The following piece is co-written by Shaunell Henderson and Monica Martinez, students at Hendrix College pursuing studies in Human Rights and Political Science, respectively.
A Podcast on Anti-Racism for Whites
On October 20, 2020, KUAF public radio aired the first podcast episode of The Movement That Never Was: A People’s Guide to Anti-Racism in the South and Arkansas. This podcast, written and produced by Paul Kiefer, centers around helping Southern white people solidify their commitments to anti-racism. The podcast specifically prioritizes the role of white allyship in the future of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The first episode of the five-part series begins by saying that the protests that followed the death of George Floyd into the summer saw record amounts of white participance. The podcast answers the question: What is the role of white people in the Black Lives Matter movement? If white people cannot answer this, Keifer notes, then they will go back to living their normal lives and “hanging their cardboard signs on the wall as a badge of honor” while racial injustice remains. Other episodes center around historical movements of anti-racism in the South and the historical and contemporary challenges faced by white allies in finding their definitive purpose in this movement. The podcast aims to teach white allies how to be actively anti-racist in their daily lives and begin, as he puts it, “the redistribution of power and resources” towards the Black community.
A Step in the Right Anti-Racism Direction
Paul Kiefer could not have chosen a more prompt time to release this project. 2020 brought a pandemic, police brutality, and political unrest, and people are ripe for change.
Kiefer pins the Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-racism movement in the South as the guiding voices of anti-racism work. Specifically, Kiefer centers on white allies, which has the potential to mobilize white allies in the direction of permanent, active anti-racism work. Consequently, Kiefer’s podcast holds the responsibility of defining anti-racism for Southern white people, including how they should aim to redistribute power and resources to Black communities.
As a white journalist and anti-racist, Kiefer is a trusted messenger to white audiences. His podcast allows white allies to recognize that racial injustice is neither temporary nor strictly a Black issue. Kiefer is an example of a white person using his position of power for good– creating media to urge whites to fight against racial injustice. It’s essential white people initiate and moderate critical discussions of race and justice in white spaces to ensure these conversations happen. The podcast is a step in the right direction toward racial unity, but it is missing a key element: the Black voice.
Intent vs. Impact
Most white allies have good intentions when pursuing anti-racism work. Kiefer is no exception. Although his intentions are right– educating the white mass on anti-racism– his approach is misguided. Kiefer’s intentions were not to speak for or in place of Black Americans. However, what matters more than his intention is the impact of his work. Kiefer speaks about allyship for Black Americans without centering Black American voices. Privilege and power does not equal permission. The podcast would hold more weight if Kiefer had considered such. As a white male, he should not speak for the Black community but rather alongside in solidarity with the Black community. Kiefer could have co-hosted the podcast with a Black American or at the very least, acknowledge the work of Black Americans.
The problem: if the podcast were to gain popularity, Kiefer will be the center of discussion. Not only will he be viewed as a white savior, but will remain the person in the position of power whose voice is amplified. Black voices are continually disregarded to make room for white voices. For there to be adequate and lasting racial change, Black people must be in positions of power speaking to both white and Black audiences alike. As Stokely Carmichael said, “If we are going to eliminate [this uneven power dynamic] for the generation that comes after us, then Black people must be seen in positions of power, doing and articulating for themselves, for themselves.” (Black Power speech, 1966) Progress is unachievable until Black Americans are at the forefront of racism and anti-racism conversations.
It is important that Kiefer use his power to appeal to other white people. But one cannot comprehend the magnitude of such racism and bias that they have never experienced themselves. Lived experience speaks louder than any amount of reading ever could.
Kiefer’s podcast may indeed be reaching audiences that could not otherwise be reached. And people in positions of power should use their power to reach audiences BLM may not otherwise reach. But the point of allyship is not to speak in lieu of People of Color; rather, it’s to amplify Voices of Color. Kiefer’s well intentions do not absolve the impact of his actions. Producing a podcast that applies to Black Americans– without Black co-hosts or the inclusion of Black voices– is negligent. Ultimately, this choice negatively impacts the weight of Keifer’s own words.