Does Public Radio Sound Too ‘White’? NPR Itself Tries to Find the Answer

Paul Farhi, Washington Post, January 30, 2015

It’s a question sometimes whispered but never boldly confronted: Does NPR, and public radio in general, sound too “white”?

NPR itself suggested Thursday that the answer might be yes in an unusual bit of public self-examination. In a commentary aired on “All Things Considered,” its signature newscast, and in a subsequent Twitter chat that quickly trended nationally, the public radio network lit the fuse on an explosive discussion about how a broadcast should sound.

The commentary came from Chenjerai Kumanyika, an African American who is an assistant professor of communication studies at Clemson University and a radio producer. Kumanyika’s “All Things Considered” piece left no doubt about his point of view: It was titled “Challenging the Whiteness of Public Radio.”

While editing a script aloud for another public radio program last June, Kumanyika said in his commentary, he realized he was “imagining another voice, one that sounded more white.”

As a result, he concluded: “Without being directly told, people like me learn that our way of speaking isn’t professional. And you start to imitate the standard or even hide the distinctive features of your own voice. This is one of the reasons that some of my black and brown friends refuse to listen to some of my favorite radio shows despite my most passionate efforts.”

Kumanyika was referring to the subtle matter of code-switching, or speaking one way to one’s immediate peers and another way–call it more “white”–to a larger group. No matter the racial or ethnic identity of the speaker, people on public radio sound white, he suggested.

{snip}

The topic immediately blew up on Twitter, drawing thousands of comments in a long-running “tweetup” (at #PubRadioVoice) hosted by several of NPR’s African American and Latino journalists, including Audie Cornish, a host of “All Things Considered.”

{snip}

At its most hilarious, the NPR “sound” was captured by “Saturday Night Live” several years ago in a serial skit about a fictitious public radio cooking show, “Delicious Dish.” Cast members Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon as the hosts, and Alec Baldwin as a frequent guest, captured the cooing, lulling, almost hypnotic slow-rolling rhythms of an NPR broadcast.

“We really have to think about who is the public in ‘public media,’ ” Kumanyika said in his “All Things Considered” commentary. “The demographics of race and ethnicity are changing in the United States. The sound of public media must reflect that diversity. So get on it. It’s time to make moves.”

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Tim_in_Indiana

    Now it’s not just about how many nonwhites are hired, but about how “white” they sound as well. Will the insanity never end???

    • me

      Next, on NPR, we’ll discuss how you can use a strong pimp hand on your ho’s to double your annual profits while decreasing the cost of financial compensation. Later, LaQuiffa Jackson Lee will discuss the impact of Asian hair weaves on the national economy. Stay tuned….

      • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

        He looks a bit like Rogr Moore. Now the DIE-versity lovers will say that he should look like the new black James Bond.

    • Anna Tree

      If they sound black, moreover speak ebonics, I and many others won’t understand what is said: there is no subtitles on the radio!
      Beside the fact that most of the speech may be a series of beeps to silence the indecent language.

    • MasterDrKhan

      If this isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.

    • spahnranch69 .

      It will end when the last White person is murdered by savage Black mobs, egged on by the Jews. Then the Negroes will start to turn on their Jewish overlords. Finally they will they eat each other.

  • And to think, after today, I now have all of the necessary documents to do my tax returns. I’m joyed to realize that at least one penny of that net liability line is being used to fund this. But hey, if it leads to an intersectional war in left wing wackoville, it just might be worth it.

    • propagandaoftruth

      Part of Dark Enlightenment involves a patient abiding, a joyous understanding of how suffering and darkness bring enlightenment and resolution.

      I don’t really dream of Ragnarok or the events leading up to it. I dream of what will come after.

  • Chip Carver

    Whites are in fact a minority at “Public Radio”. Anti-white programming is the norm. It’s just another bully pulpit for the usual suspects.

    • LHathaway

      Major fail. Get your bigotry right. Public broadcasting is our ‘only hope’. Get with it, man. Yer supposed to ‘educate us’ about the conspiracy.

