Produced by a trio of native Arkansans, the podcast is now in its third season.
The perception of Southerners varies drastically, especially when you compare the perspectives of those who live in the region with those who do not.
Following the 2016 election, Adena White noticed gaps in the way people discussed the South and Black voters. She realized Black Southerners were missing from the conversation and decided to do something about it. With a background in public relations, White tapped into her skills as a writer to create a blog.
“A blog came to mind as a way to tell Black stories and to show the diversity of Black people and of the South, and also to connect,” she says.
White wanted “to connect with other people who were doing cool things” at a time when the South didn’t feel like a welcoming place she wanted to live in. In 2018, White conducted her first interview with an Arkansas native living in Nashville, Tenn., who created a nonprofit organization to engage Black voters.
“It was a very great interview, she was very passionate about things,” White says. “She cried talking about her mom and I was like man, this is some good emotion that I’m not capturing just in writing.”
This realization prompted White to shift her platform to a podcast so she recruited her sister Katrina Dupins to produce and her friend Kara Wilkins to co-host. The Blackbelt Voices podcast debuted in 2019 and the trio launched the third season this fall.
Through first-person narratives and in-depth conversations, the podcast “propagates the richness of Black Southern culture by telling the stories of Black folks down South.” The podcast’s name is a reference to a region in Alabama and Mississippi that became known as the Black Belt because of its fertile soil.
“But then when Black people worked the soil, it came to have a double meaning,” White says.
An interviewee once remarked the South is anywhere where Black people are and the three women took that to heart. Podcast guests do not have to live in the South, but they generally have a connection to the region or to a topic impacting Black people.
The show focuses on a variety of issues all centered on “telling the stories of Black folks across the South,” Wilkins says. Topics of discussion have included women of color entrepreneurs, police brutality and racism in the newsroom.
“It’s usually not hard to find a guest. There’s usually somebody who is out there that wants to talk and has something to say,” she says. “We’re just here to be a good listener and to get their message out.”
While subject matter varies, White says they tend to focus on issues like social justice, racial equity and progressive politics.
“We do try to focus on our love of being Black, our love of being Southern and just talking to people who also have complicated relationships with this area, but they love it and they’re making the most of it,” she says.
The podcast creators have their own complicated relationship with the South. White and her sister were born in Center Ridge, an unincorporated community north of Little Rock which she describes as the “country country” with no stoplights or city government. Through the podcast, Dupins says they can highlight Southern experiences outside of the “backwoods barefoot” stereotype that’s often associated with the region.
“I love living here, love the South, but when you hear people talk about it outside of where we are, you already know what their connotations are going to be and it’s not anything that I want to relate to,” Dupins says.
Podcast listeners can relate to the stories no matter where in the country they live because many folks can still trace their roots to the region, Wilkins says.
“Wherever you go it is still that shared common experience that we all have to support and build the South but really to support and build ourselves as Black people,” she says.
You can listen to episodes from all three seasons of the podcast at www.podcast.blackbeltvoices.com.