Some things I just can’t process. I may think I need to step back, or re-experience it, or talk it out. But in the end, some things I just cannot process. This conference was one of those things.
I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the past ten years. ---This is what law school does, prepares you to sit in overly air-conditioned rooms, staring at poorly designed slides on giant screens, collecting all sorts of branded bits and bobbles. It’s practically baked into the profession by regulatory authorities that require you to stay re-educated by trading several hours of your time each year for bad wi-fi and stale bagels.---But this conference was different for me. This was the first time I was attending an “academic” conference. No continuing legal education credit on offer here. No mix of practitioners in with the academics. This was a wholly different animal; and to make matters worse, it was multi-disciplinary.
There were a lot of big words I couldn’t follow. Words I knew the meanings of on their own; were they to be on a vocabulary quiz, I could match the definitions to them. But strung together in long sentences with little words in between, I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything. But even the bits I could understand left me feeling like the sentence ended with a semi-colon. A complete thought, yes. But, so?
The conference was called Race+IP. People talked about race. People talked about IP. Some people even talked about both. Some things seemed obvious, some over-simplified, some as though they were searching for racism, and others as though they were racializing a much broader oppression. A lot of things seemed like there was no there there. And I was lost.
‘The music industry is terrible to black folks.’ The examples given: that Pharrell lost to the Marvin Gaye estate, that Lil Wayne was owed $10 million by Cash Money, that Clyde Stubblefield’s creative products were owned by James Brown. Somehow irrelevant that all the advantage-takers in those scenarios are also black. And brushed away as a side note that the the music industry is terrible to anyone not already in power, that it entrenches the existing power structure and fights long and hard to further entrench, re-entrench, forever entrench that structure. It is true that the power structure includes few blacks. But racializing the inequities of the system leaves out all the others who cannot benefit, all the others who may want to fight. Shrinking the size of an army does not help win the war.
Then there was this session about how Cadillac is a black brand. (I did not know this, but it might explain why at least once a month a 50-year black man asks if Chester is for sale.) GM was apparently upset about the association between the Caddy and black entertainers in the 50s and 60s. Really, brand owners were racist? How shocking. This is nothing new, nor anything old. But what does this have to do with IP, other than that brands are IP? I didn’t get it. I must have zoned out and missed something.
Add on top of the confusion a bad head cold, an atmosphere of self-aggrandizement with West coast-style Liberal assumptions, and horrible weather, and well, this wasn’t the best first-time experience of this sort of thing. Perhaps I’ll leave these conferences to the real academics. I think I prefer being a lawyer.