Activists discuss ‘beauty, resilience, genius of being black’ in SXSW panel

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Audience members awaiting the start of the panel in the The LINE’s Onyx Ballroom were greeted with the soft, catchy sounds of hip-hop instrumentals. The mood set by the music served as a stark contrast of the topics discussed by the panelists.

In this SXSW event, Black Lives Matter movement co-founder Patrisse Cullors and young tech whiz Iddris Sandu sat down with Damon + Damon podcast hosts Damon Davis and Damon Turner to share their thoughts on black advocacy.

The panel served as more of a live podcast recording in which Davis and Turner would start the conversation and then invite Cullors and Sandu to accompany them on stage.

Starting with the discussion of recent events, Davis touched on his dilemma regarding sexual assault cases involving members of the black community such as R. Kelly and Bill Cosby. Davis said this generation’s access to information has made the public more aware of “the duality of humanity.”

“The world is a weird place, and maybe it’s always been that way,” Davis said. “But I also think because we have access to a lot of information, we can see a lot more.”

As two creatives, the Damon + Damon co-hosts discussed the challenges they’ve faced using art to advocate for their community. To Turner, empowering black Americans is the best avenue for creating change.

“This idea of telling children and ourselves that we have the ability to create life and change the state we’re in is godly,” Turner said. “If we’re not thinking in those terms of how we want to heal our people, we’re doing a disservice.”

The duo also saw hope in healing the black community because of the different skill sets advocates have. For Turner, the events in Ferguson best displayed this variety.

“It’s a beautiful time that we have so many different people in so many different areas that can really shift power,” Turner said.

The panel’s first guest speaker, Sandu, represented the diversity in black advocacy. As a leader in the tech industry, Sandu believes technology has the capability to advance black rights regardless of the small fraction the community makes up in the field today.

“If we use (technology) as a vessel to tell our messages, we’ll always be in control,” Sandu said. “(The problem with diversity in tech) isn’t a technological bias, it’s an algorithmic bias.”

Bringing technology into the panel also brought up concerns on encouraging the community to adopt such tools of change. Sandu said the best way of achieving this is introducing technology in ways that show its benefits.

“Anything (about technology’s impact) can be said, but it’s about how they’re said,” Sandu said. “It’s not that people don’t care. You just need to show them how it applies to their lives.”

Cullors, the final guest of the panel, entered the stage welcomed by applause and multiple camera shots. Prefacing her ideas with rapper 21 Savage’s recent detainment by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Black Lives Matter organizer said social media has played a pivotal role in the movement’s progress.

“The brilliance of social media is that it allowed (black Americans) to tell the stories, and the next step is how we create the next tool first so we don’t have to use theirs to tell our stories,” Cullors said.

However, all four speakers agreed pinpointing a founder to the Black Lives Matter movement was difficult and useless. Because of the country’s tendency to forget the past, Cullors said people disregard that such advocacy has happened for centuries.

“Living under white supremacy, you have to (advocate) over and over again,” Cullors said. We live in a country that has amnesia.”

Though solving problems involving black Americans is a tough route to navigate, Sandu said with collaboration the answers they’ve been searching for will come to the surface.

“We’re only life forms,” Sandu said. “We don’t have all the answers, but as a community we can figure them all out together.”