An Open Letter to the Dear Sugar Podcast or “If it’s white, say so”

Dear Sugar,

I’m writing you because I love your podcast. You’ve created a place in the auralsphere where the big themes – betrayal, parentage, love -- are met with measured, loving consideration and made shatteringly personal. Every week I get to hear some shard of myself speak and be acknowledged, or sometimes get its ass kicked.

Sugars, it’s your honesty that comes shining through every week and your intellect. You’re both whip smart, and you draw from a deep well informed by incredible pain and (something else we share) a profound love of literature. I believe that’s why I’ve been so disappointed as of late with your cultural tone deafness with regard to race and gender. Sugars, I expect more from you.

If I had to trace my growing unease I’d have to say I noticed it markedly in the episode when you addressed issues of body image. Steve said “I like big butts” and Cheryl said that the words “skinny” and “pretty” had often meant the same thing in her mind. I wondered about the grand generalizations made in that episode. The wonderful writer, Lindy West, was interviewed for her perspective as a fat woman who found love. For me, though there was a gorgeous paciderm in the

room. Namely, the large percentage of women, black and brown women, whose posteriors tend to be more ample and for whom “skinny” and “pretty” are very separate items. Sugars, don’t say “women” when you don’t mean all of us. If you’re talking about white women, say it.

Your latest podcasts have been an intriquing series devoted to single women and the pervasive anxiety about “finding the one.” In the last installment in the series, your guest was Kate Bolick, whose book Spinster focuses on five women who serve as standard bearers for women who have not let partnering and mothering be their sole aim. Sugar, each of the five women were white. The first episode in the series featured Lena Dunham, a woman who has created a show set in an alternate New York where there are no “girls” who aren’t white. And as a black woman, I couldn’t help but compare how our singleness is pathologized and “blamed” on us (our lack of attractiveness, our sexual vagrancy, etc.)

Sugars, this isn’t about representation. This isn’t about some sort of scheme where you add guests of color. This is about whiteness. Whiteness has occupied a default position for far too long in our culture. Whiteness needs to be named because it is a stance, a position, and an identity that IS. Mostly, Sugars, white

culture is one set of norms in a field occupied by many other sets. When you don’t name it, when you make it the silent default, you continue the normal/abnormal binary that pervades US culture. The rest of us get to be abnormal.

Sugars, I guess what I’m asking for is transparency and disclosure. I’ve heard you advocate over and over again for radical honesty in response to you listeners. Don’t we deserve the same from you?

Signed,

Treasure Shields Redmond

photo by Stefan Powell

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