SXSW 2012: Baratunde Thurston Delivers Keynote Address On Power Of Satire
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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'How To Be Black' author Baratunde Thurston delivers the keynote address at SXSW (Image: Mary Pryor)

To say that comedian Baratunde Thurston, director of digital for The Onion, is simply a social satirist is a huge understatement. He is also a revolutionary. Thurston’s keynote address “How to Read the World” at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival drove that point home.

Like his book How To Be Black, which was released January 2012, the author’s insightful keynote was full of biographical comedy. In 2005, after his mother died he was searching through her belongings and found an article about his grandmother, learning she was the first African-American woman to work in the U.S. Supreme Court Building. It was surprising because it was so far removed from his mother who lived the life of a revolutionary, protesting outside the supreme court and influencing Thurston and his sister at a very young age to read books like This is Apartheid. It was also set apart from his own career, making and distributing satirical news. In addition, he told the audience about his great-great grandfather a former slave who taught himself how to read, a skill prohibited by law for blacks.

Upon her death, Thurston wrote a letter to his mother’s family and friends detailing her life and death in a way that was sad yet humorous at the same time. The sequence of events triggered a deeper investigation of himself and how he approached life, comedy and storytelling. He had an epiphany. “Comedians have always played a role of communicating truth directly…making people more receptive to what you have to say,” said Thurston, who co-founded the black political blog Jack & Jill Politics.

Embeded in his keynote was also the message that we are living in a world where everything is connected.”This creates a lot of noise and a scarcity of attention, which in turn creates an opportunity for clarity and trust,” said Thurston. In his opinion, despite our inclination to look to institutions, governments, and religion for trust, they all let us down. But comedians speak truth. He analyzed how the freedom of truth is reflected across different cultures. His conclusion: “…across the world, what those comedians are saying is revolutionary magic.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.