Despite the topic and its author, the person who narrated the audio recording was a young, White male voice actor who spoke in an accent that listeners interpreted as something that would appear in a minstrel show.
Bradley shared a clip on Twitter of the narration of her work after hearing it for the first time this week. She asked Fireside and the voice actor in the tweet if it’s what they thought Black women sound like.
Bradley, an assistant professor of English and African Diaspora studies at Kennesaw State University, said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post that she raised an eyebrow at the choice of narrator.
“Why is this man doing terrible Jamaican patois?” she wrote in the email. “And then he started my actual essay, and I felt anger and betrayal. Is this how illegible southern black women are to white folks, especially white men,” she said, expressing her disbelief that the vocal artist could have been comfortable with his performance.
She immediately reached out to the Black editor who worked on the story with her, and he was just as disappointed by the choice of narrator, she said.
Bradley said she was unaware that Fireside recorded readings and didn’t know that her piece was being read by someone else for publication.
Bradley and many of her Twitter followers questioned how someone could have approved something she considered so hurtful, especially during a year filled with conversations about racial injustice, Black absence from many spaces and how the publishing world could do better to include voices and narratives from people of color.
Publisher and art director for Fireside Magazine, Pablo Defendini, said there was nothing insidious in his decision, though. Instead, he admitted he just didn’t listen to the recording before posting it. And he apologized, calling the result something that “basically amounted to auditory blackface, in the worst tradition of racist minstrelsy.”
“The blame for this rests squarely with me, as the person who hires out and manages the audio production process at Fireside,” Defendini said in a statement published on the company’s website. “In the interest of remaining a lean operation, I’ve been hiring one narrator to record the audio for a whole issue’s worth of Fireside Quarterly, and I don’t normally break out specific stories or essays for narrating by particular individuals.”
Even though the current issue featured multiple works from people of color and was edited by a Black man, Defendini said he didn’t consider Bradley’s individual essay when he hired Kevin Rineer, the man who read the essay with no direction.
Defendini did not respond to a request for comment.
Rineer told The Post in a statement that he was unaware he would be reading a Black woman’s work when he auditioned for Fireside Quarterly and that he only received the full manuscript for the work after signing a contract.
Communications lapsed, Rineer said, when he reached out to Fireside and Bradley through a distributor and didn’t get a response. Rineer says he wishes he would have broken the contract rule to contact Bradley directly about her work.
“My normal narrative style is to read with a general West Coast American accent. I made the mistake of reading Dr. Bradley’s work and assuming an accent that was not representative of her voice,” he said. “I had tried to find a different narrator who would be a suitable representative in my network and via public forums, to no avail, in the week-long time frame I had.”
In Defendini’s apology letter, he said the winter 2021 issue of Fireside Quarterly will be narrated by individual writers instead of by one narrator for an entire issue’s worth of stories. He also pledged to send the final audio story to each author and to consult with the editor of each issue on narrator choices.
“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,” Defendini wrote.
Bradley tweeted she didn’t care about the apology, but the sting from the incident and its aftermath still burn warm for her.
“Reading that made the anger more tangible and raw,” she wrote in a statement. “Him admitting that he DID NOT EVEN LISTEN TO THE AUDIO was not more disappointing: it was the catalyst that evolved my anger to a slow burning rage.”