Diversity Begins to Scale at SXSW

by Patricia Aufderheide

Photo by Steven Snow

SXSW seemed to take diversity more seriously than in the past. There were more women on panels and keynoting; diversity issues were integrated into discussions as well as being the topics of individual panels.

Scaling diversity also means creating space for different kinds of conversations. For instance, there were more, and more prominently featured African-American speakers and panels than in the past, and they brought in eager and engaged crowds of color, too. The talk was often frank and funny, a claiming of space and conversational agenda-setting:

Hurray for good enough. Black creators deserve to be just as mediocre as white ones, and still make a living. This was prompted, in several panels, by the news that Wrinkle in Time’s opening-weekend box office wouldn’t reach that of Black Panther. “We have never been given permission to make less than great art,” said Luvvie Ajayi (I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual). “Everything shouldn’t have to break a record to be a success.”

Not your savior. It’s not black people’s job to enlighten white people. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “It’s often been the way for black writers to soften their words so white people will read them. That takes all the fun about it for me.” He said he should be less surprised when white people (including most of the overflow SXSW crowd for his keynote) listen to him. When Ajayi said in exasperation, “It’s time for white people to get it together,” comedian W. Kamau Bell said, “Finally? Really?”  

 I’m tired. It’s exhausting to deal with white supremacy day-in, day-out, and worse when the White House is encouraging it. When April Reign (#OscarsSoWhite) said she gives herself permission to take a time out and needs to do more of it, the audience snapped in agreement.

Oh, now you noticed. The current embrace of young people in a post-Parkland environment looked to Ajayi and others like white privilege at work, given the way Ferguson and Black Lives Matter protesters have been portrayed and treated.

What’s good for the blacks? Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, in a live podcast of “The Nod,” attracted a passionate audience of mostly-African-American fans. They deliciously hashed over the question of whether Killmonger (from Black Panther) is good or bad for the blacks. In the process eliciting all-too-familiar horror stories of bad white behavior, including from elementary school teachers, from their guests Kara Brown and Aaron Edwards.


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