Black Women Are Taking Their Political Power to the Podcast World

Photo: Courtesy of A’shanti F. Gholar

Mainstream media have provided few spaces for black women to discuss politics, but A’shanti F. Gholar is joining a growing group of women of color podcasters who hope to provide more such spaces, with her new podcast The Brown Girls Guide To Politics.

Her first episode opened with Stacey Abrams, who barely lost the Georgia gubernatorial race which was fraught with voter suppression allegations. Gholar’s goal is to create as open and safe a space as possible for black women and other women of color to talk shop in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t on mainstream television, as well as having the time to talk about it without speaking in soundbites.

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Thus, the power of the podcast medium: you can actually talk for minutes on end without feeling rushed.

In a recent episode, Gholar talked to former Vermont State Representative Kiah Morris about why Morris gave up her house seat last year after dealing with years of racial discrimination from online critics and her colleagues. Morris mentioned how she wrote about a former elected official in her district attending a party in blackface and that person calling her to apologize profusely. Then, in the middle of the worst period of the harassment that forced Morris to quit, that same person accused Morris of being a “race baiter.”

It was an ironic reaction, given how supportive she had been to that politician, whom she declined to name.

“We’re not allowed to stumble without being vilified,” Morris told Gholar. “And we are not allowed to say, ‘I wanna learn. I wanna listen. Call me in so that we can all have this conversation.’ Instead, we are called out. We are harassed out. We are blacklisted out. So as women who are trying to seek these seats of power, we must demand, if we’re gonna look for equity, we must demand equal accountability and proof of actual reparations done.”

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“You just spoke to my soul,” Gholar replied. “Everything you just said, I know I relate to it 100%, and I know there are so many women who are listening that also relate to it because that what happens. You try to elevate the conversation, and it can easily get turned around on you, and you’re the problem and you’re awful.”

When I caught up with Gholar in Washington, D.C., a week ago, the Morris episode was in the final stages of editing. It is the fourth episode of her podcast, which is hosted on Wonder Media Network. Executives at the network reached out to her last year saying that her blog, also titled A Brown Girls Guide To Politics, should be turned into a podcast. Gholar’s full time gig is at Emerge America, where she serves as political director and trains women to run for elected office.

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For more than 15 years, Gholar has served in roles in Barack Obama’s administration, the Democratic National Committee, among others in progressive politics. In short, she has a lot of tea to spill, given how few women of color are afforded opportunities to have a go in politics, get elected, or work within the many bodies that support the Democratic Party. One of the many challenges women of color have, Gholar explained to me, is that they are already marginalized before they even consider a political career, and that they can face even more marginalization when they decide to run for office—even from white Democrats.

“The thing I say all the time is men, particularly white men, will get out of bed and say, ‘I’m going to be president. Never freaking ran for anything in my life. Just bankrupted a whole bunch of companies, married a whole bunch of women. But that’s alright because I know I can do this. I’m the best candidate,’” Gholar said. “But for us as women, we’re like, ‘Oh. I don’t know. Do I have the right job, education? Do I have the right look?’ Women, we put that pressure on ourselves. Even people of color, we just have that fear of putting ourselves out there.”

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Gholar is investing her time in podcasting because she truly believes there are few spaces where black women and other women of color can convene public conversations that center their experiences outside of the white gaze. She joins a growing list of women of color and organizations who are leading conversations in the podcast space, including L. Joy Williams of Sunday Civics, Maya Contreras of OBSCENE, Ify Ike and Turquoise Young of PoliTea and Maria Hinojosa, co-host of In The Thick.

It is tricky to find exact racial breakdowns on the number of podcast hosts, but the hosting—and listening—landscapes are pretty white by most estimates, though the number of black and Latinx listeners are slowly increasing. Generally, ethnic diversity in the media landscape is pretty atrocious. Most newsrooms are white and male and less diverse than U.S. workforces overall.

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Maya Contreras, host of OBSCENE podcast, told The Root the main challenges of running a successful podcast are finding the time and building a loyal audience. Also, producing a podcast takes much of your time—especially if you need to learn how to edit audio, a skill Contreras has developed from years of working in media.

“I’ve literally produced hours and hours of content,” Contreras said. “That’s not easy for people who are single moms or working full-time jobs. I would tell someone to just start within the time frame they can realistically do.”

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This is a pivotal moment for progressive women of color to be leading political conversations. The 2018 midterm elections saw the largest and most diverse slate of women elected to Congress in history. That celebratory statistic was soon overshadowed, though, by harsh criticisms leveled at freshman Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and, particularly, Ilhan Omar. They were even targeted by members of their own party for being too radical and not waiting their turn. The more nuanced conversations supporting these women have come from Twitter, a space that has its own issues with providing a safe space for women of color, but nonetheless is a more open one than network television.

“She’s giving women of color a voice,” said LaToia A. Jones, a political strategist and a friend of Gholar’s based in Washington, D.C . “No matter how you cut it, women of color, particularly black women, move conversations. They move the politics, they move the needle, they move the country. So there needs to be a conversation where they can actually go to and say, ‘This is what I am feeling and these are the issues that matter to me.’”

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Gholar said there are many examples of black women on Twitter who have the ability to host podcasts because their perspectives are highly sought after. The challenge for many of them, she says, is that they simply need to be encouraged to do it.

“A tweet goes viral and then they reply, ‘Well, I didn’t expect this to blow up,’” Gholar said. “People do want to hear what we say. And I think there’s a lot of people who are craving to hear more in depth what we have to say. And that’s why the BGG now has a podcast. Because people wanted to hear more about it.”

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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