SXSW: Black Lives Matter panel calls for support of black businesses, causes

Posted March 15th, 2016

The placement of Tuesday’s South by Southwest panel “#BlackLivesMatter: New Solutions to Old Problems” in one of the smaller rooms in the JW Marriott in downtown Austin felt somewhat suspicious to some panelists and audience members.

“They keep this conversation over here, away from the celebrities,” said Chas Moore, one of the founders of the Austin Justice Coalition. “It’s inclusive, but they’ve excluded us from the dance.” 

The packed room listened to a discussion that focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, which featured Moore and Austin Justice Coalition co-founder Fatima Mann. 

Black Lives Matter wasn’t born out of police brutality, said Mann, saying that its focus is on fighting systemic racism. But police brutality has pushed the movement to the forefront of a national conversation about police and minority relations. 

Last month’s fatal police shooting of David Joseph, an unarmed black teen, has become a rallying cry for local Black Lives Matter activists, who held a public vigil downtown last Saturday, protested at City Hall and attended a spirited meeting of the civilian panel tasked with providing oversight on the investigation into Joseph’s death

Tuesday’s panel touched on the importance of supporting black-owned businesses, how racism in America has evolved from the overt practices of the pre-civil rights era, and the insidious new forms that racism has taken online and in mass media. 

“It was different when it was outright,” Moore said. “It’s like sugar on a cake; I can’t see it, but I can taste it.” 

At one point, Mann asked audience members to raise their hands if their parents had ever instructed them on how to act when pulled over by a police officer. Mann wasn’t surprised to see that those with their hands down were mostly white. 

“There’s not a degree that can tell you what being black in America is like, but a black person can tell you,” Mann said. 

How to support a more equitable society? With dollars, Mann said. She urged black attendees to support black businesses and donate to black causes, and white attendees to also give, but to understand that their dollars don’t give them control of the cause. 

“It’s about understanding your privilege and being able to relinquish some of it for equity,” Moore said. 

As for SXSW next year, Mann said she hopes to be replaced by a new generation of young activists. 

And if a Black Lives Matter panel got moved into the convention center, that’d be nice too, Moore said.

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