An Anti-Racist Future: A Vision and Plan for the Transformation of Public Media

Celeste Headlee
31 min readJan 18, 2021

Racism is the idea that one racial group is inferior or superior to another, and has the social power to carry out and benefit from systemic discrimination. This applies to most, if not all, institutions in this country, including public media. Anti-Blackness and white supremacy shape both the institutional policies and practices of society and shape the cultural beliefs and values that support racist policies and practices.

White supremacy is the political and socio-economic system that allows white people both at a collective and individual level to enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not.

Anti-racism is the idea that people of all racial groups are equals. Anti-racism is also the work of actively opposing racism and white supremacy by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life that reduce racial inequity, and the advocacy of policies that support equity for people oppressed by white supremacy.

White supremacist culture and anti-Blackness shape the policies, norms, and standards of public radio. They determine whose opinions are valued, whose voices are heard, whose stories are told and taken seriously, who is promoted, and whose resume never gets a second glance. Historically, Black on-air talent are told their dialect and speaking voices do not fit the public radio prototype. There is a strong bias against journalists who have a distinct ethnic or regional tone in their vocal delivery.

Management pats itself on the back for hiring journalists and editors of color but then does not support them or give them space to grow professionally. While moving to anti-racist principles may require shifting funds around, keep in mind that budgets should reflect an organization’s values, and this is especially true in public media.

Our audience has changed a great deal since the 1968 Kerner Report and the Minority Report on Public Media ten years later. Public media management has not. It remains overwhelmingly white.

The Kerner Commission concluded that news media were not serving Black communities in 1968. That was more than 50 years ago. Public media has had the opportunity and time to change since then, but stations, networks, and nationally distributed shows have not done enough. The first public report on public radio in 1978 decades ago said that “public radio has been…

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