Raye Zaragoza and Lizzie No Talk the Difference Between Tokenization and Inclusion

The singer-songwriters dive deep on the subject of being women of color in folk.

Raye Zaragoza is an LA-based singer-songwriter whose album Woman In Color — produced by Tucker Martine (The Decemeberists, First Aid Kit) — is out today; Lizzie No is a New York-based neo-folk artist whose album Vanity came out last year. To celebrate Raye’s new record, the two friends take a deep dive into the differences between “tokenization” and “inclusion” as woman of color in folk.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Raye Zaragoza: Some back story on how we met: I think through Calling All Crows — my friend turned on your music when I was in her living room in Boston, Massachusetts, and I was like, “What! Who is this?”

Lizzie No: I feel like it’s a small world of musicians who also want to be activists on the side. I loved your music as soon as I heard it, so it was a match made in heaven. 

Raye: Yes! Oh, my goodness.

So we are here to talk about tokenization versus inclusion in music, and especially in folk music. This is a conversation that Lizzie and I have already had in person, just whenever we talk to each other, because it’s something that we both experience a lot. And it’s an issue that is very often not talked about, because let’s be real — there’s not enough women of color in music in general, and folk music especially. So we’re here to talk about this.

Lizzie: Yeah. And I feel like a really part of the reason that we need to talk about it is a good thing, which is that so many people in the industry now are aware that racism, and just ignoring people of color, has not been working. So they’re starting from a place of like, “Let’s do something.” But often what happens is, [people have to ask] are we doing the right thing? Are we making people of color actually feel welcome? Are we actually passing the mic, or are we just kind of putting window dressing on the exact same systems that have always been around?

I think it’s a privilege and an exciting moment that we get to have a conversation that’s more nuanced — that’s like, OK, we’re not just going to have the same old, same old white bread shit that we’ve had for years. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all better. That doesn’t mean that just just bringing in some more people of color onto a lineup makes the whole situation better. We actually have to talk about the differences between actually including people and bringing them to a seat at the table, versus using them to promote what’s already there.

Raye: Absolutely. Because when you do that, and you have this attitude of, like, quota-filling or tokenizing artists and bringing them in in that headspace, it can be very hurtful to the artists and can leave them feeling very awful and used. We’ve both felt that way before, which is what we will talk about today. But I would love to start [with], Lizzie, what your definition of tokenization would be, and what your definition of inclusion would be.

Lizzie: Oh, that’s a good question. You know, we throw these terms around so much. I would say that tokenization is when a minority of any type is being used as a cosmetic cover up for an underlying dominant culture. So the same people still have power, but a minority is being propped up as an example that everything’s cool. And inclusion is actually handing over at least some power to that person. It’s like giving them a substantive chance to actually have the same opportunities, and actually have a seat at the table and have power. So it’s about who gets to make decisions and who has money.

Raye: Boom, boom, boom, boom. Yes, snaps. 

Lizzie: What about you? 

Raye: Yeah, I mean, I agree and feel those definitions in my body and soul. I think for me, tokenization has always been the feeling of: You are being brought in because there’s a part of you that they want to exploit for their own gain. 

Lizzie: Oh, absolutely. 

Raye: And inclusion is that you’re being invited in to speak for yourself and to have equal share of the mic — if not more — and as a way for your whole self to be there, not just the pieces of you that they want to exploit.

Lizzie: Yeah. I think there’s a really good distinction to be drawn here that I think a lot of us don’t want to admit, which is that when it comes to race and the music industry, white artists and white bands get to be themselves. They get to be individuals, they get to be risky. When artists of color are brought into festivals and media outlets, et cetera, we’re being asked to speak for all of our people and we stop being these individual artists and we’re asked to be representatives of something.

Raye: Of our culture.

Lizzie: Yeah, which we may be proud to be part of but, like, I don’t speak for all Black folk artists. I can’t speak to the Black folk experience. But I get asked that question, and asked to speak on it constantly, so I’m like this unwitting representative of something that I sort of represent.

