039: Rikki Byrd (Writer, Educator, and Scholar)

Rikki Byrd on Innovation City

“Whenever you find that thing that wakes you up in the morning, that thing that you cannot live without, you have to commit yourself to it.” — Rikki Byrd

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in conjunction with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community. Venture Cafe is the largest combined gathering of entrepreneurs and innovators anywhere in the world. Events are held every Thursday in St. Louis, Miami, and other leading innovation cities around the globe.

Today’s guest is writer, educator, and scholar, Rikki Byrd. Rikki’s academic focuses include Black studies, visual culture, fashion history, and cultural studies. In the Fall of 2018 she will begin her Ph.D. in African American Studies at Northwestern University in Chicago. Rikki joins Tyler and Michael to talk about creating practical diversity by recreating the structures of power, how social media has democratized storytelling and revealed previously ignored or untold stories.

They discuss:

  • Rikki’s research has appeared at Art Basel: Miami
  • Making sure that black people have the resources to tell their stories
  • Rikki has been published in Teen Vogue, Hyperallergic, Racked and other media outlets
  • The realities of discussions of diversity in media, academics, and fashion
  • What “diversity in practice” looks like:
    • Putting people from marginalized communities in positions of power
    • The disparities lies in marginalized people not having the resources to tell their own stories
  • The problems with unconsidered ideas about “Diversity” in traditional marketing
  • Writing introductory pieces to put different stories and people on the national radar
    • Interviewing Ceci, the costume designer for “Dear White People”, about her costume designs and her legacy; Ceci also served as costume designer on a number of famous 90s TV shows
  • The tools of storytelling have been democratized through social media
  • Black writers getting opportunities to write thanks to social media
  • The detriment of thinking of black people as part of a trend — if black people are just a fashionable trend, what happens when the trend passes?
  • Elaine Welteroth, first black Editor In Chief of Teen Vogue
    • Welteroth was the youngest person and the second African-American to hold an editor in chief title for a Condé Nast publication
  • Ava Duvernay, Ryan Coogler, and other people working to create new opportunities and more entry points for marginalized people in their fields
  • Being interested in people because of their talent and skills, not just their identities
  • Understanding that systems that fail marginalized communities are broken from the entry points onward; if newsrooms lack diversity it’s because the opportunities in schools aren’t there, and the economic barriers to entry are much higher
  • Rikki’s article: When Bergdorf Served Chitlins and Champagne; examining the implications of soul food being sold at luxury retailers
  • Confronting the idea that people love black culture, but they don’t love black people
  • How black people use fashion to create identities, participate in resistance, or protect themselves
  • Rikki’s master thesis: Black, the Color We Wear: Representing Blackness in American Fashion
  • Rikki’s in-progress work: an essay about her grandmother (who is losing her memory due to dementia) and Rikki’s own desire to hold onto the past as it slips away from her grandmother
  • Being obsessed with African American history and refusing to apply to a university that didn’t have an African American history department
  • Staying committed to your craft, and striving for excellence