      • Strike_Team

        You’re being disingenuous. NPR is quite heavy top to bottom with an ethnic group that is generally hostile to whites. Just take a look at the people who host the various programs. It’s rather obvious. Then listen to the programs or read transcripts of the shows. It’s extremely anti-white, and not representative of the US “public” at all. This type of “public” broadcasting marches in lock step with the “MSM”.

        • LHathaway

          Yes, I was being disingenuous. “NPR is quite heavy top top to bottom with an ethnic group that is generally hostile to white”. That, I don’t believe. One thing they do accomplish is make the main stream media sound relatively sane. They do tend to be far, far left. And that does generally mean anti-white.

  • Public radio sounds “too white” because proper English is being spoken. I propose they hire more blacks straight from America’s inner cities and provide English subtitles whenever ebonics is spoken (which would mean all the time).

    Hell, they can even hire those two fat black gals who won the Towson University debate championship last year. Speaking a mile a minute, using the ‘N-word’ and saying ‘mutha-f***a’ in every other sentence would wonderfully ‘enrich’ all of our white liberal friends.

    • spahnranch69 .

      Hardly anyone listens to NPR, least of all the coloreds. It’s mostly geared towards affluent, 60 year-old White and Jew hippies who live in NYC or San Fransisco. Why should the average White taxpayer foot the bill for that Social Marxist crap??????

  • “’Without being directly told, people like me learn that our way of speaking isn’t professional.'” Because it isn’t.

    • John Smith

      It’s not even English, really.

  • dd121

    I don’t know if public radio is “too white” or not. It’s so left wing I don’t listen to it.

    • spahnranch69 .

      If anything it’s too damned Jewish.

  • Pelayo

    Clearly we need more La’Quishas speaking Ebonics on air.

  • Doepster

    Chenjerai Kumanyika is a typical Shona name from Zimbabwe…what’s he doing over there? Needs to be looked after by the White man again?

    • spahnranch69 .

      I thought it was one of those make-believe names that some American Blacks come up for themselves to celebrate their Africoon “heritage”.

  • A Freespeechzone

    My beef is the government funding of these liberal, anti-White, anti-Christian, Anti-Israel, Anti-Constitution morons–regardless of ‘color’.

    Even so-called Republicans refuse to defund this biased forum—they should have to find funding like the rest of the media business and ‘sink or swim’ accordingly.

    • spahnranch69 .

      Republicans are friggin’ useless, except when it comes to increased spending for militarism and giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

    • spahnranch69 .

      What’s wrong with being anti-Israel? No real Christian would ever want anything to do with those Zionist Jew gangsters. Ugh!

  • LexiconD1

    People still listen to the radio?

  • JohnEngelman

    I listen to National Public Radio nearly every day. I want it to keep sounding the way it sounds.

    • Anna Tree

      The way it sounds is okay, but much of what they say is not.

  • jim

    I heard this segment the other day….What this guy fails to realize it is mostly upper-class, well-educated Whites that are supporting the local NPR stations. I would suspect most of them don’t really want to hear reporters blathering on in their best ghetto vernacular. I know I don’t.

    • John Smith

      But they may force themselves to combat their “racism.”

    • LHathaway

      only an idiot would think one must speak ghetto if one is black. While you are thinking this way (apparently, having never left your parents basement – centered somewhere in Kansas, inside a bomb shelter, at that, 2,000 miles away from anywhere, apparently), they are busy surpassing you.

      • spahnranch69 .

        Yo, lemme ax you sumfin’…you one o’ dem honky liberals?

        • LHathaway

          I guess those born in the ghetto aren’t the only ones who can speak ebonics . . .

  • LeonNJ

    I just listen to Michael Savage. As long as I can hear him, every other station can play bongo music and talk jive for all I care.

    • John Smith

      Weiner is too much a whiner for me to want to listen to. I only like Rush.

      • IstvanIN

        Mike Savage is a lot more honest than Rush.

        • John Smith

          A lot more of a self-promoting blowhard and a lot more mentally unbalanced too.

