Our Race and New Media conference last Saturday was a great success—putting it mildly. Positive reviews are raining in from all directions, from participants to audience members, and there are a few journalists in the process of writing rave reviews. We’ll also have the audio online soon for podcast, as well as pictures.
Thanks to all who were involved for making it work so well, from the two of us who organized the event, Annie Seaton and Aaron Barlow, professors of English at New York City College of Technology, the host of the conference. Estimates are that close to 200 people participated in the conference at one time or another.
The conference kicked off with a talk by Dr. Reginald Blake, professor of Physics at New York City College of Technology, also a Visiting Research Scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and director of City Tech's Black Male Initiative (BMI). Dr. Blake cautioned us to remember that new and old media are inextricably intertwined, setting a framework for what proved to be a day of intense and instructive conversation. In fact, Dr. Blake’s kickoff talk was far more than just the expected introduction—it was a very smart and thoughtful foray that left with the following questions: how does “new media” deal with the catalog of American racial stereotypes (mammy, sapphire, sambo, etc.). Does “new media” alter perceptions of race, or reinforce them? Dr. Blake reminded us that, after all, this is just a tool—and therefore, neither intrinsically helpful nor harmful—but as we think of Barack Obama as the first “new media” candidate, it’s difficult not to feel helpful. And yet, Dr. Blake brought us back to some basics: is there, he wondered, via new media-- a time on the horizon where notions of race and racism will alter significantly? Dr. Blake was skeptical—feeling that “new media” had, perhaps, not done enough to prove itself to be different, but he was also hopeful about the goals of both the conference and the larger intersection between race and new media.