But Why Tho? is a mostly Discord-based community for gamers and pop culture nerds of all walks, particularly BIPOC folks. But beyond that, it's also a podcast network and website that focuses on highlighting diverse voices. It's co-founder, Kate Sánchez, has gone through a lot to get it where it is now.
Sánchez started her professional career in academia. At one point, she was pursuing a PhD with a focus on pop culture and anthropology, specializing in identity construction around race and religion in media. But Sánchez didn't end up finishing that degree due to the toll it took on her mental health. Part of that toll was the racism and sexism she experienced while in her PhD program. That's how But Why Tho? originally came to be.
But Why Tho? is a website and podcast network that focuses on pop culture, from video games, to comic books, to movies, and more. At first, it was only the flagship But Why Tho? podcast. "When I knew I was gonna leave [academia] I thought about what I would miss, which was teaching and research," Sánchez said. "So, I started a podcast."
After about a year of podcasting, though, Sánchez was starting to feel frustrated with the lack of people of color she was seeing in coverage for video games, film, and TV, as a Latine woman herself. At the time she wasn't a very online person, and wasn't able to see a lot of people like her in the mainstream coverage she was reading. So Sánchez and her co-hosts, including her husband and co-founder Matt, decided to experiment with something.
"We had a very active community and we decided to see if anyone wanted to turn the questions they sent to us or their own perspective into just blogging," she said. "So we started with just community members who wanted a place to call home and by nature of, well, being brown in the space, I realized that it wasn't important to just talk myself but do what I could to give folks a way to talk themselves."
"We started not to make money or even really be journalists, we started as a bunch of hobbyists just wanting to create a space ourselves," Sánchez continued. "For me I wanted an outlet for my love of pop culture and analysis, and eventually, I wanted to create a space for people to do what they wanted, say what they wanted, and do so without feeling like they had to stifle their identity to fit others."
Since then, But Why Tho? has continued to develop and grow as an outlet and site for diverse writers to express themselves. According to Sánchez, several of the writers who have worked at But Why Tho? are now Rotten Tomatoes Certified critics, or have gone on to pursue other freelance writing endeavors. Writers have also covered pretty big games on the site itself, including Far Cry 6.
Additionally, the But Why Tho? community has raised over $4,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital through charity streaming and other fundraising events, and are shooting to raise even more this year. Perhaps most impressive, their community on Discord is stronger than ever, often hosting movie nights and other events during the week for community members.
A lot of care went into the construction of the But Why Tho? community. "Me and my husband [Matt] did the bulk of the community building, with me doing outreach and Matt running moderation tools and finding what we could use," Sánchez said. "We knew we wanted to build a space for dialogue and interaction so we kind of modeled it off of the discord we were in for streamers. The big thing for us was providing open forums to discuss not just what we were writing, but everything more largely and do it in a way that didn't feel hostile or toxic like what happens on Twitter."
Beyond making folks feel at home having hard or complicated discussions, Sánchez and her husband also put a major focus on moderation tools to protect their community, as many folks are marginalized in one way or another. "We have a lot of BIPOC and other marginalized identities writing and podcasting under us. So, protection and moderation has been key," she said. "A lot of the time our focus for building the community is how we can: 1. Let our writers showcase their authentic selves, and 2. Make sure me and Matt are doing the most to protect them from online bad actors."
"The foundation was actually anticipating all the harm that could happen, which I dealt with first hand in the beginning from folks I won't mention," Sánchez continued. "And then moved into how to make this sustainable to a whole community to keep them safe without feeling stifled."
Though this work has been challenging in many ways, But Why Tho? has remained steadfast. After a bit of a break, Sánchez is excited to bring their "Let's Talk" panel series back on a more regular basis. "We bring experts together to discuss different elements of pop culture," said Sánchez. "During Pride, we held a queer storytelling in anime/manga, to go with the launch of F9 we brought together critics including a lot for folks from the AAFCA to discuss the lating impact of Fast and the Furious, and we've even talked about translation and localization work or, you know, Mass Effect!"
The goal of these panels is to have conversations, showcase expertise, and demonstrate that these spaces aren't just for white people. This is a mission the community has embraced excitedly. "It's been a passion project that is created and run by community members," she said. "Each member picks a topic, moderates it, and finds guests while I work production and Matt runs moderation. It's been amazing to host and even better to see the people who come to the Twitch streams."
Getting the Let's Talk panels back in gear was actually the result of another film critic reaching out to Sánchez to ask permission for her teen daughters to follow Sánchez on Instagram to view her anime and manga content. "She said that she never sees Latinas like me in the space and she wanted her girls to cultivate their love of the medium," she said. "And when we thought of doing video content, this was just the logical step: continue including people in on the convo and have fun too."