A lot has been said about “POC” and “diversity” in media, but Arjun Ram Srivatsa and Kevin Lozano’s podcast questions the specificity of that language. On Diversity Hire, Srivatsa and Lozano challenge the idea that POC is an adequate descriptor, instead opting to discuss specific experiences of race and class. The podcast has hosted guests like the New York Times’ Jazmine Hughes, Jay Caspian Kang, Time To Say Goodbye cohost; and Gaby Del Valle, a freelance immigration reporter; to talk about their careers and the nebulous notion of “POC in Media.”
The Objective sat down with them to talk about the podcast, class, unpaid work on diversity committees, and everyone’s secret dream of opening a wine bar.
This conversation is edited for length and clarity.
Why did you start “Diversity Hire”?
Arjun: I was biking around in the peak of COVID and I was like, ‘I really want to do a podcast with Kevin’ and I didn’t know what it would be about. Actually, I think I was like, ‘Oh, it should be about people of color in the media.’ It’s not like we had a great relationship before that.
Kevin: Not that we had a bad relationship.
Arjun: Yeah, we just barely knew each other and I was like, this guy Kevin is cool. Actually we were friends, then I met him on a stoop one day. I pitched the idea and he thought it was cool and then we started thinking about it and then after that I believe, the whole situation at my company and also the New York Times Tom Cotton Op-Ed happened.
So, it was all kind of perfect timing for us to start this thing. So we recorded our first episode shortly after around then—So the beginning of June. We were very much focused on … what the experiences are of people of color in the media.
Kevin: Yeah, I think there are conversations people often have group chats with coworkers about just unpleasant things that happen at work and they’re not always racialized sort of tensions. But I think especially journalists of color often, there is just a community of people who talk in text messages about how they’re annoyed about certain things. I think what the podcast can offer and what we were talking about when we first created it is: This is a space for people to talk openly about their frustrations.
And not just their frustrations, you know, [it’s] their hopes of their careers and what they think the media can be and its most ideal, least fucked-up version of what it could be. So we hope the podcast offers a kind of community for journalists of color and just talk openly in ways they can’t otherwise.
Arjun: Yeah, the group chat, that’s definitely something that we were trying to model it after and something that keeps coming up in our episodes. Where we asked about their experiences. They’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m a part of this group chat in which we talk shit about, you know, how fucked up it is here.’
There’s always this community of people like, something bad happens and they turn to the group chat. And we just wanted that to be the podcast of “What you say there, it’s welcome here.” And we also wanted to be a space for more experienced journalists to talk about their experiences so that younger journalists and media members can learn from it and know what to expect when they take an unpaid internship.
What does “POC in media” mean or not mean?
Kevin: POC is the wrong word for the kind of problem that we’re facing. Diversity is the wrong word too… These are corporate catchalls that make it harder to point to the specificity of the problem of representation in the media, which is: The problems of each marginal group are very specific and we should be as specific as possible in order to address those problems. For example, the problems faced by East Asians in Flushing are very different than the problems faced by Indian Americans in the Bay Area. I think such large encompassing terms flatten the experiences of like groups of people that can often contradict long held beliefs or stereotypes. So the reason we don’t like POC is that I think it prevents us from having a more nuanced conversation about identity.
Kevin: And class, especially class. I think “POC” really flattens class experience, even amongst people who are nominally part of the same racial group. There are really upwardly-mobile Asian Americans who immigrated to this country to get graduate degrees and then there are recent immigrants who work at a restaurant. What do those people share? They have the same racial category but their class experience is so divergent. When the children of those people are applying for jobs they’re seen as the same, but their class experiences is completely different.
Arjun: Beyond that, the Harvard grad who applies to a job at the New York Times is going to be asked to report on the restaurant worker who just moved here and they have absolutely no idea what those people are going through. One thing about our podcast—and this is not on purpose, this is just people we’ve selected—I think only two of our 15 guests went to public college. The majority of them went to elite east coast universities and, I mean, that just goes to show we’re having leftist writers who have good politics––Like, similar politics to us but the track record is always going to be the same.
When we say POC in media it means nothing if it’s the same class experience as white people in media. “POC” is all optics, it’s very much an optical illusion.
Kevin: It is a slight of hand. I think what POC does is allow people who are in power to say that they’re giving up their power to groups that don’t normally have them. Is it really change if Black, Brown, Asian, Harvard-educated people get the jobs at media companies? The sort of overlap is still kind of there and there’s only a cosmetic change and there’s no really political or economic change that we can point to and I think that feels significant enough to point to why POC helps hide and erases the experiences that need to be lifted up in the media generally.
Do you think that these diversity councils put an undue amount of pressure on people of color who try to make up these councils and make things better in the workplace?
Arjun: People should be paid extra to do that. If we’re gonna put in our work and our time and hours to fix multi-million dollar companies, those people should be paid to do such a thing.
Kevin: Yeah, in all of these stories you read about conflagrations happening at media companies. There’s always a paragraph, a sentence, whole sections devoted to how some lowly assistant who’s a person of color is asked by their boss or their boss’ boss about their opinion on some kind of initiative the magazine is doing. How can you ask the lowest person at the company to have an opinion when what they’re saying is going to be implicated in all of these power structures?
Pre-pandemic, the professional attitude is that you should give as many hours to your job as you can, you should give your life, your intellectual property, your time, your energy, your love, because maybe you’ll be rewarded with material success.
Arjun: It’s often not material, though, is the problem, there’s a certain prestige that you are promised by being a member of the media. Our last guest Clio Chang wrote people are often told ‘You should be happy that you have this job. This job is something that you love and that’s why you’re doing it.’
We’re not often saying it to ourselves. This is something that is told to us or we say it to ourselves to excuse poor work conditions and poor benefits and it’s not a good excuse anymore. I don’t think it might have ever been [a good excuse] especially now that we see the skeleton of the industry is crumbling and we can’t just keep fooling ourselves because ‘It’s wonderful to be a member of the media’ [or] ‘This is just a beautiful life that we’re leading.’ It’s difficult. We need to be more cautious about how we spend our time.
Kevin: I have always believed that a quick way for media workers to become not just better people but better at their jobs and just happier is to accept that this is a job.
If we accept that it’s just a job then we can understand the ways in which these are jobs that have completely fucked over tons of people and made our lives economically fraught for the idea that having a cool job is what mattered––it’s not.
I think all forms of work require sacrifice that is uncomfortable––I’m gesturing to the idea that if we realize that being a journalist is just a job like any other then we can understand that it’s a job that’s abused. That’s why I feel very strongly about unionization and labor organizing.
I think people are becoming conscious to the fact the a cool job is another kind of sleight of hand by corporations and boomers and other bad people to sort convince you that what you have is enough and you shouldn’t be tricked into thinking that you deserve a good life because you decided to take a job that was cool and not gonna pay you well.
Arjun: I have been saying this everyday to myself and all of my friends that I just want to move to a little town in Kentucky and open a natural wine bar where I play Coceteau Twins and the NBA Playoffs and I think that dream is not unique to me. That specific dream might be unique to me, but I think the dream of existing without your life being so tied to which media person is being canceled on Twitter and the reason people are so obsessed with that ‘cancel on twitter’ thing is that people are so they’ve fooled themselves into thinking that having an opinion matters. No one’s opinion matters.
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