’s not like I’m getting paid by the listener, so it’s not the driving cause for my ask.
Over time, and certainly over the last several months, I’ve heard from other privileged podcasters who are struggling with how they can make a meaningful impact. I don’t have a single answer that works for all, but perhaps hearing this episode or reading this article will get them thinking creatively about their own solution. As I hope it is getting you thinking creatively about what you can do if you too podcast from a position of privilege.
Reflect on that through the day today. And hopefully tomorrow.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.