It’s no secret that in Australia, it can often be difficult to candidly speak about race – especially if you’re not white. Enter ABC Radio National producer Beverley Wang, who in May 2017 launched It’s Not A Race, alongside a fabulous team. With two seasons officially under its belt, It’s Not A Race has facilitated incredible conversations about topics that are rarely spoken on openly in the Australian media. Placing PoC voices at the forefront, It’s Not A Race is intelligent, relatable, educative, challenging and heartwarming in equal measures. In celebration of the release of the season two finale, which was recorded live in Melbourne, we are really excited to publish our chat with Beverley Wang about all things pod, and beyond.
On It’s Not A Race‘s beginnings
“Obviously these questions about race are ever-present, I think, for those of us who are not white… If we’re in the Other camp, I think we’re always conscious of these conversations. So I can’t really pinpoint – I mean, when is the first time you identified your race as being different, or experienced racism? That goes far back. So, I think the conversation has always been in my consciousness, just like it is for so many people.
“But there came a point in 2016 where I was saying to myself, ‘Well, you know, I’ve been doing my job as the EP of RN Drive for a few years now. I love it, but where am I going, what do I want to do for myself professionally?’ And I think the next challenge for me was to just challenge myself, and pitch a project where I could see if I could make or do something different. Given that there wasn’t very much in the Australian podcast market covering these topics, and the fact that I was in a really unique position working at RN, which is one of the premiere broadcasters and podcast-makers in Australia… it all kind of came together fairly organically.”
On breaking the unspoken ‘taboo’ of talking about race in Australia
“You know what’s funny is actually, I don’t think of it that way at all. I don’t think of the risk ever, I don’t ever think of it like I’m breaking a taboo. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m always a little bit surprised when people say it’s a risky thing. I just think, well this is part of the fabric of our lives… And maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t experience the really vitriolic hate against Asians in the 1990’s or something, but I feel like that’s something that’s just missing. I don’t feel like it’s that taboo, or risky or scary. I really don’t. And maybe that’s why I do it… I think we’re careful editorially, as in we try to use all of the tools and skills that we would employ in making any other program or podcast. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so many years working in news – I have a fairly thick skin about that kind of stuff, it doesn’t scare me to talk about risky subjects. It’s part of what I’ve been doing for almost 15 years. So I don’t know, it doesn’t really freak me out.
“I suppose maybe my lack of fear [also] speaks to the amount of support I have. I think we are really lucky and in our own way really privileged, because we get the ABC platform and ABC editorial values to really be quite uncompromising in the nuanced way that we talk about it… Nobody is asking us to race-bait, nobody is asking us to do anything in a tabloid fashion… Maybe the reason I don’t feel like that is because there’s a huge tradition at RN and at the ABC of talking about difficult subjects. I don’t for one second want to act like I’m the first ever to do any of this. There are actually a lot of programs – like, think about the program Awaye! that’s been going on for over 20 years, talking about really heavy and serious and nuanced issues affecting Aboriginal people in Australia. I don’t want to for one second pretend like I’m the first one to come in and be making any programming about race.
“I think there is a shift in terms of media organisations’ ability to embrace these kinds of topics. I think there’s a huge recognition that it’s not just the time is right but the time is overdue. I think culturally – and this has a lot to do with social media – the voices are getting out there regardless. People don’t need platforms any more, to say what they think. This kind of climate pushes culture forward in ways we don’t recognise.”
On the very first It’s Not A Race live show
“We have a community now. Like, this is a thing that lives beyond just the podcast. To look into that room and see the room filled with people, I mean, it was crazy. The upper level was filled, the whole room. The feeling – so many people who were there came up to me and said ‘you know what was amazing about that was the feeling, the vibe in the room’ and it’s true. There was such warmth and positivity, I have to say, that was the absolute highlight of 2017.
“I was on the stage and I looked out, and it was so moving, because I wrote a Google doc in 2016 with the pitch for a podcast that may or may not have been made, made a pilot, now we’ve made two series and we’re able to bring people together on a Monday night to actually physically be in the room to share the experience with us?! It was… it blew my mind. We have built something here, which is really, really special. I’m so, so touched by it. I can’t explain how really incredibly humbling and gratifying that feeling is, to look out and think like, ‘People are here to see this thing that we made!’ That’s crazy – I had to pinch myself!”
On learning through making It’s Not A Race
“As a fairly new immigrant to Australia, coming here in 2009, I feel I have learnt a lot about what Aboriginal Australians’ lives are like, and what they go through. It shows me that I have a gap of knowledge there, it’s a learning experience for me. Because I’m new to Australia, I can be like ‘oh, well I didn’t know about terra nullius, I didn’t know about the Stolen Generations,’ I didn’t know about so many things until I came came here and started learning about these things as a broadcaster. But then I can also think, ‘well actually, I’m not an exception.’ There’s a lot of people who grew up in Australia and didn’t know these things. It’s a gap that I am very eager to nourish. To me, I’m like ‘oh wow, I don’t know all this stuff, I need to learn more’ and I feel that my views and perspectives have really shifted because of my opportunity and access to talk to a lot of people who have really well-developed and nuanced thoughts and ideas about this experience, which is also by no means any kind of monolithic experience. It’s something I really appreciate in making a podcast, and I’m learning a lot about that. And I want to keep learning. I think it is kind of the foundational issue that we have in Australia, it goes back to how was this country settled, what happened to the people who were here? And you can see the tentacles of that history still playing out to this day. I think we have to recognise that. So I’m actually grateful for learning so many things as I make it. I think I’m really lucky.
“It’s easy to dismiss identity politics when you want to undermine it, when it threatens you, when it’s counter to the narrative that you want to push. So I see a lot of pushback against people trying to dismiss the kinds of conversations we have on It’s Not A Race, as ‘oh that’s just identity politics.’ But, you know, the only people who are trying to dismiss that as identity politics are people who don’t feel the difference. Our opportunity to be able to share people’s stories and perspectives without having to make them validate them is really important… Oftentimes, in other media, they might try to touch on the stories but then a lot of time is spent on querying the interviewee about ‘why do you think this?,’ a lot of questioning. We’re trying to come at these topics in a way that cuts that out.”
On Stop Everything!, the newly announced Radio National show
“On Fridays at 10, I’m going to be co-hosting with Ben Law and Lauren Rosewarne is going to be part of a core panel discussion of that program. The intention there is to talk about pop culture but in a critical sense. So it’s not as if we’re going to be talking about the trends that people should get on, or giving recommendations based on what’s in glossy magazines – I think the thing with pop culture that’s really important to recognise is that it really is the fabric of our lives.
“I think that there’s a lot to be said for analysing pop culture and looking at our tastes, and looking at how the things we consume, the things that we make, how we respond to all these things really reflects us back to ourselves and tells us where we are, like the moment that we’re in. I know that sometimes people hear ‘pop culture’ and they’re really dismissive. Or they just turn up their noses, and think it’s trash. But I really don’t think of it that way. I think it’s really, really important. We basically live and breathe it, you can’t walk out the door – if you’re consuming radio, if you’re on Facebook, if you’re watching TV, if you’re reading the newspaper, you’re in pop culture. So let’s talk about it.
“So I think it’s trying to have a sophisticated look at pop culture, and talk about not just how we feel about certain cultural moments, but what it says about us as people. And I also want to be able to highlight and bring in new voices and talk to people about their passions that aren’t necessarily connected with what a person is known for.”