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

How to Read the World

The star this year was Baratunde Thurston. A longtime member of the community at SXSW, Thurston emceed last year’s tech awards and hosted and participated in several panels, including a 15-minute solo talk on “How to Be Black,” which became his top-selling book, published in January. This year he graced the stage as a heavily anticipated keynoter — the only African American to receive top billing at the Interactive festival. Oglivy Notes, which provide visual representations on major talks, provided two artists for Baratunde. Speaking of his family history, his mother’s history of protest and a man named El Dorado, #keynotunde was by all measures a success.

Key tweet: Owen Thomas (@owenthomas) said, “Takeaway from @baratunde: Subversive Web satire is doing more for regime change than soldiers and spies ever could. #keynotunde

Panel audio: Can be heard here.

Tech Superwomen: Mentors and Mentees, FTW

Cathryn Posey, the founder of Tech by Superwomen, had a problem. Why was there such a huge gap in women’s participation in technology fields? Her answer: mentors that were missing in action. During her panel, Posey convened some of the leading minds in tech and business and asked them how they saw the problem.

Key tweet: Digitas (@digtias) points to the relevant statistics: “Women represent less than 10% of corporate board seats & 3% of venture-backed companies. We need to change that – @nilofer #TXSW#sxswi

Panel audio: Can be heard here.

Race: Know When to Hold It and When to Fold It

(Full disclosure: I stepped in to moderate the panel after the original moderator bowed out. I did not have a role in the planning or pitching.)

Do African Americans need to be the ambassadors for the entire race when moving in white tech environments? While the panel Adria Richards envisioned focused on solutions for folks diversifying tech conferences, the conversation quickly moved on to discussing the realities that professionals of color face in their careers.

Key tweet: Jorge Rivas (@thisisjorge) quotes Anjuan Simmons (@anjuan): “We should always be ambassadors … I’m always one data point in people’s perspective about black people.”

Panel audio: Not yet available.

Latoya Peterson is the editor of and a contributing editor to The Root

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