Omar Wasow Delivers the Keynote Speech at the Race and New Media Conference


On Saturday May 3rd, 2008 the first annual Race and New Media conference was held at the CUNY campus of New York City College of Technology. The conference was held as a platform for panel discussions on topics of race, new media, politics and religion, and included an insightful keynote speech by Omar Wasow, Wasow is a co-founder and ongoing strategic advisor of Under Wasow's leadership, became the leading website for African Americans, reaching over three million people a month. Wasow has been featured on TV segments for NBC's Today Show and public radio's Tavis Smiley Show, exposing modern issues of technology.

In Omar Wasow’s keynote speech he focused on the question: “What is the struggle for black Americans today?” evaluating the notion of the “digital divide”. He affirmed that there are, of course, digital divides amongst whites, blacks, and Hispanics in the United States and globally, including divides between northern and southern Europeans. However, he maintained that it is more of a “digital distraction”. He then explained that technology that has now become mass was once technology only available to the rich, stating that the Internet is now “part of the fabric of almost everybody’s life”. This concept lead Wasow into his notion of the more crucial divide separating the races today: the “literary divide”.

Essential means in closing the literary divide have been overlooked in recent years as the ease of technology available has increased to the masses. The focus amongst children today to utilize the power behind the pen has lessened as their desired attachment to email and text messaging increases. As Wasow further expressed this obstacle in the academic system, Amanda Seaton, a co-founder of Take Back the Land and a part-time English and literacy tutor for children in Miami, Florida, noted that she has seen this problem first hand. She briefly explained that kids write text-messaging abbreviations in their essays and do not quite understand the extent of that problem and how it will continue to further hinder their academic development. According to Wasow, the skills in writing and math are imperative in joining people of color with the future economy.

Omar Wasow raised the notion that the American public school systems continue to follow the centuries-old agricultural identity, in that they close for summer vacations. He said that this break of education is stifling to the academic growth of the students. He contended that while owning land in America is an important achievement, land could be equated to the “zero-sum”. Land is finite and can be fractioned, our society has come to understand this more and more as natural resources decrease and the prices of food and gas go up. The value of knowledge, on the other hand, is infinite, and as the quality of literacy grows, Wasow remarked: “wealth flows from wisdom”.

Wasow stated that the United States doesn’t have a “system that responds to the poor families and low income people”, and this comment brought forward his aspiration to have school systems with less regulations and more ability to make choices towards effective teachings. Omar is the co-founder of the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School and in his speech he spoke in high favor of charter schools and other school reforms. He identified that what characterizes a good school is a system of autonomy. As the world moves closer to being organized by literacy as appose to lineage, the challenge is, of course, achieving a real global literacy. He clarified that productive schools need a clever mission, strong leadership, and collegial atmosphere amongst the staff.

Overall, Omar Wasow’s keynote speech at The Race and New Media conference had the audience captivated. He was able to verbalize problems and obstacles for black society in America today and speak more generally toward better education in the world. He raised challenging issues and only time will tell if his theories will help close the literary divide amongst races. Today, Wasow spends his time in graduate studies at Harvard University, where he is pursuing a joint program in Government and African-American studies.

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on what Omar focused on in the keynote.

I am curious about what the participants' reactions to his focus on literacy were. Did most think his belief in literacy in reading and math old fashioned in this new technological age? Did they think it class-based -- where one gains entrance into the elite classes by knowing and spouting the appropriate allusions to the blessed "elite canon of research, literature, and music"?

I am just curious about the type of debates his speech sparked.

Thank you for this well written write up.

Omar is so right in his assessment of the technical and literary divides facing African Americans today. On top of that is the inability to motivate so many young African American students to want to excel academically. They are given so much - iPods, PlayStations, cell phones, XBox and Facebook - that many can hardly pay attention in the traditional classroom where teachers are teaching in the same single method. Many teachers just do not have the skills to reach today's kids. The each one teach one philosophy is still valuable and noble but a slow solution to a growing problem.

A Concerned Sister