Fireside Magazine has come under intense criticism because in the audio recording of one of its essays the white voice actor used an offensive stereotype of the American southern Black accent in his narration.
“Da Art of Speculatin’” by Dr. Regina N. Bradley was offered as a free-read article accompanied by a free-to-listen audio of the text.
Fireside editor Pablo Defendini has since taken the audio down. The essay itself, discussing the influence of the Southern hip hop group OutKast, is still available at Fireside.
Dr. Bradley (@redclayscholar on Twitter) tweeted these grievances about how her work was treated, illustrated by a sound bite from the now removed audio:
There have been many responses and expressions of empathy, including —
Tressie McMillan Cottom
Daniel José Older
N. K. Jemisin
Fireside editor Pablo Defendini tweeted apologies (thread starts here) which were incorporated in his longer write-up “Regarding our audio recordings” explaining what happened. A major revelation is that he didn’t listen to the audio before putting it online,
Earlier today we published an essay about OutKast by Dr. Regina Bradley. This is an essay written by a Black woman, about Black musicians, and edited by a Black man. I hired a white man to narrate the audio version of the essay, and that narrator decided to use an offensive stereotype of the American southern Black accent in his narration. This basically amounted to auditory blackface, in the worst tradition of racist minstrelsy. So why did I publish it? Frankly, I didn’t listen to it before I posted it. More on that, and on the other errors I made, in a second, because this is the context, not an excuse.
There is no excuse for having published it. I apologize for having done so. Specifically, I apologize to Dr. Bradley for having undermined her work, to Maurice Broaddus for having stained the otherwise outstanding issue of Fireside Quarterly that he edited, and to Chelle Parker, our copyeditor, for having put them in the line of fire for this, when they had no visibility into the audio production process or ability to prevent this from having happened.
On Twitter he emphasized:
Just to be explicitly clear: I’m the only one who manages the audio production process—this was entirely my doing, and no one else who works on Fireside had a chance to hear the audio, much less rectify. This is all absolutely my fault, no one else’s.
The work was done by voice actor Kevin Rineer, who tweeted his own apologies but has since taken down his account. Here are screencaps:
Rineer’s video says in part:
I know that it was completely inappropriate for me to have recorded especially with that accent. It was almost the same as if you tied a blindfold to a high school quarterback and expected him to make the game winning throw. It was horrible disgusting and a complete miss that’s what i meant by the the analogy there… My actions though were disgusting inappropriate and for that I do apologize
Yet it’s hard to reconcile the person capable of the self-flagellation of this apology with the one who made the original choice he did about his performance.
[Update: Rineer now has also closed his YouTube account. The video formerly linked here is no longer available.]
Defendini underscored his own failure to review the audio:
Apart from the inappropriate choice of narrator, I also didn’t provide any pertinent direction at the outset of the engagement. Normally, when I hire voice talent for narration, I send them some notes about the pieces I want them to narrate, pointing out special considerations, or particular pronunciations of tricky or uncommon terms. I failed to do that here.
I also failed to check each recording when I took delivery of them. I was pressed for time and trying to get work out the door, and I did not take the time to review the finished recordings. As many have correctly pointed out, it takes two seconds of listening to the recording to realize that this one was deeply, deeply problematic. I did not do so — I just moved the files along — and the result is that I allowed an extremely hurtful racist caricature to be published on Fireside’s website.
While it may not have been intentional, intent doesn’t matter. The harm caused is real. And this particular type of harm — in this particular moment in history — is extra fucked up. All I can do at this point is apologize, try to fix it, ensure it doesn’t happen again, and try to make up for it.
Because Kevin Rineer voiced the recordings for all the stories in the current issue of Fireside Quarterly, Defendini has pulled them all and will have them re-recorded.
And he will be making other changes to the production process:
- Starting with the Winter 2021 issue of Fireside Quarterly, which ships on January 1st, all stories will be narrated by individual narrators as opposed to by one narrator for an entire issue’s worth of stories.
- Starting with the Winter 2021 issue, I’ll send the final audio of each story to its author, in the same way we send them proofs of the print issue before it goes to press.
- Starting with the Spring issue of Fireside Quarterly, I’ll consult with the editor of each issue on the choice of narrator for each story before we hire anyone.
Defendini closed his post with further self-criticism and intent to make amends:
Finally, my personal neglect allowed racist violence to be perpetrated on a Black author, which makes me not just complicit in anti-Black racism, but racist as well. I have to grapple with that, and make amends. I’m not sure exactly how, yet, but some kind of concrete reparation is absolutely called for. I’m speaking with various folks who have reached out (and who I’ve reached out to as well), in order to figure out what that looks like.
This letter is the beginning of the process of making amends. I know that words don’t mean much without action to back them up. I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure that nothing like this happens again.
Some writers commented that there needs to be a change in editor, Kate Dollarhyde, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, and Sarah Gailey, who indicated the issues raised today are not the only ones besetting Fireside: