7 August 2009

I listen to the NPR show, Tell Me More, almost everyday.  I listen online – I can listen at a time of my choosing, and at my own pace, pausing it to take a phone call, or running it back to replay something I didn’t quite catch.  Because of these features, I listen to lots of NPR programs online – Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air – even though my local station, KLCC, airs them.

Now, Tell Me More, which I started hearing on NPR’s 24-hour program stream, is not broadcast in my area.  It took me a few weeks of listening to realize that the program is largely focused on black, Latino and other communities of color.  My pasty white self not withstanding, I continued to listen to this excellent news and issues show, feeling like something of an outsider, but not unwelcome in the listening audience.

I imagine my local station doesn’t broadcast Tell Me More because we have both a limited fundraising base, and because we have a largely-white audience.  And because of that, a lot of the local community doesn’t hear the kinds of stories, or the kinds of perspectives that Tell Me More features.  But why shouldn’t my mostly lily-white community be listening to this show?  And not just because they “should” as good non-racists, or because they share the broadcast area with, yes, a small black population, but also a fairly diverse Native, Hispanic and Asian population.  Nope, our white citizens need to listen to this kind of programming because this is part of our nation, our community, our neighborhood, even if that’s an online neighborhood.

If you live in an all- or mostly-white community, it’s really easy to not even realize what you are missing.  White culture being dominant, the absence of another voice, of a whole set of other voices, isn’t necessarily missed unless you are tuned to it.  That seems mostly to come of being one of those absent voices, but hopefully more and more white folks will hear the silence, become aware of the gaps when the full picture of our nation isn’t represented.

I will never know what it’s like to grow up or live as a black man, or a Latina woman, any more than I will know what it’s like to grow up as a Muslim, or in Prague during the 1600s, or live inside a body racked with Huntington’s, or any of a myriad of experiences that, due to birth or geography or time, I simply can’t have.   That makes it more important to listen to other voices, to glean what I can, to observe what feels the same and what seems vastly different between me and other people.  My observations will be incomplete, but how could I not try? How else can I learn?  How else can my neighbors, online and down the street from me, become members of my community, and me of theirs?

Yes, I’m a dreamy-eyed liberal, hoping for peace and harmony between all peoples.  And it starts with listening.