Wednesday, April 3, 2013

More Black and Brown People at South by South West (SXSW) Please!

"If technology doesn't see race, that's actually a problem." 
 by HaJ

Left to right: Ayo, HaJ, Pamela Jennings, Sabrina Harvey and Nicole Valentine
This past March I was invited to speak on the Blacks in Technology (BiT) panel at South by South West (SXSW), Elevate the Game: Maverick Women Recode the Future, along with Pamela Jennings, CEO of Noble Wire, Sabrina Harvey, CEO of Art of Genius Tech Education & Women Interactive, and Nicole Valentine, President of Synergy Business Development and Ayoka Chenzira, filmmaker and interactive digital media artist as well as my co-creator and director of HERadventure an interactive, sci-fi movie. Ayoka and I developed HERadventure, which also debuted at SXSW.

Left to right: Denver Louis, Mary Pryor, Nicole Valentine, HaJ, Ayo
 On the first day of the festival that takes place every year in Austin, Texas, we ran into social media guru Michael Street and urban socialista Mary Pryor at Whole Foods. I guess a gathering of people of color was unusual here for minutes into our conversation an older white woman came up to us super excited expressing that she had never seen anything like “this” before. She admired Mary’s Afri-centric head wrap and complimented how beautiful everyone was while continue to stare in awe at the brown people before her. She then returned to finish drinking wine with her male friend who was about 20ft away. Even after returning to her table she kept staring at us. This woman’s perspective seemed to be a reflection of our presence at SXSW. Out of thousands of attendees you could probably count the number of people of color on one hand and have fingers left over. Ayo and I were apart of a smaller number of people of color who were presenting a project. One could argue a number of reasons as to why that was but it certainly isn’t because people of color aren’t innovative.

During out BiT Panel, meaningful conversations came about as it related to the importance of women and people of color advancing in the field of technology, specifically gaming and coding. However if the funding and information is only being distributed to largely one group of people then the experiences developed from new technologies will not reflect diversity of ideas and perspectives. Remember the YouTube video of the Black guy pointing out that the HP face recognition technology didn’t seem to recognize his blackness?   

This is why initiatives like Black Girls Code founded by Kimberly Bryant are so crucial.

BiT has taken a tremendous step in the right direction with creating panels and programming to provide information from people of color in technology and entertainment that's innovative at SXSW. We can only hope that initiatives alike will continue to be embraced, supported and expand into an integrated experience for everyone (including white people).

A friend of mine said to me that the Internet does not see race, it just calculates information according to zeroes and ones. I would argue that NOT seeing race is a problem. Or, being so in shock like the woman at Whole Foods because you’re not used to seeing a group of people of a different race is a problem. 

Being a part of a woman and gaming panel and presenting HERadventure our interactive, sci-fi movie starring a reluctant, female, alien, superhero who also happens to be a woman of color allowed us to continue pushing (or rather opening up) the envelope to empower those who seem to have gotten lost in the zero and ones. To find more about HERadventure visit the website

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