My little corner of the world looks out on to a thriving community radio station—it’s my day job, it’s a way of life.
One of the coolest things about this little community radio station is that it is volunteer powered. 450 volunteers create the programming and run the business, coordinated by 10 paid staff.
I am one of the few paid staff; I talk with scores of volunteers, members and listeners every day. By and large, this is the best thing in the whole world—who doesn’t love to talk with brilliant and passionate people about current events, music and art? And then there are weeks like this… weeks when some folks seem a bit less brilliant.
Take this evening, for example. I was talking with a friend at a gathering of volunteers at a pub—nice Euro-American woman, very progressive, good organizer, volunteer and active member of this station. She was complaining that a program that she valued aired in the middle of the day, a time that she is usually not able to listen to the radio. She suggested that it move to an evening spot so that she and “working people” would be able to listen it. I ran through my standard explanation of how it was scheduled (at a time that very little locally produced programming had to be displaced), and added that I had received several calls from working people who loved being able to listen to it while they were at work. She replied that she isn’t able to listen to it at work and went on to ask: “Why not put it on at 7 PM?”
7 PM weeknights just so happens to be the time that the station airs programs collectively known as “The Soul Strip”, a concentration of diverse music programs created by and for African Americans. The shows range from R & B, soul, jazz, hip-hop, rap and the occasional gospel song or two. They also, often, include community news, information and commentary.
I quickly said “I don’t think that that is such a good place for it either, it would displace “The Soul Strip”. I guess that I was hoping that hearing this, she would remember what was airing at 7 PM, know how important that strip of programs is, and pursue another course. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. What did happen was my friend told me “Well, yeah, I just turn the radio off then anyways.” She went on to tell me that people would listen to the new program during the evening. I pointed out that in fact, people are listening to the Soul Strip shows, and that people are listening to the new program on in the middle of the day. My friend re-iterated that she always turns the radio off at 7 PM, another volunteer (also Euro-American) overheard this and agreed—he always turns it off at 7 too.
Questioning white privilege is the responsibility of every Euro-American. That I was hearing from two bright, progressive Euro-Americans who are also friends made me want to first, slap my own head, and second, bang their heads together—I wanted to say, “Gee, mighty whitey of ya.” I wanted to say, “Excuse me, but have you heard what came out of your mouth?” I wanted to say, “Can you explain to me why you should judge what is culturally relevant programming for a community to which you don’t belong?” I wanted to say these things and more… but I didn’t.
Instead, I settled for something more like “You need to realize that when you turn your radio off, others turn it on”.
My Euro friends looked a little confused, and I took my opportunity to escape to another corner of the pub and tipped my pint up.