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For Brands Who Want To Help Us Be Free | SXSW 2021

Baratunde Thurston
Member Board Of Trustees at Brooklyn Public Library
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SXSW 2021
March 16, 2021, Online, Austin, USA
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About speaker

Baratunde Thurston
Member Board Of Trustees at Brooklyn Public Library

Baratunde Thurston is an Emmy-nominated futurist comedian, writer, and cultural critic who helped relaunch the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, co-founded Cultivated Wit and the About Race podcast, and wrote the New York Times best-seller How To Be Black. He is the host of the iHeartMedia podcast Spit and is a highly sought-after public speaker, television personality, and thought leader who has been part of noteworthy institutions such as Fast Company, TED, the MIT Media Lab, the Onion, and the gentrification of Brooklyn, New York. Thurston has an uncanny ability to crack the shell of any uncomfortable topic through a personal, accessible, and intelligent point of view.

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About the talk

Baratunde Thurston will talk about racism, insurrection, and digital exploitation. He’ll connect 1619 to COVID-19. He’ll somehow weave in Quibi (R.I.P.) And he’ll point a way forward that calls on all of us, especially brands and businesses, to claim and exercise our collective power as citizens to shape a society that benefits all people. Baratunde expects you to take notes during this talk then consider those notes a to-do list then get to work. Delivering liberty and justice for all is a full-employment initiative.

About SXSW:

SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. An essential destination for global professionals, this year’s online event features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, professional development and a variety of networking opportunities. For more information, please visit sxsw.com.

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I want to tell you a story of where we are where I think we can go and what might be required to help us get there to do that. I got to run it back to the beginning and first of all this was going to happen for the next 20 or so minutes. I'm just going to talk if like a like a one-sided conversation, right? There you go. But you probably smells right? Then I know you did, I hope you did. About 12 months ago. I knew things were going to be weird because it was a Friday, the 13th. And I went

to the Whole Foods in Burbank, California. And they ran out of kale. Whole Foods. Ran out of kale. There's a lot that I didn't see coming in 2020. That top of the list because Whole Foods has two jobs job. Once. Cale job to overcharge for said, kale, it's like, that's the whole food brand. So, how do you not deliver on that brand prophecy Jose like overpriced? And it was rough. I had a rough go of that. Visit. Not only because they have run out of kale and ginger, but because this lady just like stole the last banana I was clearly reaching for it.

She looked me dead in the eye. She was like my banana. And I got punked and I had to come home and Shane. I'm glad I survived with my life. Not so much my dignity. It's been a wild ride. We've been using Zoom. I want to update that language. A bit tzumi. Usage has grown I don't think that's the right language. I think we've been Hostage to tomb. Held captive by once-in-a-century phenomenon. Time will tell if we really want to be doing the zoom life thing. Back when covid, hit the United States, we all got told a story. We were somewhat made a

promise. They told us that covid with equal opportunity. It would come for us. All it doesn't discriminate. It was like the post-racial America of Novel. Coronavirus is a Barack Obama virus if you will, and I wouldn't because that's not how it turned out. That was a lie. Covid, didn't itself. Discriminate. It does not take on human weakness in that way. But the systems we designed to protect us from it. Well they do they were designed to over many hundreds, maybe even

thousands of years such that only certain people over exposed to this virus. Certain people live too far from equality, Hospital could be privatized public. Certain people are deemed essential workers and yet we throw them by the wayside. Certain people don't have the economic wherewithal to withstand stay-at-home orders, work-from-home orders, who can even exercise the choice of working from home. All that's used with the Hue of your skin color. By Design. But we

were told this was a shared sacrifice, and I remember seeing early news reports of police being called on black people for wearing mask. Then when they figured out, we should wear mask after all the Asian countries like you should be wearing masks. Both calling the cops on black people for wearing masks because they look suspicious. But it also see a video footage of cop violently assaulting black people for not wearing mask. So, which is it to mask or not to mask? That is the question though. There is no, right answer, because there's no right way to be black

