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Restart Podcast Ep 30: Afrotech Fest and Afrofuturism

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Janet and Dave interview Florence Okoye and Debs Durojaiye, two of the organisers of the Afrotech Fest, an exciting event which took place in London at the end of January. We talk about representation of black people of Caribbean and African heritage in tech and we discuss the meanings of Afrofuturism.

First, we discuss their motivation to put on Afrotech Fest: the realisation that black people in Britain tend to be underrepresented in tech conferences here, but more fundamentally to challenge the very institution of the tech conference itself. They felt there was a need to involve black voices – everyone, not just self-defined technical people – in debates about technology.

The Youth Programme was a great example of this, and of the importance of engaging kids with technology. Children were protagonists at the event, developing hard skills like coding but also enhancing their creativity, for example thinking of design and storyboarding in videogames. Debs tells us about their STEAM approach (A for art) instead of thinking of science and technology in the traditional way of STEM.

Beyond having fun with the hands-on workshop, the aim was also to gave kids agency, to make them think critically about how technology works, what we should demand of our products and how innovation can be representative and responsible to benefit all citizens.

Afrotech’s main goal has been to empower participants to rethink their relationship with technology and the tech sector. We talk about the difference between “collaboration and not charity”, as Debs puts it. We discuss how the lack of real consideration of the black community results in low number of black people accessing and staying in science and technology jobs. And we arrive at the consequences: how this produces “shoddy” tech, as best illustrated by Google’s facial recognition tool which fails a large part of the population.

Lastly, we discuss Afrotech and Afrofuturism, referring to the recent and much-debated film Black Panther. Along with Afrotech Fest, we see that projects such as Black Panther have allowed for a deeper debate about representation, culture and history. We then talk about the different meanings of Afrofuturism, from the combination of sci-fi and black aesthetics, to its environmental perspectives, and the shift to considering innovation as an opportunity to use local resources and respond to local problems, creating, as Florence says “an intersectional and liberatory future”.

 [Feature Image by Flickr user Ian Forrester]

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