Culture

These Podcasters are Using Their Platforms to Champion the Voices of the Underrepresented

We speak with three teams from the Google Podcasts creator program about reaching diverse audiences and breaking through the barriers to entry in the podcasting world.

As podcasts become the go-to medium for storytelling, it's important that the voices of marginalized folks not be left out. This starts with creating space and resources for underrepresented voices to thrive.

Noticing a gap in the voices and faces behind podcast creation, Google in collaboration with podcast company PRX launched the Google Podcasts creator program, "designed to lower barriers to entry and elevate underrepresented voices across podcasting."

The inaugural teams include storytellers from a range of backgrounds including Africa and the diaspora. Podcasts include the Nairobi-based AfroQueer, a narrative-driven segment highlighting the lived experiences of queer people across the continent; The Colored Girl Beautiful which explores past and present conceptions of black beauty, using Emma Azalia Hackley's 1916 book by the same name as a framework, and the humorous Who Taught You to Drive?!, an interview series that examines drivers and their individual road habits as a means of understanding aspects of the human experience.

We got a chance to speak with some of the creators who participated in the Google Podcasts creator program, about the barriers to entry in the podcast world for marginalized communities, their belief in the effectiveness of the medium, and the impact they hope to make with their storytelling.

Read on to see what they had to say.


Afroqueer

Hosted and executive produced by Selly Thiam, reported and produced by Aida Holly-Nambi and Maeve Frances

What inspired your desire to start a podcast and how much experience did you have prior to joining the Google and PRX podcast accelerator program?

The AfroQueer podcast is a production of our parent media organization, None on Record. As an Africa-wide digital media and storytelling organization, we have been well positioned to tell LGBT stories from across the continent, which is what we do in our other work: short documentaries, training of activists, and cultural programming. Working across the continent, we knew from the beginning that it would be important to hear the stories of people from different countries, cities, genders, sexualities, classes, and other divides that tend to keep us apart as a demographic. It was important to us to share the lives and stories of people who make up the diversity of Queer African life. We also wanted to lessen the distance between queer people in African countries from each other. The team that make up AfroQueer have had experience as radio producers and digital media producers prior to joining the accelerator program.

What were the main barriers of entry for you when trying to develop your podcast?

We chose the medium of podcasting because we thought it had less barriers than working in another medium. We think that the audio medium is also a format that is easier to consume especially on the African Continent when access to internet and data can be expensive. This was one of the reasons that compelled us to choose podcasting.

"The AfroQueer podcast tells stories of Queer Africans from the perspective of Queer Africans, as agents of our own narratives."

Can you tell us the story behind how you came up with the concept/idea for your podcast?

Stories about Queer Africans are under-reported, and when told, often Queer lives are framed in opposition to the law or societies. The AfroQueer podcast tells stories of Queer Africans from the perspective of Queer Africans, as agents of our own narratives. While it is true that Queer Africans are a population often without protections of the law, frequently harassed and disenfranchised, we are still complex and three-dimensional citizens of various countries. Our podcast gives insight into the shared humanity of a group of people frequently vilified, and by showing the complexity of Queer life, listeners from all backgrounds gleam insights into society and humanity at large. We center voices from the margins of society and delve into some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Who do you hope to reach with your podcast?

Our target audience is people from around the world interested in Queer African stories. This includes Queer people from all 54 African countries and in African diasporas. Our listeners are people who like hearing compelling stories and gleaning insight into their shared humanity with people rarely heard from. Because homosexuality and queer content is heavily censored in much of Africa, our podcast is one of the few avenues where Queer Africans can hear stories that do not vilify them, and also gleam insights into Queer life as it being lived by Queer Africans from their perspectives. Our listenership is not exclusively for Queer Africans. Many countries in Africa are on the precipice of a cultural shift, and there is an unactivated, moveable middle who have the potential to become allies of the LGBT movement, but who have no information or access to queer African life. This podcast is also for them.

Why do you think that podcasts are an effective medium to tell the stories of underrepresented groups?

Audio is a much more accessible medium on the African continent than video, because it requires a lower bandwidth and there is a large radio culture, which paves the way for podcasting. The podcasting industry on the continent is burgeoning and lovers of podcasts are hungry for quality shows with high production values, and hungry for well told stories, so our podcast is a quality offering to African listeners.

Additionally, we would have had to contend with greater self-censorship from the people we interview and the stories we gather, if people had to risk their faces being seen. As a podcast, we are able to gather the stories of people who aren't necessarily activists and who might not have been comfortable having their faces out there, but people who want to be heard and who have stories to tell.

