By Guest Contributor Priya R. Chandrasekaran, special to Racialicious
A month or so ago, I got into a debate with a friend at work about racism in the podcast Serial.
Serial, a widely popular production of WBEZ Chicago, follows journalist Sarah Koenig week to week as she investigates a fifteen-year old case in which an eighteen year-old Korean American girl was found strangled after she went missing. Her then eighteen year-old Pakistani American ex-boyfriend was charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping. He has been in prison since 2000, all the while maintaining his innocence.
Specifically, my friend and I had different responses to an article by Jay Caspain Kang accusing Koenig of “white reporter privilege.” She felt that Kang was too quick to read an exoticizing impulse into Koenig’s reactions when, for example, Koenig was probably startled by how “normal” a young woman’s diary seemed on the eve of its author meeting a violent death. Also, she said, Koenig the storyteller has to make her characters relatable to her listeners. But “relatability” is precisely what Kang problematizes, I replied, it assumes an underlying “colorblind ideal” that “reads ‘white.’” I brought up Julia Carrie Wong’s charge that Koenig “fail[s] to draw an distinctions between…. a first-generation Korean immigrant [experience] and [a] second-generation life in a Pakistani-American family,” and that she gives her subjects “model minority treatment.” But then… the descriptions Koenig uses were offered by the people she interviewed, not ones she coined.
So is she accountable for them?
A colleague joined in: Koenig probably assumes her audience has racial sensitivity.
I disagreed: Kang is right that the journalist comes “from the same demographic as her ‘intended audience’” in a context where “staffs of radio stations, newspapers, and magazines tend to be overwhelmingly white.”
But if being white is the fact of her experience, this colleague said, do we hold it against her? Continue reading