Raye: It’s so comforting to hear you say all of this, because I feel that a lot. Especially since I am Native American on my dad’s side. I’m a bunch of things — I’m Native American and Mexican, I’m Japanese, I’m Taiwanese. I’m from New York and grew up super whitewashed. So these are all of the things that I identify with. And yet when people read my bio — I mention all these things, because it’s always a question if I don’t mention it — they all they pull out, “Oh, my gosh, you’re Native American! How cool is that?” And then they’re like, “You now officially speak for all indigenous people at our event.”

Lizzie: Isn’t that fun and cool power that you’ve been given? You’re like a superwoman of being Native American. [Laughs.]

Raye: People are like, “Oh, wow, that must be such a responsibility, that you chose to do that.” I’m like, I didn’t choose to be the representative of anything. When you are a minority, people assume, “OK, great, you’re here, you represent all these people, and you’ve now validated our event as a multicultural event, an event that is inclusive to Indigenous people.” And it makes my blood boil because I’m like, “I’m just one girl! Stop letting me be your token.” [Laughs.]

Lizzie: [Sighs.] Can we take a deep breath of acknowledgement of all of this stupid bullshit that we’ve had to put up with? [Laughs.] 

So do you have any specific stories that you want to share? Not to get into the, like, share-your-worst-experience, but if there’s anything you’d be comfortable telling people just to illustrate what this can feel like in real time?

Raye: Absolutely. I will not name names, but something happened to me very recently where someone wanted to use one of my songs for a video that was highlighting Indigenous people — and this was a non-Indigenous person with the request, but they were collaborating with indigenous people. Anyway, he makes this phone call with me and my manager. I get on the call and I ask him what songs of mine he likes, and if there’s a specific song he wants to feature in the video, and he let us know in that moment that he’s never listened to my music and that he has no idea what my music sounds like. And I’m like, “What? Then why did you want my music to be in your video?” And at that moment, I knew the only reason was because I am Indigenous. And that was the moment I literally saw the line in the sand of, Oh, this is tokenization.

Lizzie: Yeah, that’s a pretty blatant example. 

Raye: Do you have one? 

Lizzie: Something that’s more subtle that people might not realize is, when I’m on a bil, sometimes bookers will be fast and loose about labeling my music — like “African-American folk,” or like “Black folk.” And, sure, I’m a Black artist as a person, but I wouldn’t describe my music as Black music any more than any other Black artist’s music is Black music. So, yes, I find that to be a really good way for people to pat themselves on the back for booking me, and to let me know that they’re not as familiar with my music.

Raye: I’ve been called Native Americana before, and although it’s has a ring to it — I understand why people think that’s clever — I really don’t like that. People are like, “How does your heritage inform your music?” And I’m like, “Well, it does because I am my heritage, and my music is me.” Like, what else is there to say?

Lizzie: How does your music inform your heritage, white bro?

Raye: [Laughs.] Exactly. It’s funny, because I’ve dealt with this for so long, but hearing that you’ve experienced it makes me so angry because — for some reason, experiencing it yourself, you, like, let yourself take the beating. But when you hear about someone that you love, or a friend experiencing it, you’re like, “What the hell! How dare they do that to you?”

Lizzie: “They did what to you? Give me their address, I just wanna talk.” It makes my blood boil, because your music is so dope. The problem is, it’s not just your hurt feelings, because that would be bad enough — it’s that they’re not getting the opportunity to take your work seriously, and it deserves to be taken seriously. People are numbing their artistic and aesthetic capabilities by putting people into categories they never asked to be put into. They’re taking less time to actually listen to your music and more time explaining who you are.

If there’s one takeaway from this tokenization conversation that we’re having, it’s that there’s no easy shortcut to getting to know an artist. If you’re a real music fan, you’ll actually take the time to get to know artists of all backgrounds and you’ll actually devote time to listening to their work and not treat them like they represent some category.

Raye: Exactly. We live in this country that’s been built off of the oppression of Black people and Indigenous people, and the oppression of minorities in general, and then we wonder why people have these intersectional identities. No wonder, it’s because we are literally living in a system where our ancestors were forced to leave their heritage behind, or they were forced to, you know — all of these awful situations that have brought us, me and you, Lizzie, to these very intersectional identities. And yet people want to talk about it, like, “Why are you so complicated?” Like, “Oh, um, because of our history. That’s why.”

