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Ayesha Rascoe

My commentary over the past few weeks has been driven by the politics – I’ve been worried, upset, and haven’t been sleeping very well, so even though some of us are still working on the election, I want to relax a little and talk about something that’s much more fun.

There’ve been comments about Ayesha Rascoe on the listener comment line. Here’s my take about her.

I certainly hear the African-American accents in her voice. Hallelujah.

I also hear her enthusiasm and I enjoy it.

Let me add that each new NPR voice potentially brings in a new audience to hear the quality of news that NPR provides. That matters.

So let’s back up. NPR has been breaking barriers for the benefit of us all since it was formed. Some of us remember the founding women of NPR – Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts – every one of them savvy, unique, warm, caring voices and every one a woman. I remember meeting Cokie Roberts’ father on a tour of the Capital years ago when he was the House majority leader – nobody was going to hide the politics from his daughter, Cokie, and I’ve used the Haggadah she and her husband wrote for interfaith families like theirs – and ours. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Nina Totenberg. She’s been a sane and insightful Supreme Court reporter, covering an institution I’ve studied and written about for decades. I’m all ears when she’s on the air. Linda Wertheimer had family ties to activism for a cleaner politics. I never got a taste for Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish but I loved the warmth in her voice much as I do Scott Simon’s warm voice now. I loved them all.

Warmth matters, by the way. I have never forgotten waking up decades ago to the description of a father wiping leaves off the coffin of his son in Central America as a result of the wars there. It matters that we care.

And it’s been obvious that NPR has continued bringing on reporters and hosts from all religious and family backgrounds – as a former Peace Corps Volunteer I notice those things and I’ve been delighted. NPR isn’t perfect – what human institution could be – but its view of the world is broad and much more helpful than most – which is why I listen. I treasure its diversity of voices and subjects – not just because they’re diverse but because their choices are enlightening. Not merely traditional, they probe and help us to see the world more deeply.

Rascoe is not the first African-American voice on NPR but she is the first that you didn’t have to Google to find out. On television you can see, but on radio you have to hear or be told. Her speech isn’t traditional or familiar for some people but then purists like me shake our fists at people who talk about “this point in time” when they could just have said “now.” Yes, I hate cliches.

Rascoe is no cliché – she’s a breathe of fresh air.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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