The Colored Girl Beautiful

Hosted and created by Aseloka Smith, produced by Nichole Hill

What inspired your desire to start a podcast and how much experience did you have prior to joining the Google and PRX podcast accelerator program?

This started for me as an idea for a thesis project. I'm a complete podcast junkie, and I love storytelling so once I had the topic for my thesis it was a natural decision that I would explore my thesis content in the form of a podcast.

I'd worked on exactly one podcast project prior to this that I ended up putting on hold because of the amount of work involved. It was something I loved, but I really didn't have the resources to make it into what I wanted.

What were the main barriers of entry for you when trying to develop your podcast?

The biggest barrier for me was realizing that I needed help. When I started I wanted to do everything myself. I couldn't really afford to do anything else. But it became clear after some time that if I wanted my work to be really good, I couldn't do it on my own. I'd gone that route before and my work had suffered for it. I had to put some work into figuring out what exactly I needed help with and who I could rely on for that assistance. For the Colored Girl Beautiful that meant hiring a producer. I was looking for someone to help shape the story and help me do some of the leg work of planning the content and collecting audio. I'm also still working on filling some other roles around marketing and social media since those are not strong areas for me.

"I really want black women to feel at home listening. I want it to feel like a familiar conversation at your kitchen table with your girlfriends or like an intimate conversation with an auntie."

Can you tell us the story behind how you came up with the concept/idea for your podcast?

A friend of mine introduced me to the text The Colored Girl Beautiful written in 1916 specifically for black women. As I started to read it I became obsessed with its content. I kept thinking "How did I not know something like this exists?" The book is beautiful and uplifting and also full of contradictions. I was delightfully intrigued and knew this is what I wanted my thesis to be about.

Who do you hope to reach with your podcast?

I am specifically hoping to reach black women. I really want black women to feel at home listening. I want it to feel like a familiar conversation at your kitchen table with your girlfriends or like an intimate conversation with an auntie. I happy to have anyone and everyone who's interested to listen to my show, but black women are my target audience.

Why do you think that podcasts are an effective medium to tell the stories of underrepresented groups?

Podcasting provides a place where the underrepresented voice can be centered. It gives a platform and the potential for an audience to those who may not have the opportunity to be heard otherwise. Creating space for those voices in the podcasting world serves an important purpose for listeners. For listeners who are not a part of the underrepresented group, they can be exposed to something new that they didn't know before. And, more importantly, for listeners who are a part of that same underrepresented group, they can feel seen and understood which is essential for one's sense of belonging.

Who Taught You To Drive?

Hosted and created by Tezarah Wilkins, produced by Melissa Tsuei and Tanikka Charraé

What inspired your desire to start a podcast and how much experience did you have prior to joining the Google and PRX podcast accelerator program?

My co-producers and I had absolutely zero experience in podcasting before we started our show. The impetus for the show really came from my own emotional experience on the road, and my consternation at why people really can't drive. We thought people's driving stories would be an interesting lens for the human experience and a way to laugh about how aggravating driving can be.

What were the main barriers of entry for you when trying to develop your podcast?

Resources. Even if you're recording on a cell phone, a podcast costs money to produce. You invest a large amount of time from start to finish for just one episode and we were not paying ourselves. It can be hard to keep up your momentum when you're working for free or at a cost—and that's not even getting into the cost of equipment and editing. We also knew barely anyone in the podcast field, so expertise was few and far between. We were putting our show together piece by piece, using what we had.

"A podcast is almost like a bullhorn for a regular everyday person, it amplifies their voice, even if they sit at the margins of our society."

Can you tell us the story behind how you came up with the concept/idea for your podcast?

Simple: people can't drive anymore! You have bikers, public transit, and walkers, all on the streets and each of us are taught different things about the rules of the road. Heck, each of us are taught different things about how we should treat each other simply based on where and how we were raised. When I really thought about it, it made sense that these things would correlate in some way, so I set out to find that connection. I wanted to find out if and how people's driving behavior relates to who they are as a person.

Who do you hope to reach with your podcast?

We are 3 women of color, so of course we would love our podcast to speak to both of those groups. We would love to get people listening to podcasts who do not fit the profile of the young white millennial, but really we're targeting people who love delving into human behavior through great stories about something universal like getting around. Oh, and also people who hate bikers as much as we do. lol

Why do you think that podcasts are an effective medium to tell the stories of underrepresented groups?

Resources help, but podcasts are really an equalizer, because you don't need a professional studio to record audio and put it out. They're also not required to be a particular style, length or format so there's space to create. A podcast is almost like a bullhorn for a regular everyday person, it amplifies their voice, even if they sit at the margins of our society.

***

Applications for the Google Podcasts creator program are open until April 14.

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Photos by David Pattinson.

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