          • IstvanIN

            Self-promoting? Absolutely. So is Rush and most radio personalities. But he says a lot of things that I am surprised he gets away with.

          • John Smith

            Maybe, but he has always been too unbalanced for me to take seriously. Additionally, he has had former friends, from his left-wing days, say that he is doing this primarily for the money, not out of ideology. They could be full of it, but I always wonder how a conservative can stomach San Fran?

          • IstvanIN

            Well, anything to get some message out. And maybe he did change his views with age. Kids have a maturing effect on people (at least non-blacks).

          • spahnranch69 .

            He gets away with saying ’em because he’s a Jew.

        • spahnranch69 .

          A lot more Jewish, too. And he’s light in the loafers.

          • IstvanIN

            Light in the loafers, as in gay? Come on now.

      • spahnranch69 .

        Weiner = JEW.

    • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

      Mike Savage is a Semite and supports Israel.

  • John Smith

    Okay, instead of “Car Talk,” NPR is going to start doing a radio version of “Pimp My Ride.”

    • Maximo Partagas

      More like “Pimp The White Man’s Daughter”.

      • spahnranch69 .

        You got that right, sir. Well said.

  • TruthBeTold

    If they put on non-white sounding voices white liberals will abandon NPR.

    White liberals like the idea of diversity in the abstract. They don’t want to experience it.

    • Maximo Partagas

      So true, the white limousine liberals have no idea what it’s like to deal with negroes in their environment.

  • MartelsGhost

    In other news, NPR has decided to rename their program “All Things Considered” with the more ethnically friendly “Sh*ts be Fu*ked Up” hosted by Rev. Wright and Al “super snitch” Sharpton…………………….

    I do so love watching the left cannibalize itself.

  • MekongDelta69

    ‘Axe’ NBCBLK!

    • antiquesunlight

      Yeah, they found a letter Kumanyika wrote to them.

      Dear my niggas NBCBLK,

      Yalls my peeps cuz you crunk all the time for reals. NPR be like they tryna colonize the radio they so white. Ain’t nobody got time for that sheet. Turn up!!!!

    • Anna Tree

      Exactly, does Kumanyika complains that NBCBLK sounds too black and that there is no diversity there?
      How long until we get NBCYT then?

  • antiquesunlight

    They would be stupid to really do anything about this “problem.” Only white people listen to NPR and that will never change unless their programming changes radically. And if their programming changes radically, white people won’t listen. And if white people aren’t listening, the stations that carry NPR won’t get any donations. Nobody wants to listen to some black ebonics guy talking about Bach, and white people certainly don’t want to listen to him talk about R&B or whatever.

    • spahnranch69 .

      Whites and Jews, sir. Jews must NEVER be conflated with Whites.

      • antiquesunlight

        Why not? I’ve known Jews who are physically indistinguishable from people like me. They have light hair, light eyes, light skin. Some definitely have a distinct Middle Eastern look, but many do not. Some Jews look more “white” than some Southern and Eastern Europeans.

  • Lion’s Mane

    ‘Sound too White.’ Really? I thought that race was only skin-deep. That would mean that it could never translate into sound.

    I never thought I’d actually be living in a society where my race would be the object of official public hatred. If only I had the means, I’d definitely leave for a more welcoming place. I feel not wanted in the country of my birth, and for no other reason than the race to which I belong. It’s absurd.

    I wish we Whites could leave the planet for a better world in some other galaxy, where we would be free to shape our own destiny. Let’s see how the left-behind earthlings would carry on then. They ought to be very happy, since our presence here is so very oppressive to them.

    • Anna Tree

      I don’t think I can guess 100% but even before I became a race realist (it is not connected anyway), I was able to generally differentiate black and white voices in songs for example. I am not talking about hip hop or rap vs country, I am talking about songs from 60 years ago when blacks did sounds more “white”; even voice on the phone, for example, when the people are from the same area/accent and not ebonics.

