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The Podfade Problem: Podcasting Can Be Dangerous for Marginalized Groups

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A critic who disagreed with my thoughts on podfade recently said to me, “Blaming podfade on someone else [other than the podcaster]– Amateurs blame, professionals take ownership.” [punctuation added for clarity]

I agree. The podcasting industry, especially its leaders, needs to take ownership of the podfade problem and implement strategies to support podcasters, especially members of marginalized groups. It’s time to live up to the ideals of podcasting— an open medium with no gatekeepers and access for all. Part of that means we must talk about safety, marginalization, and its impact on podcasters if we’d like to prevent podfade.

The Danger of Sharing Experiences

I’m known for wearing glitter cat ears for live streams and events, both in-person and virtual. But after my mother almost died last fall, I decided to lean into those glitter cat ears and who I am. Out loud. Where the people in the back can hear it:

A glittery, cat-loving, passionate podcast person showing up authentically not only for herself but for others. With that came a new outspokenness and renewed commitment to advocating for my community. Life is short, and legacy is long, a take-a-way from almost losing my mom.

Through the course of this year, a theme emerged as I did this work. Then a public, ahem, dispute with a popular podcast publication. Followed by an incident that occurred in my DMs, which changed everything.

I’m writing this because my husband asked me not to. Not because he wanted to silence me, but because of the inherent danger that comes with writing something like this.  

safety in podcasting- we must talk about safety, marginalization, and its impact on podcasters if we'd like to prevent podfade.

Safety: We NEVER talk about it in podcasting.

…outside marginalized communities. And for people of color, I know it’s more often top of mind… a regular, necessary conversation.

It’s the reason why we have Just Busters and She Podcasts and Women of Color Podcasters and all the other communities specifically for different sorts of marginalized people. Ya’ll, it’s scary out there—like living a version Them. (which is a great, but terrifying anthology)

Marginalized people are always thinking about protecting their professional, emotional, and physical safety. Hypervigilance: It’s like breathing, except it is exhausting.

We All Have a Story…

Here I am leaning into me, wearing cat ears, and speaking my mind. Naturally, I made a comment on something an industry person said. Many cis white men responded similarly. They got a high-five.

I didn’t get a high-five. Instead, the industry person slid into my DMs to ask me if they were participating in marginalization. I give a gentle yes. I explain it was a common unconscious bias, adding that I’d be happy to help them work through it or assist them in finding someone else.

I respected this person and was impressed they cared enough to ask the question. A meaningful conversation with a recognized podcasting authority. What an opportunity for growth!  

They didn’t care for my answer.

Hmmm. Perhaps I need to clarify. Hard, inner work takes time, patience, and empathy. So, I clarified. I let them know I was rooting for them. This work is important.

The clarification was not appreciated. Their response had an undertone of verbal violence.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

They blocked me. Removed me from all their things. I’m sure if they could’ve denied me access to their RSS feed, they would’ve. I feared for not only my career but my physical safety. They had power and influence. I am sure to see them in person if I choose to attend industry events. My head starts spinning with all sorts of scenarios where I am hurt in some way. And what I can do about it.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

The Silent Conversation

I questioned myself. What did I do wrong here? How did I cause this reaction? I asked a friend for an objective opinion. I still wasn’t sure.

I questioned my own voice, my instincts, and what I felt in my bones. Despite the whole of my being on red alert, I worried about how he felt. The internal klaxons were blaring. I still had to reconcile that disconnect. A trusted person I respected essentially left me feeling crazy and fearing for my physical safety.

That’s the Point of Marginalization: Silence.

I changed my behavior. Encouraged by family because they wanted me to be safe, I retreated.

This is how I was silenced.

The more vocal you are, the more people, whether for power or for fear, will want to silence you. It works. Controlling via privilege and power.  It’s how inequity is sustained. And it’s why a lot of podcasting is male and white.

People share their own stories like this with me regularly. If you aren’t a member of a marginalized community, now you know why we seek extra support in private, protected spaces. We aren’t always safe in the wider industry communities.

