On 21 October 2014, six years ago today, I went to a party on Washington Square in Manhattan. It was for a Kickstarter to fund the Radiotopia network, newly formed a few months before, and at that party, they announced that as a stretch goal they would be adding new shows: Criminal, The Heart, and a then-untitled show about language from me.
(The following day I came up with the name ‘The Allusionist’ , with the help of Roman Mars and the thesaurus function on the Dictionary.com app.)
I was very daunted going to that party, entering into the unfamiliar world of US audio, meeting all these exceptional producers. I was a self-taught amateur podcaster from a different country, where all of my regular jobs had just been cancelled, promising to make a new podcast I had absolutely no idea how to make - indeed am still learning how to make.
My life changed at that party. It’s very rare to get an opportunity to do whatever you want, with complete creative control and ownership; and so ever since then, I’ve been trying to make the most of it, and to live up to it. To have people believe in me like that was incredibly empowering, and made me respect myself for the first time in my life. The Allusionist is the best work I’ve ever done. It has taken me around the world. It has been more educational than the 17 years I spent in full-time formal education. And thanks to it, I have met so many wonderful people - listeners, live show audience, other podcasters.
I don’t know that any of this would have happened without Radiotopia.
So it has been heartbreaking over the past few weeks to decide that I am leaving Radiotopia. A couple of months ago, PRX, the company that runs Radiotopia, were called out for institutional racism by former employee Palace Shaw - read her exit statement here, and here is a response from some PRX staff. Here is my Twitter statement from when I found out about it all, and another a few days later in support of the PRX staff . A lot of brilliant people work at PRX and they run some terrific projects, so I really hope the organisation can radically reform and be better. There are few media organisations in the USA (and the UK) that are not pervaded with racial bias and white failure. There is so much fundamental change that needs to happen.
Bear in mind that I don’t work at PRX and therefore have limited insight into what has happened and is happening there.
I have, however, been part of Radiotopia, a network with a mostly white line-up. I never had the power to change that line-up, but tried to use the powers I did have: over the years I have raised this fact repeatedly, recommended existing shows or potential showmakers to approach, questioned the excuses given for why the line-up stayed very white - small capacity and limited resources and insufficient money were frequently cited. So I offered money. And now, in case it makes more space and resources available, I’m removing myself.
It’s easier for me to do this than most; I make the show by myself, so I don’t have staff whose jobs I’d jeopardise. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage. It’s a decision I can make that might not be feasible for others.
Why am I telling you about this? Well, as a message to white people in organisations which are failing on inclusion: we have to speak up, and keep speaking up; to use pester power even if we have no other power. Yes, you might feel like a jerk. That’s fine! This isn’t about you! Do what you can do. And if there is limited space and resources, you may have to get out of the way. You’re not losing out yourself; it’s sharing as it always should have been shared. I’ve done this before with festivals, panels, interviews, hosting jobs, events, and now I’m doing it with Radiotopia. It hurts. I really care about these people. I never had a bunch of colleagues before them, and leaving feels like a lonesome choice. Radiotopia gave me the opportunity to make my best work, and I hope they will do that for many many others.
The Allusionist will continue, though! I have always made it by myself, with 100% ownership and editorial control, so the show itself won’t be affected in those respects. The financial side is more TBD though. The relevant part for you is if you have donated to Radiotopia to support this show, your largesse will no longer reach me. If you would like to help keep the Allusionist going, I’ve set up a Patreon at patreon.com/allusionist , and there’ll be spoilers, behind the scenes peeks and various other fun things for you.
But this is absolutely optional, and please only do it if you have the spare cash - times are tight, and there are lots of pressing financial concerns. Be assured, the podcast will continue to be available for free; and while the podcast industry is rapidly building up walls and making it more difficult for you and me to convene in your brain, I plan to keep my work available as widely as possible with as few obstacles for you listeners as possible, until such time as it is no longer technologically possible, or I am shrivelled into silent dust.
Thanks so much for your support of the Allusionist, because you letting me into your brain is the greatest joy and privilege I can imagine.