      There is a lot of physical differences between the races, including the nasal ridge and the jaws between whites and blacks for example; it is reasonable to think that voice could sound different (even more if the vocal chords are also different but that I don’t know.)
      Similarly I can many times know the race from looking at people silhouettes or from behind, and can recognize someone’s European ethnicity/county.

      All this I presume because I pay attention to details and know drawing/anatomy.

      I never found a use for these “talents”.

      • Lion’s Mane

        Excellent points, AT!

        Actually, there are physical speech differences between the races. I was using a ‘quiet sarcasm’ of sorts in my original post. It’s not always possible to tell, but very often the vocal and speech patterns of (especially) Blacks are discernable over the telephone or radio — about 60% of the time. (It would be higher, were it not for the fact that so many American Blacks are in fact of mixed race.)

        I once found myself listening to a teenage girl talk about her favorite movie star. She identified herself as ‘Jewish,’ but she was obviously 25% – 50% Black. When she was calm, her speech sounded ‘white,’ but when she got excited, her speech sounds morphed suddenly and very powerfully into those of a very typical Black female.

  • John_HD

    The article reads like parody. How I wish it were. There’s just seemingly no limit to the self-abasement of leftists. It’s sickening.

  • Hammerheart

    Blacks and radios don’t mix. Never seen a black radio operator on patrol or attached to any infantry squads leaving the wire during my time in ye old sandbox.

  • LHathaway

    NPR sounds too liberal . . . Insanely, just flew in from planet Venus, liberal. And this is our ‘only hope’.

  • LHathaway

    This story (about whites trying to be less white) follows nicely the story ‘NBCBLACK’. One where blacks try and be more and more authentically, and proudly, black, read the news that is for them from their perspectives, and share their experiences as blacks.

  • Ograf

    Sounding too White is translated as being able to speak English. Perhaps the non language of ebonics, or just plain old street lingo should be what is available . For example ” the bros got ripped off by coupla crackers, gnomesayin ? JJ had his sailfoam he dropped a dime to the man.

  • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

    It sounds too PC to me.

  • evilsandmich

    5% black? C’mon, more like ‘5 black people’, maybe; must be a rounding error at 5% or less. I’ve talked to many a white person who has never even heard of NPR

  • Bill Moore

    Hello,

    I worked for a PBS/NPR radio station for many years.

    Believe me, they are not pro-white. They are the most anti-Caucasian Progressive bunch of hypocrites I have ever seen.

    This article makes no sense to me, but I only worked at one station. Maybe mine was the exception.

    Bill Moore

  • Nancy

    This is exactly why we in Atlanta are bummed that Neal Boortz retired from conservative talk radio, and was replaced by Herman Cain. Five mornings a week, we’re stuck listening to a black man’s pitiful enunciation for three hours. My husband will change the station when Herman’s talking. When Cain first got the gig, I remember him mentioning on the air that he’s been working on his speech, because listeners were critical of what he called “poor articulation ” (which he still pronounces “arrtikkalation”). I also noticed he can’t pronounce my name correctly, as another Nancy called into the show, and he addressed her as Nassy. The man can’t spit out a single sentence without mangling words.

    I’ve posted before that my white sociology professor at my college tried to convince his students that black speech was just as legitimate as white speech. I guess he’s probably happy that his ridiculous opinion is gaining traction.

  • Fr. John+

    It may ‘sound’ white, but the names Totenburg, Flentoff, Gross, Borowitz, Feinstein, Kahn, Kling, Kluger, Wallerstein, Wasserman, Wolf, are ANYTHING but…

    Having worked in three different NPR radio stations while an undergrad, there were more overt Communists, Tal-mood-ics, Sodomites, and assorted riff-raff of the Liberal Left, but honest, midwestern WHITES? I counted three in the station I worked in- all of whom (myself included) were NEVER granted the smallest chance at a full-time spot, or a real salary. No, it’s inbred as much as your local AIPAC chapter.

  • spahnranch69 .

    The names Sambo, Rastus, Beulah and Jemima were good for Blacks in the old days. Why not today?

  • spahnranch69 .

    NPR = National Pinko Radio.