and a pandemic. Cuz there's no right way to be black in the United States of America by Design. We are stressed at this point. In the story, we are traps at home. We are bereft of all kinds of distraction and attainment and at Chic memory moment Memorial Day. Amy Cooper day. We get this powerful scene it's almost like the game masters of America huddled in the room and decided we cannot let the country fall to a foreign virus. We need to fall. If at all, do the good old-fashioned homegrown white supremacy and systemic racism, give me a white woman in yoga pants with a dog and a

strong sense of entitlement. Put her in Central Park. Now, give me a call MacLean on threatening black, man. I mean, literally into Comics. Can you make him? Like Ivy league-educated, into tiny animals, New York Audubon Society board member and homosexual Christian Cooper. No relation into the scene And we saw Amy Cooper, do with history enabled, her to weaponize access to state power. And attempt to rain down hell on a fellow American. I'm going to call the police on you and tell them that African-American man

is threatening me in the life of my dog. And that's where the the Oscar win, not just nomination comes in because she dragged the dog into the sea. But you didn't and on that same day about a thousand miles away, a different 911. Call got placed this one ending in a much more deadly fashion and we all saw Derek shop in Foley murder George Floyd in broad daylight in front of the public on camera in full view with permission silent consent. 4/8 minutes. Is something in US. Broke something in me.

Broke something in you. I am sure broke, too, because it was irrefutable. The inhumanity. Was undeniable. And people took to the streets for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But to understand that moment, understand this journey, we've been all we got to rewind back into that Journey about 3 weeks, there was a difference at a protest on the street for life liberty and the pursuit of haircuts. Let us not forget the perm Riots of the summer of 2020 people in there. Don't tread on me in there, a AR-15 storming, the state houses, Sweden, covid-19 into the faces

of the blue Lives, who allegedly matter. Such a Ruckus. Did they make for access to Supercuts which I can somewhat understand? I'm overdue for a cut myself but it never occurred to me to wrap up. And shut down the Michigan legislature. To be fair, the men with guns didn't demand, the government, shut down the government, just shut down. To let the men with guns. Decide what it is? They did want. Maybe it was actually access to 24 Hour Fitness and not merely Supercuts.

That was a dry run. That was a dress for her. So that was a practice round for what we would see in the attack on the capitol on Jan 6th 2021. The back in our summer of discontent. After Derek Chauvin slowly murders George Floyd and we have no distraction. No brunch, no basketball, everything's canceled. All we can look at is the truth. Of what happened of what has been happening in this country and to a large extent in this world until people took to the streets, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

and funny enough. The same government that couldn't find in 95 masks, for Frontline. Health care workers, couldn't find face shields for a facial grocery store, worker found, plenty of gas masks, and plenty of riot shield, in plenty of tear gas to be used against members of the public, but not even against our enemies in the field of War. Simply begging for mercy. Please just don't kill us all the way out in the street though. Maybe we should ask for haircuts. With guns, but we know how that would have ended

in a lot more Bloodshed than a lot more death. This point in the story, I am bereft of any kind of feeling or energy, I am remembering the exhaustion. The anger. The pain. Dispense nest of it all. And I'm also remembering. My phone blowing up. White people alert I was getting called and text from white people. I had forgotten. I knew it was truly something remarkable and am so sorry for what's happening? Bird Sunday. This must be so terrible for you. I can only imagine how tough this is for

you. But let me tell you how tough it is. For me. Also, could you send me like a 10-point plan for how to become an anti-racist in the next few days? Cuz I'm trying to make it to Coachella next year? We should wrap this up real quick. It was a lot. And the people who took to the streets, didn't always look like the people I'm used to seeing people who look like me, like this court of human being with the brown skin and the kinky hair and the broad nose know there was so many others there. And that lifted my heart a bit.

Even as it remained broken. I remember seeing these moments, I'm a white person stepping in between the police and the crowd of black people and just weeping. I remember walking around my neighborhood in figuring out that it was the white neighbors, who put the black lives matter signs in their yards. I never would have seen black lives matter signs as leading indicator of gentrification in Phil 2020. I remember seeing Mitt Romney out in the streets.