Lizzie: I have a question for you. What is your gut reaction about minority-only spaces? Like let’s say a woman only magazine, or an all Native American artists showcase. What is your reaction to that? And do you feel like that marginalizes us further, or do you feel like that’s part of our way forward?

Raye: That’s a really great question, and honestly one that I go back and forth with a lot. Here’s the thing, I feel like we need these spaces because if it’s not a space devoted to a specific group, then it’s a white space. So, we have to understand that minority-only spaces do have a place, but they have to be done well and they have to be led by people of that group. I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well.

Lizzie: I think the same thing, and I think it’s as simple as that — like, as long as the people who are supposed to be represented are the people making the decisions, I think it’s one of the best ways that we can push our stories forward. For example, when it comes to journalists — I’ve been lucky to be covered in a number of magazines, whatever. [But] you’re almost always talking to a white journalist. And that is that’s not to say that they’re not good at their jobs. That’s not to say that they’re not insightful. But they’re going to ask you only a certain range of questions that a white person would have [from their] insight into your work. 

What’s so awesome is getting to talk to a fellow person of color about your work — you’re just going to get this extra layer of depth because you have that shared experience. Likewise, I got the chance to put together an all-Black artist showcase at Americana Fest this past year, and it was so much fun because there was no one telling us what to do, like if we had to have a political message or not. It was just a bunch of friends, old and new playing at D’s. We had a ball, it was well attended. It was informal, and most importantly, it was FUBU, as they say, for us, by us. Those types of things that I am really drawn to, not only for educating the outside public on what we’re all about and sharing our stories, but for us, because we get so tired of having to, like, translate our experience for people that don’t understand what we’re going through. It’s like getting the chance to just take that deep breath, to exhale and be like, OK, I’m among people that are different from me, there’s diversity within our group, but there are some things that we all have in common. That shit is therapeutic. I wish we had more of it. And the burnout is this not talked about part of being a minority in music, so having spaces to combat that burnout and lift each other up is so important to me.

Raye: I agree. And I think that those spaces are so important when they are for us by us. But the minority spaces that can be harmful are ones that are curated by people who are not a part of the group.

Lizzie: Oh, absolutely. Who among us hasn’t been asked to “be on this girl’s night showcase!” And it’s just a way of, like, a male booker marginalizing all the women on an unpopular night at the club.

Raye: Yeah. So there’s that. I’ve played a lot of music festivals where I’ll be put at the world music stage, and but… I don’t write world music. And, you know, I appreciate getting booked by world music festivals because, yeah, I’m a person of the world like everyone in the world is, but it’s really makes me chuckle when I’m put at this stage with like, you know, artists from South America, and all these incredible artists who are representing their countries of origin, or they have traveled into the United States to play their music. I think it’s incredible, but I think it is kind of interesting that I get put at that stage.

Lizzie: When you’re from New York.

Raye: When I’m from New York and play American music inspired by Joni Mitchell. So it’s very it’s very bizarre to me. And that’s when I feel like, OK, it is kind of like a minority space, the world music stage, but it can be a little bit harmful when they are taking more into account the look of my face rather than the music I make.

Lizzie: Oof, that is heavy. Taking into account the look of your face rather than the music you make. That’s our pull quote, girl. [Laughs.] Can I be honest? I hate that for you.

Raye: I don’t know. It’s interesting too, because what also I want to ask you — have you ever felt like you had no other choice socially when you were starting out, and feeling like, in order to get my foot in the door, I have to kind of like put up with a lot of this B.S. that I hate?

Lizzie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one thing that I think is interesting and I think about in terms of the music itself is that, my first album was very traditional folk album, a lot of strings — [and] I’ve done a little bit more of, like, a rock pop direction. But I feel like if there were no if there were no racism, would there be maybe some, like, R&B beats in my songs? Would there be a little bit more of a rock spin? Maybe.

