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Why one man says the 'white voices' of public radio are locking out America's changing demographics

Public radio united us all a few months ago with Serial, the spinoff podcast from This American Life. But is public radio actually failing to reach the real, diverse America? One man says yes: the voices are just “too white.”

Chenjerai Kumanyika is a professor at Clemson University and realized he was changing his voice and speech while working on a radio piece, trying to match the voices he had listened to as a long-time fan of public radio. “As I was reading my script I realized I was hearing this other voice in my head and I realized it was because I didn’t have voices that sounded like mine in this genre of podcast,” Kumanyika told Alicia Menendez.

But can we really refer to code-switching as trying to imitate a so-called ‘white voice’? “It is simplistic to say it is a white voice but I think the voice does have to do with race. I don’t think we can remove it totally from race because it’s a standard voice that represents a certain type of person, a certain category….” Kumanyika said, “When you live in a society where you are constantly told that your voice is not professional, that your way of speaking is too loud or too animated or too whatever, you actually internalize those roles and try to mold yourself to the standard.”

But Kumanyika remains optimistic: “We have to shake it up. There are so many many people that aren’t expressing themselves fully and people who are locked out….The demographics are changing in America so we need to be open to that.”

Why one man says the 'white voices' of public radio are locking out America's changing demographics

Public radio united us all a few months ago with Serial, the spinoff podcast from This American Life. But is public radio actually failing to reach the real, diverse America? One man says yes: the voices are just “too white.”

Chenjerai Kumanyika is a professor at Clemson University and realized he was changing his voice and speech while working on a radio piece, trying to match the voices he had listened to as a long-time fan of public radio. “As I was reading my script I realized I was hearing this other voice in my head and I realized it was because I didn’t have voices that sounded like mine in this genre of podcast,” Kumanyika told Alicia Menendez.

But can we really refer to code-switching as trying to imitate a so-called ‘white voice’? “It is simplistic to say it is a white voice but I think the voice does have to do with race. I don’t think we can remove it totally from race because it’s a standard voice that represents a certain type of person, a certain category….” Kumanyika said, “When you live in a society where you are constantly told that your voice is not professional, that your way of speaking is too loud or too animated or too whatever, you actually internalize those roles and try to mold yourself to the standard.”

But Kumanyika remains optimistic: “We have to shake it up. There are so many many people that aren’t expressing themselves fully and people who are locked out….The demographics are changing in America so we need to be open to that.”

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