The other day, I was crafting an Instagram post about how you should put yourself out there. Show up on socials for your podcast and for your business. Get in front of the camera. Yay, you! If I can, you can, too. #beyou

But then I acknowledged it was hard… and it took me back to this safety issue. Hard is the wrong word— DANGEROUS. Dangerous is the correct word. Of course, marginalized people aren’t showing up in droves. Being public facing can kill you.

I discarded the post.

I don’t want to encourage podcasters to put themselves in the public eye before they are ready. That is not sustainable. You must be prepared for what that means, no matter who you are. But for the marginalized, it’s especially critical to address how to deal with danger. Podcasting shouldn’t be unsafe, but sometimes it is.

Marginalization Can Cause Podfade. And No One Is Talking About It.

I’ve read a thousand articles about how podcasters (and entrepreneurs) should show up, be authentic, and so on and so forth… You MUST be public facing. You need to engage. Share. Post. Promote. All the things to grow your audience and revenue. Your audience shows up for you. Even I’ve said it a lot.

I haven’t seen one on how to protect yourself while doing that. Not one post on the danger of doing so. Or what to do if you feel unsafe.

Not one conference session on what to do when someone slides into your DMs or sends you a d-ck pic. Or spams you with negative ratings. Or makes subtle but inappropriate comments. Or calls you the n-word. Or threatens to rape you. Or makes you feel like you’re in physical danger. Or is a guest on your show but then berates you? Or tries to take over. Or makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Or anyone who threatens your safety to silence your voice.

Where are those guides? Where are how-tos? Why is it not Podcaster 101 material?

I know there are readers nodding their heads right now. Because those readers know it’s not an if, but a when thing. And it drains your energy until there comes a time when you’re wondering if podcasting is worth it.

How many times have podcasters answered no? If seventy-five percent of podcasts are no longer in production, how many put down the microphone because they’ve experienced a threat to their mental, physical, or emotional wellbeing?

No, We Can’t Simply Ignore It.

“Just ignore it” is not a solution. All that does is isolate you on top of silencing you. Which, by the way, is one of the intended outcomes of marginalization. That’s like expecting gasoline to put out a fire.

You may hear “That’s what happens when you put yourself out there.” It’s part of the deal. My response is always, “so I was asking for it?”

My personal favorite is “you knew the consequences when you showed up.” As in you knew that being you was dangerous so why did you bring yourself into a public space? Don’t.

The responses are not only shallow, they do nothing to solve the actual problem. In an industry about access, equity, and the power of your voice the irony is not lost on me.

The Data We Do Have

Recently, Sounds Profitable released a study (The Creators) that shares exactly who podcasters are in the United States. 14% are Black. 2% identify as non-binary or other gendered. 5% are Asian. 24% are Latino. Only 30% of podcasters today are women.

While ethnicity largely mirrors the US population, gender does not. We can reasonably infer that the number of BIPOC women doesn’t reflect the population, either. As a woman in podcasting, I get it. It’s scary out here.

The data tells me that for many marginalized groups, podcasting isn’t worth it. It’s too unsafe, still.

Industry Crickets.

It’s not rocket science. Conversation is what we’re skilled at. Why is conversation only happening during certain months? More specifically, Industry leaders, especially white-cis men, need to lead in the area. This discussion should occur more than three months a year and outside of national tragedies.

We need the data on podfade from the actual podfaders and the marginalized groups. Podcasters LOVE data. So why is this missing?

Does Being a Member of a Marginalized Group Make You More Likely to Podfade?

I strongly suspect it does. So what do we do about it?

It must be acknowledged that when we talk about showing up and being authentic, that not only is hard, but it’s also dangerous. We need to prepare podcasters to deal with that danger. While we’re at it, let’s drop the idea that this only happens to the famous because you don’t need a huge audience to be silenced. 

Finally, we must educate podcasters on what to do when they encounter these situations, especially the ones that involve the threat of physical harm. I have an inbox full of stories like the one I’ve shared with you. That’s a problem. As a community leader, what resources can I use to help community members through these situations?

We talk a great game in this industry, but are we truly playing one? How many voices are silenced each day because as an industry we’re silent on this issue?

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