But I feel like I have had to work so hard just to be accepted as a folk artist. I can’t stray to the left or the right, even a little bit, like I have to toe the line in terms of like being a little bit twangy and a little bit Americana, because the minute there’s any sound of like a beat or a synth in my music, I’m going to get thrown out of the folk club.

Raye: [Laughs.] Oh my gosh. Well, if anyone tries to throw you out, I will personally show up and be like, “You can’t throw us out! We are here to stay!” 

Lizzie: But, like, white artists don’t have to worry about that as much at all. White artists get to be country until proven otherwise, whereas I feel like we have to prove ourselves over and over and over in terms of genre authenticity, because they’re so quick to throw us into — well, for you it’s the world music category, for me it would be, like, “urban” or R&B. And a ton of people assume I’m already an R&B artist just by, like, looking at my face. until they hear my music. So that’s something that I feel like I’ve really had to fight against. And on my forthcoming albums, I hope that I’m going to feel the freedom to do whatever I want and let the chips fall where they may.

Raye: I won’t name the name of the festival, but there’s a very prominent American festival that told my agent that my music is not really Americana, and not Americana enough for the festival. And that’s one person’s opinion, I get it, but I’m really wondering what about my music isn’t Americana enough. Is it the content? Is it me? Am I not Americana enough? And I got so in my head about it, but —

Lizzie: Well, I have heard your music and it’s quite Americana. And let me push back against the, like, “That’s just one person’s opinion,” because that’s a person with power. That’s a gatekeeper. It’s shit that actually affects your career, you get to be mad about that.

Raye: Thank you. And see, I wanted to say this before commenting on what you were saying about feeling like you have to be very intentional about your music, and toe the line: Have you felt — because I’ve felt this — that as women of color in folk music, and in music in general, that we have to always be on our best behavior?

Lizzie: Oh, my god. Yeah, we always have to be, like, cooler-than-thou. We have to be the cool girl who is unruffled by anything, because the first thing people will label you as is difficult or a bitch. I think so many women in the music industry have talked about this, but I feel like it’s double or triple as a woman of color. People are so quick to see you as delicate or difficult, and you just have to be everybody’s friend in a way that men could never imagine.

Raye: Yeah, exactly. It’s this feeling like, if I’m difficult, [people will be like], “Oh, this is why we don’t work with artists like her, because they’re different.”

Lizzie: Right, you’re slamming the door in another woman’s face because you’re not the perfect representative.

I think I get worn down by it because I have a lot of people that would like try to like — and it’s always men, it’s always men. Women know how to be appropriate on social media. and friendly. It’s always men trying to get a little bit up too close and personal on my social media, in my DMs, and I have to set boundaries. I don’t understand why people have this expectation that I am available to them and I am going to answer all their questions. It’s one thing to ask questions about the music that I love, but when you’re trying to get up close and personal with me as a person and cross boundaries in that way, I just don’t have time for it. And I will just casually mention this to male friends, or white friends of mine, and they’re always like, “He said what to you? You have how many dudes in your DMs right now?” Like older men from the middle of nowhere, just randomly trying to be your buddy. Like, wow, it’s not a coincidence that I am the person that they see as available and friendly and, like, available for their advances.

Raye: The past couple of months especially, but always with the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt like people have the sentiment of, “One thing you can do is talk to your Black friends more and ask them questions,” and basically have them educate you. Which is not, like —

Lizzie: Oh, my god. 

Raye: That’s why people think it’s cool to slide into your DMs to be like, “Hey, Lizzie, can I ask you a bunch of questions? Like, I’m trying to be like a better person by asking you to educate me.” [Laughs.]

Lizzie: You would not believe the DMs I got in the early days of the protests this summer. I think people really are well-meaning, but that’s not good enough anymore. That’s just like letting me know they’re an ally. Like, I don’t need to hear from you. Your white friends need to hear from you. And I think that’s important to know. Like, what is your role? If you are a person of color and we are going through these tumultuous times, I think it is on us to lift each other up and be there and support each other. I think if you’re a white person who’s a very close friend of a person of color, now is the time to show up extra for them. But if you are a white person who’s right now realizing that you don’t have a lot of friends of color, right now is not the time to start trying to take take people of color’s time for your own satisfaction.

