Yesterday I agreed to participate in the SXSW Blacks In Tech panel organized by Jeffrey Bowman from Ogilvy held at the beautiful Carver Library Auditorium.
I had met Jeffrey last year at SXSW after I spoke on a panel about “social currency” and since we have kept in touch sharing conversations about the state of media, advertising and even our families so it was a no-brainer when he called and asked that I speak at the last minute. To add something to the mix I also suggested to my friends at multicultural agency Walton Isaacson that they get Lexus involved and they immediately stepped up and supported Blacks In Tech at the last minute.
The panel included myself, R&B artist/producer Ryan Leslie, Sean Seibel from Microsoft, Kety Esquivel of Latinos in Social Media, and Nichelle Stephens from Keeping Nickels. We engaged in a conversation around the theme of people of color and technology and how to move our communities and share knowledge. Though the organization is called Blacks In Tech, Bowman expanded the vision this year to include non-African Americans into the panel conversation. I was extremely eager to hear and speak on the panel with Kety Esquivel as I spend a fair amount of time exploring the hispanic market in my work as a social media agency and I’ve been an “honorary member” of #LATISM a group of professional latinos in social media and I’m extremely fond of their founders Anna Roca Castro and Louis Pagan. Katy Esquivel shared that inspired by last year’s #BlacksInTech she decided to pull together a #latinosintech event at this year’s SXSW which I will be attending.
The conversation around race and technology past, current, future was healthy until we were unfortunately “Kanye’d” by Faith Dow a blogger from ActsofFaithBlog.com. Faith used her microphone time in Q&A to start a “Jerry Maguire” moment and blast Jeffrey Bowman and the panel. Her complaints were centered on the fact that the event was called “Blacks In Tech” however the panelists were not all Black. She felt like there were talented African Americans who should have been on the panel in their place. She continued her rant to say that the panel content and the motivations behind were centered in commercialism something our communities needed less of. Lastly she was angered that we “mentioned” people like Russell Simmons and Puffy who are known for misogynistic music.
Her actions were out of line, insensitive, rude and not an “Act of Faith.” Her claims were unfounded, unmerited and not completely true.
It’s important to share why:
1) Are we as African Americans not interested in the thoughts and vision of people like Kety Esquivel, a thought leader in the hispanic market? Can’t we learn from our brethren. Or for that matter “others.” I’m not sure where gleaning from the experience of ANYBODY who wants to share and help our communities is a bad thing. The agenda MUST include voices from other communities because we live in a multi cultural and global world. As a contributor to CNN on the Weekend News I have covered issues of race during the Professor Gates incident. My curation online lead to a discussion group called #TRIA-Talking Race In America led by an asian colleague I had never met in Seattle who wanted to continue the dialogue. Not to mention the countless conversations of race and moving our communities forward I have had with my client Jane Fonda, a woman who I might add was a huge supporter of the Black Panther party in the 70′s. An organization I know a little something about….
2) She complained of “commercialism” which was incorrect. Our examples were about building businesses and communities and how individuals could use these examples to improve the divide in the African American communities. In the African American community the examples of entrepreneurialism are sometimes best illustrated via those in entertainment. The references made to P-Diddy and Russell were not about applauding their entertainment content but rather showing that through digital technologies young people have the ability eclipse any of their accomplishments and that this is the new frontier for building businesses.
3) Jeffrey Bowman, all of the panelists including myself took time out of an extremely busy SXSW to be there to speak. Though the panel ran over in time and I missed several other commitments I stayed to honor my commitment to Blacks In Tech.
4) Her comments made most of the non-African Americans (and African Americans, a few who walked out) extremely uncomfortable. And that accomplishes what??????
None of these really mattered because based on Faith’s twitter timeline this “bomb” was pre-mediated and in fact she has begun to to puff out her chest via Twitter and feel proud of her ridiculous actions. After she proudly left the mic I asked her “So what is your solution?” As expected there was no solution. These were not questions, this was a stage for her. If she felt so strongly to take her barely audible, horse voice to a mic why not create an event like Jeffrey Bowman did EXCLUSIVELY for African Americans. She, like Bowman can go out find a venue, secure sponsors, lock down speakers and do the same thing at another conference. Will she do it?? NO. Why you ask. Because like so many others Mrs. Dow just wanted to have her moment without any thought towards a solution. (SIDEBAR: I often refer to this as the “BLACK STUDENT UNION SYNDROME” because it reminds me of my high school days in Black Student Union in which students would talk non-stop in order to be heard with nothing behind it which used to drive us crazy.) At the end of the day this was not about productivity or moving anything forward, this was about a woman who wanted to damper a positive evening. Not sure how this was an ACT of faith but it was an ACT that attempted to take a movement backwards. Not on my watch….