The last place they thought of : Black podcasts and the performance of marginalization

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2021-08-12

Authors

Barner, Briana Nicole

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Abstract

This project argues that Blackness is cultivated and performed within the podcast space through the use of Black vernaculars, Black cultural references and the centering of the needs and interests of various Black communities. As a result, podcasts provide a space for the production of a Black sound imaginary, that makes room for the contestation, development and maintenance of the sounds of Black identities. As a medium with unstructured formats and little time restraints, podcasts are not only well-suited for intimate conversations but this kind of performance of difference and marginality. My project looks at how Blackness is negotiated and performed within a group of podcasts primarily hosted by Black and queer women such as womanist pop culture-themed Tea with Queen & J (2014-present), Black feminist political podcast The Black Joy Mixtape (2016-2018), and Black trans-hosted Marsha’s Plate (2016-present). The dissertation uses textual analysis and case studies, along with participant observation, to examine how Black identity is positioned. Using episodes that focus on the brands and identity of Black podcasters, I grapple with what is meant by a ‘Black podcast’--the meaning of the label for the podcast and for the hosts. On a platform that is mainly auditory, how do podcasters signal their own Black and intersecting identities? Next, I use Black feminist case studies to interrogate how Black feminism is performed on podcasts. Within these podcasts, I examine themes of storytelling, community and language, which are crucial elements of the Black feminist standpoints espoused by the podcast hosts and guests. One of the case studies involves several podcasts’ responses to the Surviving R.Kelly (2019) docuseries as they not only hold Black legacy media accountable for the silence around Kelly’s abusive behavior, but more importantly, modeling that accountability by interrogating and disrupting their own complicity. Another case study looks at three episodes of The Black Joy Mixtape to explore the Black feminist principles espoused in the episodes, including the storytelling of a Black woman’s abortion, and the sexual assault of one of the hosts in the context of #MeToo. Together, these case studies push forward a Black feminist sonic argument that centers the voices and experiences of Black and queer women.

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