Temple professor’s podcast explores racial identity

“My American Meltingpot” explores the intersection of pop culture and identity through topics like racist technology.

Journalism professor Lori Tharps records an episode of “My American Meltingpot,” her new podcast that focuses on the intersection of race, identity and pop culture. | COURTESY / BRAD LINDER

As a Black woman married to a Spaniard, Lori Tharps contemplates things some parents never think about while raising her three bilingual, bicultural children. 

From her kids being a different race than her and people never realizing her family is related because of differences in appearance, Tharps said racial identity impacts every aspect of her parenting down to the kinds of dolls and movies she buys for her kids. 

For people living similar lives at a crossroads of race and identity — and for people open to broadening their worldviews — the Temple University journalism professor created the podcast “My American Meltingpot,” which tells diverse stories about race, identity and pop culture. The fifth episode of the eight-episode first season will air this Friday on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and Tharps’s blog of the same name.

The podcast is an extension of the “My American Meltingpot” blog, which Tharps started 12 years ago. Tharps uses it to write stories of diversity often overlooked by mainstream media, but it laid dormant from 2016 to the start of 2018 as she authored the book “Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families.” 

Tharps revived her blog last year, partially in response to the 2016 election, she said. 

“I just felt like I needed to have an outlet to speak my piece and to again interject some more diverse opinions into the public conversations about race and identity, particularly because…so much hateful rhetoric had been introduced into popular culture,” Tharps added. 

She decided to take “My American Meltingpot” to the next level to ensure the project would be more than just her “personal mouthpiece,” and would inspire public discourse about the topics. 

A print journalist by nature, Tharps said she didn’t have the technical skills to produce the podcast she wanted, so she teamed up with Brad Linder, a former producer, reporter and anchor at WHYY, Philadelphia’s public radio and TV station. Linder works as the producer and editor of “My American Meltingpot.” 

The two met when Tharps appeared in a May 2017 episode of Linder’s podcast “The Loving Project.” The year-long podcast told the stories of interracial married couples in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, which made prohibiting mixed-race marriages unconstitutional. 

“What drew me to the project is Lori’s vision of not only should America be a place where diversity and multiculturalism is viewed as a strength rather than a weakness but that it’s always been that way,” Linder said.

There have always been those who oppress others for being different, but there have also always been people who build friendships, romantic relationships, families and communities with people from different backgrounds and of varying identities, Linder added.

For Tharps, the podcast fills a hole in the podcast market. About 85 percent of American podcasts have at least one white host, with the majority of them male, while only 18 percent of podcasts have a non-white host, according to a January 2016 analysis by the news outlet Quartz.

Tharps continues to address this void in the media market by bringing women and people of color onto her podcast as guests. 

Meredith Broussard, a former journalism professor who now teaches at New York University, appeared on the second episode to discuss how technology, like computers and self-driving cars, can be racist.

“In an [artificial intelligence] system, what you are doing is putting in data about the world and you are making a computational system that replicates the world that is seen in that data,” Broussard said. “But there is racism in the world, there is sexism in the world, there is structural discrimination of all kinds in the world, so when you just replicate that inequality, you are duplicating the world as it is. You are not getting toward the world as it should be.”

Broussard added she is excited about the podcast because of the unexpected connections Tharps draws between different fields.

The first season of “My American Meltingpot” ends on March 1. Tharps is planning for a second season that she hopes will be more interactive by taking some episodes on the road and traveling to the source of a story.

“It simply all goes toward making our society a more tolerant and diverse and truly welcoming place for all people,” she said. “That’s my ultimate goal.”

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