Saying, black lives matter on black lives matter Boulevard. I couldn't what Mitt Romney's there to meet. You always go down as the man who tried to take the black president away from me. He's a decent person, he's a competent. Senator who is often put the rule of law above is party but mostly halfway through the Journey. No, no the Mitt Romney thought Brave or safe or both enough. Go out to the street to say black lives matter. and the thing that really got to me, In this wave of conscientiousness. It wasn't when companies

turn their Instagrams, all-black that would the most meaningful contribution right Berrington day, wrong. What got to me is that I am from Washington DC, I grew up there, I haven't lived in a long time but it's always a part of me and I can remember being in high school and recognising. The heinous ugliness of the name of the Washington football team. And learning what it meant and learning, how indigenous people felt about it and decided in the Washington Edwards. So it was the easiest decision

in my young mind and heart. And yet the name persisted majority-black DC was good with it for a long time. The team owner had a segregationist moment about it whenever you want to die. And in the summer of 2020 team, dropped a name, not because it's suddenly decided to respect the wishes and interpretation of indigenous Nations know cuz a multinational billion-dollar Shipping Company decided that in our name. And I was like, yo FedEx I think you earned some business and also why did it come down to you? We've created

this world where we need companies to be our heroes when elected leaders aren't doing what we send them to do. We hope some influencer will do it. Instead we hope a brand will issue the right press release to Signal the right set of Virtues. And there's power in it and there's a form of leadership there, but it also annoys me to no end cuz we shouldn't be relying solely on that. It puts us in a weird space. I've been called in to talk to a lot of companies in the past

6-8 months about race and racism in corporate stuff and internet digital and messaging. And how do we not get in trouble on Twitter? I think is like a big subtext to the contract. And there are things that I've learned from these, for raise, this handling of hazardous material that I think bear. On this conference, on you on advertising and the brand experience. Covid-19 remove the veil of America's brand experience. We have told ourselves story for so long, we actually believed it

and covid care. Everything we papered over the divestment from communities, the flashing of the social safety net as we left out the window. Colvin revealed all that. And it doesn't care about your brand story. It only knows the truth. And the truth is, we've been living in a false story. And as we try to come out of it, we've been expecting so much to happen so fast. I want us. To create that place that we can all be proud of where liberty and justice really is for all.

And I know we can do it. But there's some tips to get there to, that must communicate to you right now, the first being that getting there arriving doesn't happen, just like that. In fact, it might never happen. That is not a reason. Do not go on the journey, it's a reason to enjoy the pursuit. To feel good about the quest. Justice isn't a destination just like love, is it? It's the journey. That's the thing. The shared commitment fee learning about each other in that

process and growing closer together because there's a process. We have to adjust our expectations and beat in it for the journey. We have to be willing to look back. Look back at what we've been through. Look back at what we've benefited from that. Had nothing to do with anything we did do I have to do that as a man. And continue to work on that. You may have to do it for some power. You've inherited without labor of your own, but we are in a society that is systematically taken from

so many and given to. So, few, And being afraid to acknowledge that means, we'll repeat it. Again, and again, and again. We've got to get to a place. We're showing up for racial Justice and equality and Liberty, and freedom, and all these things is not a charitable opportunity. It's not some corporate, give back. It is what it means to participate in society, what it means to in the title of the podcast that due to Citizen as a verb. If you're in this to liberate me.

You're not really in this. I need you to be in it to liberate yourself as well. and I tell you why your captors to You take the story of almost any Western nation in this world. It's got to a deficit in its history, but especially the USA. Cuz we started on the wrong foot, with the displacement of multiple indigenous Nations. Then the forced-labor over many generations of people from the continent of Africa, that's quite a boost to the bottom line, the whole free labor and access to Capital like that. And we kept digging the hole

through Jim Crow. We dug the hole through the lynching. That scared 6 million people, out of the does consonants ever seen? We kept digging the hole in World War 1 and World War II. When people went over there to fight for freedom for you and then couldn't come back and buy a home for their own families. I kept digging a hole with mass incarceration. We kept digging the hole. With the leasing with disparate outcomes in hell, with lack of access to funding to money to Capital to investment. And we see how come

black people don't have wealth. Only because we were systematically denied access to the mathematical phenomenon of compound interest. May be the best way for black people. Build wealth is to create a time machine. Go back and just buy the house. They were terrorized out of in South Carolina. This hole that we've been digging. I'm not the only one in it, we're all in it and no one gets out of a Hole by just stopping to dig and we've got to climb affirmatively climb out of the hole. So what I want

is a mindset shift, is great to read my book and hire me. It's good to read in general. But I need us all to recognize the size. Of the challenge and the size of the opportunity. To get out of that hole to ask with every decision we make with every Flex of power, we take, which is what decisions are that's flexing on power. Are we using that decision to get us all? Out of the hole. The good news for the digitally inclined Among Us. This whole thing, but living it isn't really real. Is he about to do simulation Theory?

