We Already Know Racism Is Wrong: My Speech for the 2020 PRPD/PMJA Conference

Celeste Headlee
6 min readSep 22, 2020

Public radio has been in the headlines a lot lately and for the most part, it’s not for positive reasons. It’s because staff members are speaking up about racism, abuse of power, unequal treatment.

Let’s be perfectly honest with each other because I want to have a productive conversation. Just about anyone in public radio can get a job elsewhere making more money. I find it fascinating that most managers, when surveyed, wrongly say that the main reason their employees work there is their paycheck. Across dozens of industries, and thousands of employees, we know that’s not true.

The factors that contribute to job satisfaction are achievement, growth, advancement and the work itself. This is the double-edged sword of the work we do. We love it and we’re passionate about the mission and that makes us more vulnerable to mistreatment. We tolerate more because we feel the work is worth it.

Public radio staff members aren’t speaking up right now because they hate this industry, but because they love it. They aren’t going on social media and revealing secrets because they want to destroy this industry, but because they want to save it.

Public radio is in trouble, and we all knew this was coming. How? Because for at least 20 years, we’ve heard warnings that we have to address issues of race, or we’ll lose our audience. We’ve warned each other that we had to address issues of sexism and elitism, and mismanagement that leads to high turnover and the loss of incredible talent to TV, to print, and to other industries.

But… it was possible to skate by, to shake our heads and say, this isn’t right, and yet continue doing things just as they’d always been done, so we could remain comfortable. We made incremental changes that never touched the true problems, so we could preserve as much as possible of what we know and trust.

Now, the grace period has run out. Too late is almost here. Comfortable has to end. We don’t generally like change, but it has to happen.

Maybe it feels like you can’t keep up with all the news about abuse, racism, harassment, and misbehavior at public radio stations. Maybe it feels like all of this can’t possibly be true. How could it be this bad, and yet we’ve haven’t heard about it before now? It can be true, it probably is, and we haven’t heard about it because we have spent our energy on containing…