Like, talk to your white friends about how you can be doing better. Talk to your white friends about who they’re voting for, talk to your white relatives about who they’re voting for. Make a difference in your own community instead of trying to, like, make up for your entire lifetime of ignorance in two months and at the expense of the people of color around you. Like, I can’t stand that shit. It’s all about you! You, you, you.

Raye: I heard someone say this in a speech or talk, I don’t know, but it really resonated with me. They basically asked this room full of people of color —because, you know, a lot of people have this dumb excuse, like, “Oh, look, I’m not racist, or I don’t do any micro aggressions or any aggressions at all that are racially insensitive because I have a lot of friends who are people of color.” And this woman asked the room, “Raise your hand if you identify as BIPOC, and one of your white friends has offended you but you didn’t say anything,” and everyone raised their hand. Everyone. And that really resonated with me because I realized, especially these past few months, as I unpack a lot, as we all are — I was like, wow, I have just normalized so many racially insensitive remarks that people close to me have made towards me. And just was like, oh, that’s just normal

Lizzie: I think it’s hard when it’s people in your life. I think it’s a different type of hard one when it’s your work, because I think when we encounter it in the industry, we feel this extra pressure to be cool about it. Because again, we don’t want to be seen as difficult and we don’t want someone else’s bullshit to get in the way of our success. I think that’s the hard part about it — like when it comes to being strategic, we do have to let some of that stuff go right and curse the person in our mind because we don’t want the conflict to get in the way of us doing better in the future.

Raye: Exactly.

Lizzie: It’s just another added burden. I hate that that goes on in your life, I know it goes on in mine. But it’s good for us to be having these conversations, to, you know, just let each other get a little bit off our chests with the wonderful Talkhouse audience to support us.

Raye: Before we move on to one last thing, and then to action steps, I wanted to kind of talk about how — I don’t know, I felt when I’ve talked to people who have not had this experience like us, and I tell them about these experiences, I’ll get the reaction of, “Why do you put up with that? Just tell them to stop.” I’m like, you don’t understand that, like you said, we’ve had to put up with a lot of this and have to let some of it go in our minds just so we can still maintain our careers and have a seat at the table. Which I think is changing now. Finally, we can shout it from the rooftops and be like, “No, enough is enough.” But I think that these years of having to put up with so much just because I knew that once the mike was in my hand and I was on the stage, then I could speak with whatever I want to say, and I could speak for myself. 

Lizzie: Absolutely. That’s beautiful. You know, neither one of us is shy when it comes to our work or the statements that we get to craft about our work. We just don’t want to have to put up with bullshit in all the space around it. You know, we don’t want to have to deal with racism every moment up to getting on the stage. That’s not good enough.

Raye: So the last thing I want to touch on before we get into action steps was kind of about interviews, and this thing I call it “trauma exploitation.” Maybe if you have any specific questions that you detest in interviews, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Lizzie: Yeah, I think something that’s so relevant right now is, I hate an interviewer asking me to comment in general on our historical moment right now. I am not a historian. If there is something in my music that makes you think of a particular historical moment, great, feel free to bring it up. If I decide to talk about protests that are going on, and about police brutality, which I am not shy about talking about, I will do that on my own. But it drives me absolutely crazy when interviewers — and often they’ll acknowledge that it’s a little awkward, they’ll kind of make a nod to the fact that I’m one of the few Black artists they’re interviewing. They don’t say it in so many words, but that’s the message I’m getting. What I’m getting is, “Now that I have you here, let me get a soundbite from you about George Floyd.”

I think people don’t realize this is a reality that I live every single day. I don’t want to have to talk about it unless I want to talk about it. And that might not be convenient, because it would be good clickbait, but that’s the reality. Leave me the fuck alone. Let me talk about my music just like any other artist, and if I bring up a topic that’s traumatic, or I bring up something that I’ve gone through, then that means I’m ready to talk about it. 

