Best Black Panels at SXSW Interactive 2012

Jay-Z's concert and talks featuring African Americans in tech were highlights at this year's fest.

Courtest of Brandon Fuller
Courtest of Brandon Fuller

With an estimated 13,000 attendees, the popularity of SXSW Interactive — the technology segment of the 10-day South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, which also focuses on music and film — has exploded. It featured 15 venues as well as hundreds of high-profile collaborations, including a surprise concert from Jay-Z (thrown by American Express to promote its new sync service).

The party circuit was alive and well: Since the first official Blacks in Technology meet-up back in 2008, the Blacks in Tech event, hosted at the Carver Center, has been a must-attend happening for the black digerati who want to make connections. The Austin Chamber of Commerce also reached out to black entrepreneurs with its own pre-conference event on March 8. With the black film Gimme the Loot winning the grand jury prize for best narrative feature, African-American tastemakers are having a moment. 

It’s impossible to condense five days of parties and panels into a tips list, but here are the panels that are worth downloading when the podcasts come out.

CNN’s “Black in America/Silicon Valley: Aftermath

CNN’s Black in America series took to the SXSW panel arena to follow up on its controversial hit “Black in America: The New Promised Land — Silicon Valley.” Soledad O’Brien joined entrepreneurs Wayne Sutton, Hajj Flemings and Hank Williams to discuss the fallout from the hourlong program. Audience members were excited to continue the conversation and discussed how to get young African Americans more invested in the digital space.

Key tweet: Starting Point CNN (@StartingPtCNN) live-tweeted the full event and made sure to record Sutton’s note that bias will always be there but “we can make progress.”

Panel audio: Can be heard here.

Social Media Sharecropping

Gina McCauley, lead writer for What About Our Daughters and creator of the Blogging While Brown conference, focused on a different element of Twitter: the lack of avenues for wealth creation, a pressing issue in the era of user-generated content. McCauley posed hard questions about whether or not social media was a new form of sharecropping: Are black users of Twitter making someone else rich off their labors? The provocative panel prompted some soul-searching by those in the audience, particularly when McCauley explained that starting a blog to get rich was a fool’s errand.

Key tweet: Linn Groft (@linngroft) shares McCauley’s key thoughts on what holds black digital entrepreneurs back, including “debt cycles.”

Panel audio: Can be heard here.