Creating Safe Online Communities: An Interview with Zora’s Daughters Podcast

“Creating Safe Online Communities: An Interview with Zora’s Daughters Podcast” is written in white on the left, as there are layered images of a tv screen, two tables, and a microphone like a podcast recording set up on the right.

Creating online communities and virtual media which are inclusive, safe, and respectful is vital to creating more promising, trauma-informed futures. NSVRC invited Brendane Tynes, the co-creator of the Zora’s Daughters podcast, to discuss how they’ve curated a respectful and inclusive online space. Zora’s Daughters is a society and culture podcast that uses Black feminist anthropology to think about race, politics, and popular culture. The two hosts, Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James, source the legacy of Zora Neale Hurston and other Black women active in knowledge and culture production, hence their namesake. Although she was one of the most important Black writers in American history, novelist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston’s gifts to American culture were underappreciated while she was alive. She died in poverty 1960. At the time of her death, Hurston had published more books than any other Black woman in America and created critical angles on race, class, culture, ethnography and gender which are still vital today. Inspired by her life and work, Zora’s Daughter’s uses three segments (What’s the Word?, What We’re Reading, and What in the World?!) to guide their deep dive into social issues in ways that are accessible and entertaining. By prioritizing the issues of Black women and other marginalized groups, Zora’s Daughters empowers listeners to develop the tools and language that start conversations and sparks change. As their podcast tagline states: “Learn and unlearn with us as we close read popular culture through the writing and thought of Black women!”

-Hi Brendane! Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hey, y’all! My name is Brendane Tynes. I am a co-host of Zora’s Daughters Podcast, a podcast where we provide Black feminist insight on current events. I am an Anthropology PhD candidate at Columbia University. My commitment to a Black feminist abolitionist praxis stems from my own experiences as a survivor of intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse.

- Creating safe online spaces is difficult in any topic, but especially so in issues of race, gender, politics, and society. How have you managed, and have you encountered any struggles?

It’s impossible to create a completely “safe” space. Safety can only happen in community, where the conditions of safety must be negotiated and agreed upon by each of the community members. In spaces where those community agreements are not possible, the best we can hope for is a brave space, where folks feel empowered to speak their truth and be accountable for harm. Zora’s Daughters creates brave spaces where everyone can participate, but they must recognize Black feminist principles of care and community. We prioritize the needs of Black women, Black queer and trans people, and other marginalized Black people, knowing that meeting their needs will already undo a lot of harmful power dynamics. So far, we haven’t encountered any issues curating spaces, and I believe it’s because of our commitment to radical honesty, care, and accountability.

- Many content creators have spoken about the harms of ‘trolling’ or how hard it can be to scroll Twitter or put their work out on social media. We know online harassment is a big problem for podcast creators and people doing the work online. Has that been an issue for either of you?

We have experienced online harassment. Last April, we got into some conflict with a popular travel blogger who published anti-Black posts. For legal reasons, I won’t name her or her page, but you can hear more about the conflict in our episode “The Empire Claps Back.” Any harassment we’ve received has stemmed from that situation, and to be honest, it really hasn’t been much.

-The topics you cover in your podcast aren’t superficial — they are critical issues which make great impacts on folks’ lives. Is there a personal or emotional toll for you in doing this work?

Yes, there definitely is. We’ve set boundaries for our listeners engaging with us on social media. When our online harassment incident happened last April, we received hundreds of messages from other people who had been harassed by the same person. Every day we had scores of messages that detailed online abuse. It was a lot on both of us because we felt like we had to respond and to affirm each person. As a survivor of interpersonal violence, I know what it’s like to want someone else to witness my pain and to want community with other victims. However, writing to two Black women strangers on the internet, who have not asked to hear my story, is just trauma dumping. Folks wrote to us with little-to-no consideration of how Alyssa and I might be trauma survivors. Very few wrote to us and asked consent to share their abusive experiences. It got to the point where some new triggering comment was in our inbox every hour. From that time on, we decided that setting boundaries for our DMs would allow us the space to respond to things on our own terms. We refuse to be people’s bulldogs or racial justice warriors, and that, in and of itself, has been a life-saving form of refusal.

- Your work is a perfect example of why Black history and knowledge production shouldn’t just be an event we hold in February. Has your audience been receptive in this learning journey you take them on? What has the feedback been?

Our audience has been very receptive. Listeners write in to give us suggestions on topics, to tell us which episodes changed their perspectives on what’s happening in the world, or simply to let us know that our podcast and other content makes them feel seen. It’s been extremely rewarding, and that is truly what keeps us going.

-You speak a lot about the intersection between Black, queer, and trans women and the social structures which don’t serve them and lend a hand in their oppression. The internet is a place where we see a great deal of patriarchy, transphobia, racism, and the continuation of white supremacy culture having a strong hold. As you see it, what is the formula for creating safe online spaces where critical issues can be explored?

This is such a great question. My suggestion would be to create the container for the “safe” space by setting the norms and intentions. Everybody participating in the conservation has to agree to the norms in order to participate. Here are some questions to ask as you craft norms: Who do you want to be there? How do you want people to interact with each other? How will you enforce norms? What will you do when those norms are violated?

Sometimes the issue is not the container for the space, but those whom we invite to the space. Oftentimes, we want to create “safe” spaces with people who do not have good intentions for each other. I believe it is impossible to be in a safe space with someone who is opposed to my being. And if I am in a space with them, then there’s an expectation that I’m going to make their learning comfortable by shrinking my discomfort. In other words, it doesn’t matter how many norms you put in place — if you invite someone who is committed to their patriarchy, transphobia, anti-Blackness, etc., then they will perpetuate harm. That only means that their learning needs to happen elsewhere. There is no reason why it needs to happen at the expense of, or on the backs of, those primarily affected by that violence.

-How do you practice self care while doing this work?

We try to take care of ourselves by taking days off from the podcast and the “work.” We also make sure to have time set aside for our loved ones and unplug from it all! I have my spiritual practice that grounds me, and I write essays and poetry. Alyssa does a lot of dancing, and I do some yoga and get a monthly massage.

- What else is important for people to know?

If you want to keep up with the podcast, be sure to follow us on Instagram at zorasdaughters and on Twitter at Zoras_Daughters. For transcripts, syllabi, and information on how to cite us or become a Patron, visit our website zorasdaughters.com.

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