I feel like that’s my hard and fast rule. I’m sure other artists are a little more accommodating about it, but it just hurts me to feel like outlets are seeking my opinion as a representative of Black people instead of as a representative of Lizzie No Incorporated — like, my music. So that’s like my little mini rant about the past six months, because it’s been a lot of people dancing around the question, but, like, wanting me to basically give this soothing, hopeful, a little bit sad, a little bit traumatic peek into Black America. And I’m just not going to do it because it’s nobody’s business but my own, as the as the song goes. Do you have experiences of that as well?

Raye: So inspiring to hear you say all that, by the way, because I think that I have been very accommodating, and I have been less and less accommodating as the years have gone by.

But hearing you say all of that is inspiring to me, because I’m so heartbroken after a lot of interviews and I feel so emotionally drained. I just really like your attitude about it and I want to embody that more.

Lizzie: Well, my therapist tells me to protect my peace, so that’s what I’m trying to do.

Raye: Oh, my god, that’s amazing.I feel like in interviews it’s 70 percent about who I am and 30 percent about what I make. Whereas with a lot of other artists, especially white artists, they get to talk about 80 percent what they make and 20 percent who they are. It’s exhausting to constantly be explaining myself. My whole life, the first question people ask me is, “What are you?” Because I’m ethnically ambiguous. It’s gotten better over the years, but a lot of the interviews I do is like a long form of the “what are you” question.

Lizzie: Well, I have to say, that’s not because you’re ethnically ambiguous — though maybe you are — it’s because people are ignorant and they don’t know where to start. [Laughs.] People are dumb.

Raye: [Laughs.] Thanks for saying that. Yeah, it’s frustrating. I don’t love having interviews, to be honest, because I feel emotionally drained so much after them, and a lot of times people want me to talk about my Native American heritage. My Native American heritage is an incredibly traumatic story that I won’t get into because I don’t want to talk about it — but it’s a traumatic story to talk about, and a lot of times people will corner me into talking about it, and what my grandma went through and how she didn’t even talk about her story until she was on her last days because it was so traumatic. It’s really scary sometimes, every time I’m in an interview feeling like they’re going to go into trauma. I do write about the experiences of different ancestral traumatic things, but I agree with you that I wish that more of the questions would be about the music and then I could speak for myself when I want to explain something that is very sensitive and a matter that is really difficult to talk about.

Lizzie: I think the really interesting point is that, you talk about these things in your music and so do I. There are no there’s no lack of essays, books, movies about the traumatic experiences of people of color. So there’s no excuse to be ignorant about it at this point. And if you don’t know, it’s because you haven’t been reading and you haven’t been listening. So to ask someone for more is just so greedy to me. Like, you didn’t watch Roots? You didn’t know? You need you need me to explain it to you? I’m a musician, I’m not a historian. This isn’t my area of expertise. I’m not an educator. Why do you need one more person to tell you when I’ve already told you in my songs?

Raye: Yes, I feel you so hard on that. One time a friend said this to me, and it still kind of haunts me — I’d said how I was really hurt by all these interview questions, and they said, “You can’t, write about things in your music and then complain about talking about them.”

Lizzie: I don’t know about that. 

Raye: I guess in the moment I was like, she has a point. And then I realized: So, in my music, I cannot sing about things that are hard to talk about? Is that where we draw the line? I don’t know. What do you think about that?

Lizzie: I think that’s a privilege that white artists have been taking forever. Like, “I don’t speak on that.” Like, take the example of “You’re So Vain” — we still don’t know who that song is about, and that’s part of its mystery. I think we should get to have the same privilege. I should get to sing about things that I don’t want to talk explicitly about in interviews. I think I have that right just as much as a white artist who wants to not explain who their ex was.

Raye: I’m going to cry, Lizzie. I’m going to cry. 

Lizzie: You deserve that!

Raye: I really thought like, OK, well, I have to talk about it, right? This is, like, my duty.

Lizzie: Yeah, I mean, you don’t have to you don’t have to, like, go crazy on people. You don’t have to be offended at the question. But they shouldn’t be offended if your answer is “no thank you” to talking about it. 

Raye: I want to hear from you if there’s any action steps, what we can do as BIPOC folks and allies.

