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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kety at Blacks in Techs at SXSW

Earlier this month I was asked if I would participate in the Blacks in Techs panel at SXSW.  Not being Black, I was curious why I was being asked to present.  The organizers shared that their invitation was spurred by their desire to create a panel which would discuss issues that affect not only the Black community but also other communities of color like the Latino and Asian community.  

Given that context and being Latina, I accepted considering it an honor to be able to speak on a panel at Blacks in Tech in solidarity with amazing Black folks in tech at SXSW and the local Austin community.  I was honored because I hold in high regard the opportunity presented by and the need for Black and Brown collaboration and was thrilled to be, in this small way, a part of that; and I was honored because the Black in Tech folks did over the course of their five year evolution at SXSW what I was hoping we could do with the Latino community this year and next.  Moreover, the Latinos in Tech meet up at SXSW which is happening today was inspired in great part in my participation last year at SXSW and seeing what the folks at Blacks in Tech had done.  So to me it seemed only logical to accept and say yes. 

The panel was phenomenal.  The conversation rich.  It spanned over one hour and while many people did not see the whole thing, it was great to be able to share it with those that did.  One of my favorite parts of the panel was our focus on ensuring that we as communities of color be not only the consumers of technology but also the producers, the entrepreneurs, the leaders, the panelists, the speakers, the business owners and the investors.  I am clear that this is the solution and I will be discussing this in further detail during my panel today at SXSW Future 15 at 3:30pm ACC Level 3 Room 9abc. 


It was in the midst of this that the controversial question was asked.  Someone came to the microphone and asked why we (myself and one Asian panelists) were on the panel given the fact that we were not Black and this was a Blacks in Tech event.  Having had this same question myself when first approached to speak, I did not take the question personally.  I thought it was a valid one.  The context of the question was as follows - given the fact that I and the Asian panelist were there, we were taking away an opportunity for two other talented Black folks in tech to be on the panel.  Given the lack of representation of people of color, Black and Brown at conferences like SXSW I completely understand the spirit in which this question was asked and did not take it personally.  However, I was very clear in my response that the reason I had accepted had not been to take away but to try to give back and contribute to a larger conversation of Black and Brown partnership and solidarity.  That was the context in which I had been invited, as a Latina and that was the context in which I had accepted.  

Although I wasn't insulted by the question, other folks at the panel were.  Several people walked out in the middle of the question.  After the panel, several other folks came up to me en mass and apologized embarrassed by what had been said.  One of the panelists drafted a blog post sharing his impression of what had happened: http://om.ly/gxP.

My take away is as I have posted here, namely:

1- Communities of color need to work together in solidarity.
2- I am always honored to be a part of that when invited to do so in the spirit of partnership and collaboration.
3- There is a need for more opportunities to feature experts in tech from communities of color. At present conferences do not represent folks from our various communities on panels in a proportional way to our White counterparts.  I am hopeful that next year SXSW and other conferences have many Black and Brown folks on panels not only as a part of a #LatinosinTech event or a #BlacksinTech event but in a way that is proportional to the numbers in which we exist nationally and internationally. 
4- There is always not just one truth.  My father's lessons from childhood when he taught me Aesop's fable about the elephant are as true now as ever.  We are all blind men and women standing around the elephant and all of the pieces that we hold are true and yet none of them are true on its own individually.  The elephant has a tail that resembles a rope.  The elephant has an ear that resembles a fan.  The elephant has legs which resemble tree trunks.  And in the end it is in truth an elephant.  

I am hopeful that we can continue to work together  within our own communities and between our communities to build power and continue to raise our voices individually and collectively to make this nation and the world a better place through tech. 


It is only together that we're going to be able to take on that elephant in the room. 

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Not being there at SXSW and being a follower of both ppl i appreciated your POV and thank you for sharing. I support #LATISM and #BLCK all day long. I wish Black people could see that there is no thing wrong with having an internal discussion and conversation within the Black Community first. Then going outside the community; also wasn't it a little weird that the panel was called BlacksinTech if the creator wanted to be diverse which is ok and great. Why not just call it BrowninTech? Anyways have a great time i am now following you and looking forward to your tweets.

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  3. This wouldn't have been an issue if the organizers conceived and marketed the panel with the panelists' diversity in mind.

    (i.e they could named the panel Humanity in Tech - giggle)

    The idea that Black should be a considered the ideal catchall term for minorities seems so behind the times and counterproductive for a collective of people who are embracing all the possibilities that technology can offer to anyone.

    I think it's fair that the blogger was able to voice a valid opinion and I think it's tremendous of you to respond with insight, clarity and awareness.

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  4. ILUVBlackWomen, You ask, "also wasn't it a little weird that the panel was called BlacksinTech if the creator wanted to be diverse which is ok and great. Why not just call it BrowninTech?" To the best of my knowledge, this panel was not called BlacksinTech. This was a BlacksinTech event with a panel which asked for insights from three black, one Latina and one Asian panelists. It's kind of like if Latinos in Social Media has a panel on multiculturalism and asks for someone from the black community to represent on it. Hope that helps to clarify a bit the distinction to the best of my understanding/knowledge. Thanks for your feedback and looking forward to our continuing the conversation on Twitter!

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  5. I am not Star Jones, Txs 4ur comment! I don't think that the idea was to use Black as a catchall term for folks of color- that was definitely not my understanding when I agreed to participate. The idea was to invite other folks to participate in a multicultural conversation at a Blacks in Tech event. That being said I too think it's fair that the blogger was able to voice her opinion and I thank you for your generous comments regarding my response. Yours in solidarity, K

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  6. Great post by Jose - TheJLV

    Torii Hunter, Blacks in Tech, and really big elephants. Featuring @KetyE. Right now: http://is.gd/aF27D

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