In a story. we believe things because someone told us, most of our understanding of reality is not through tangible direct access, its mediated. It's media. That informs us about the world and tells us what's real or not. South by Southwest isn't real. The collective delusion. We all believe in it so strongly. We're willing to commit to contribute funds, and time to it, and creativity and tacos. Apple Inc. That's not real. We just believe it. Did US dollar also not real not even Bitcoin. Sorry Krystal gross.

Reality is a bit of a faith-based Institution. That's unstable, right? That's a lot. But there's power in that because we can shape it. We live in a world already shaped by the story. We've inherited the story of a very small thing that a small group of people should dominate the mini. That's a weak story. That's held us back from our own greatness. Imagine if we unlocked in everybody's potential how much greater do / wealthy or more hole, we could be If we didn't fear our history but integrated

it into a greater we but to do that, we have to write a new story. and in this digital space that we're living in a digital story, written world, we have more power than most to generate realities, And with that, power comes great responsibility. so, as you're thinking about what you and your brand can do, Social media statements, a good hiring is great. Retention is better. Investing in the places that have been divested from. That's the best using your power to bring into the system. Those who been excluded, that's real good.

and walking with Integrity in this journey, trying to exhibit these values, in everything we do, what does that mean for advertising and the brand experience This field is some of the greatest story manipulators the world has ever known. We conjure up realities, we tell people what they want, who they are. With the powers of machinery. Unparalleled power to shape reality. Do I contend? if you were against human trafficking, The camp before data trafficking in humans. If you want to walk with Integrity

around social justice and racial equity and anti-racism, that's real good. But we can't deny people their digital Freedom at the same time. We're in a moment of choosing. Will we be able to determine ourselves? Or will we be beholding? to a black box algorithmic representation their of design to extract value from us to serve I left a few, not the many. I want this community. I keep busting the bound small thinking, we have established about what it means. To be online to

innovate interactive television, or Brand Story, it should not require us. To digitally own people. We're fighting for freedom. So, let's be free. Free of the old story, write something new, free of the old techniques. Hey, we have to hoard Humanity. My servers. My dude. I know it's part of me. If you think black lives matter. Why people's data matters. Everybody does it is an extension of us. Trying living in that world, try making that world. It's an issue of trust, I think. The folks who helped establish the current status quo, they didn't trust the people.

Even as we set up a democracy in, in the United States, the world longest-running allegedly, we didn't trust most of the people to participate in. It wouldn't trust women to exercise their voting franchise didn't trust black people to participate at multiple levels. You didn't trust immigrants from various land at various times. Sorry Terry and view with people power. That's not how this works. That's not how our system of self-government. Works that how it should? It's not how our increasingly digital system of reality should

work. We have to trust people. instead of systems that allow for that trust to be exercised and tested and grown we did not create the internet for a handful of companies. To control the whole thing. Doling out, meager bits of freedom. The whole platform supposed to be an opportunity to exercise freedom in so many different ways. I want us to aim higher think bigger, right? More broadly. Trust us. You can't do this without us without our data is nothing without our spending. You're nothing without our hopes and dreams your story. Doesn't land anywhere. trust her to tell it

to That's what you can do. Help at all. Be free. Not just me, but you too. Thank you very much. That's my time. I've blown through my own timer but I wanted to get through it and this is normally the time or I would like to hang out with you. After we go to stop and get some overpriced meat product or whiskey at the time, I'm recording it too early for piski. So I thank you sincerely for giving me something. That's so valuable of yours. Your attention. I hope I have treated it with respect. I hope you do the same.

But the attention you're trying to gain. Peace.

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