Lizzie: I think as people of color, we should keep being honest with each other, and make an effort — I often find myself surrounded by white people, and it takes a little bit more effort to find the other folk artists of color that are in my genre, but also share perhaps my racial or ethnic experience. So we need to keep building those bridges and having these types of conversations because it really is therapeutic. Sometimes we keep this shit bottled in, and we forget how therapeutic it is. 

I would say for white people that are either music fans, or have some amount of power: Use whatever power you have to give it to a person of color and not make it about you. I think if you’re just a music fan, make an effort to just go on your favorite streaming app and find two artists of color today that you haven’t heard of, and listen to their music and just take them seriously. Take them as seriously as you would a white artist. I know most fans are doing this already, but just make an effort to expand your library and expand who you’re familiar with. And so when someone asks you, “Who are you listening to lately?” You can just off the tip of your tongue come up with an artist of color instead of just defaulting to a white artist. 

I think the same goes for bookers. The same goes for artists — make your first recommendation a person of color. It doesn’t have to be your only recommendation. If you’re a booker and you’re looking to book someone for a festival or for a show, or you’re looking to interview someone as a journalist, is your first call a person of color? OK, great. That’s a great place to start. Just to pass the mic. It’s not about giving preferential treatment, it’s just about giving a first call instead of your first call always being to a white person.

Raye: Yeah. And then don’t make a whole hoopla about it. Just do it. People feel like every time they help out someone who’s a person of color, they have to get a pat on the back and have a celebration.

Lizzie: If you’re posting about it on social media and asking for validation of some kind, you’re doing it wrong. What do you think?

Raye: I agree with all of these things. I think that we need to pass the mic. I think that’s what we’re talking about, tokenization versus inclusion. Let the people of the group you’re looking to lift up speak for themselves, don’t speak for them. Give them main stage and center them, and not put us aside as like the you know, the extra thing at the side stage that people get to take less seriously — whether that’s literal or a non-literal. 

Lizzie: We’re not a sideshow. 

Raye: We’re not a sideshow, which is literally a lyric in my song “The It Girl”! I echo all of your action steps. Educate yourself, don’t look to people of color to educate you in their DMs.

Lizzie: That is a big one. Oh, my god. If people take away nothing from this, it’s like — unless you’re coming in with a compliment on my outfit, stay out of my DMs.

Raye: [Laughs.] If I get see your outfit right now, I would totally compliment it, I’m sure. 

Lizzie: Thank you, likewise. 

You were talking about the interviews that make you feel drained — this conversation is the exact opposite, because it was under our control and we got to set the terms. This is what it looks like to actually lift up women of color, giving us the mic to talk about what we want to talk about. I just feel so full right now. I feel so uplifted and just blessed to be in your presence and blessed to be talking about these things with you. That’s my last thought.

Raye: I feel the same way. We are the only people on the mic right now speaking for ourselves, and that is so empowering. I feel so full right now, and I feel emotionally charged rather than emotionally drained, which is not usually how I feel after interviews. So I’m so grateful to you, Lizzie.

Lizzie: Grateful to you too, Raye!

Raye Zaragoza is a New York City-born, Los Angeles-based folk singer-songwriter. Woman in Color, her sophomore album, is out now on Rebel River Records, her own independent label. The album delivers powerful missives about embracing one’s own identity and discovering the power behind it, all across brisk, emotive, compelling folk melodies. Once deemed “one of the most politically relevant artists in her genre” by Paste Magazine, Zaragoza now offers an intimate exploration of coming into her own, in a country where for many, simply existing is political.

For Woman In Color, Zaragoza enlisted Grammy-nominated producer Tucker Martine (Neko Case, My Morning Jacket, First Aid Kit, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens). In just 10, 10-hour days in Portland, the pair stretched Raye’s prolific songwriting into life-size experiences, adding lush layers of instrumentation with notable guest players including Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Laura Veirs, Dylan Day (Jenny Lewis), Andrew Borger (Norah Jones), and Kyleen King (Brandi Carlile).

(Photo Credit: Cultivate Consulting)