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SXSW ’22: ‘Black in Web3’ gets serious about blockchain’s potential to close economic gaps

'You don't need any permission from anyone.'

 

Daysia Tolentino

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 13, 2022   Updated on Mar 30, 2022, 9:15 am CDT

Web3 is a hot topic at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. However, for all the talk about how accessible and equitable the space can be, the path to a better internet using blockchain technology felt vague at best. In other words, why should we believe the hype?

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Saturday’s “Black in Web3” panel presented the clearest ideas about the possibilities of Web3. It was moderated by Akin Adebowale, CEO of Blacktag, a platform for and by independent Black creators. The takeaway from the talk: Web3 and the blockchain can be used to close economic gaps and protect intellectual property. 

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“The Blacktag north star is economic empowerment for the Black creator,” Adebowale said. 

Black people are investing more in cryptocurrency than other demographics, with one poll finding that 30% of Black investors own crypto. Panelist Cleve Mesidor, policy advisor for the Blockchain Association, explained that the Black community has long been locked out of financial opportunities, through application processes and fees that go through centralized institutions like banks. The barrier to entry, she said, is lower for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“You don’t need any permission from anyone,” Mesidor said. “Bitcoin is owned by everyone and no one at the same time.” 

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The panelists also said the lowered barrier to entry for investing in crypto can allow people to accumulate assets that they can then pass down to their children, creating generational wealth.

Meanwhile, artist Kesh discussed how Web3 allows her to control her work as a creator. Kesh has had her work plagiarized and used without her consent over the years, most notably when Versace ripped off her work for a collaboration with American Apparel. Additionally, she said the success of her American Apparel collaboration led the fast fashion brand to continue to mass produce her work without her permission, leading to rolls being passed down to fabric stores and even landfills after the company filed for bankruptcy. 

“I took eight years off after that because that was such a hard experience for me to really go through,” Kesh said of the 2013 incident.

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She said the blockchain allows her to protect and authenticate her art. Her latest collection of hoodies is a collaboration with the NFT marketplace the Hunt, and each garment comes with an NFT. For Kesh, it appears the limited run allows for less waste and better sustainability, and the NFTs attached to the clothing helps verify that the hoodie is truly her work.

According to the Blockchain Art Collective, the blockchain “enables the creation of an unalterable, aggregated, digital record of provenance-related events about a single artwork over time.”

Panelist Naithan Jones, founder of Web3 platform Royal which allows artists to sell royalty ownership in their songs, said the conversation around NFTs and tokens in Web3 has gotten “noisy.”

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“I think the conversation is shifting… [from a place] where everybody projects what they think it is into what the individual projects are actually doing,” Jones said. “What are you actually getting in return for this token? What does it represent?”

Web3 is in its early stages, so the actual results of the blockchain remain to be seen at-large. However, Black creators and entrepreneurs in Web3 make a great case for the practical and material opportunities presented by the space—one that may move the needle for even the hardest skeptics.


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*First Published: Mar 13, 2022, 8:45 am CDT