A few years ago, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Assistant Professor at Clemson University, wrote an article about the overlooked trepidation that comes to a minority whenever he or she has to speak over the radio. As African-Americans, especially the upwardly mobile ones, code switching is a way of life. Kumanyika discusses how we may converse in African-American Vernacular Dialect, or AAVE for short, to those with whom we share the same racial background at the dinner table, and speak in Standard English around non-Blacks.

Aside from the respectability politics involved in this mechanism, we often assume that non-Blacks will not understand our double negatives, signature hums that convey agreement, disagreement, or disgust, and certain tongue clicks. Kumanyika pointed out his awareness of code-switching became more obvious when he realized he was pressured to sound "White" in order to be more palatable and understandable to the station’s audience. Of course the duality of such expectations ultimately pigeonholes people of color. As Kumanyika eloquently put it:

“….vocal styles communicate important dimensions of human experience. When the vocal patterns of a narrow range of ethnicities quietly becomes the standard sound of a genre, we’re missing out on essential cultural information. We’re missing out on the joyful, tragic, moments and unique dispositions that are encoded in different traditions of oratory."

With this in mind, I found it interesting that this article was published in the midst of a proliferation of podcasts featuring Black hosts. I would argue within the past five or so years, this influx of new voices is combating the antiquated standards of public speaking.

Why Black podcasts are successful

The biggest reason for why podcasts tend to be very successful is because there is the freedom to talk and say whatever you want, aside from giving shout-outs to certain sponsors and advertisers in thirty-second frames.  But for Black speakers, podcasts allow for them to create their own space.  We, as listeners. do not have to take into account what they wear or how their hair is styled, two features that can often work against Us in any other setting.  Instead, we only can rely on what we hear and find value in the substance of the hosts’ words which should be the ideal for any conversation.

However, as people of color, both historically and in present-day, there are spaces that were never made for us, especially in dialogue. We’ve been victims of discursive violence, that being that we allow the dominant people (read: white folks) to speak for us and our issues rather than giving us the floor as both the subjects and interlocutors. As soon as we press play on the podcasts, we are listening to them without any intermediaries.

The beauty in this conversation is that it is unfiltered

If you don’t understand a certain dialect, a host may not explain.  Kid Fury and Crissle of “The Read”, for example, do not translate whatever they say for their audience. Either you get it or you don’t—and they exert the agency to do and say how they feel. Even if we cannot catch certain phrases since African-American vernacular metamorphoses depending on the region, intuitively we can still follow long because the hosts are not only conversation starters but also storytellers.

Desus versus Mero vividly—and comically–portrayed their Bronx setting, as well as the complexities of human interaction in New York City. As for women, podcasts provide a portal, an access point that opens at the seam the idea that women talk should be private. “Another Round”, “Black Girls Talking”, and “2 Brown Girls” are perfect examples of this image for we see Black and Brown women discussing at length whatever they want both unapologetically and charismatically.

Podcasts are like Metaphorical Homes

Personally, I live at home with my mother who often goes to sleep before nine at night. So I listen to podcast episodes over and over again because the hosts feel like cousins. I can close my eyes and map out the wavelengths of their speech patterns, vibratos, and timbres. Everything has a rhythm.  Everything has a pace. What’s best is that they are undisturbed. As Kumanyika said in regards to the whiteness of public radio voice,

“We’re missing out on the joyful, tragic, moments and unique dispositions that are encoded in different traditions of oratory.”

Podcasts give you that joy—that inscrutable feeling that is often embedded in between actual words. It’s that meaning that we cannot utter but understand.  This multiplicity of black voices and the popularity that they receive should remind us all that minorities do not need to ventriloquize in order to be heard.

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