University of Virginia Conference to Examine Media, Democracy and Diversity

March 23, 2010 — The University of Virginia will host an interdisciplinary conference, "Media, Democracy and Diversity," to explore media's impact on issues of identity, inclusion and citizenship. The conference will be held April 2, mostly within Newcomb Hall, and is free and open to the public.

Among the topics to be considered: Media representations of Haiti before and after the earthquake, social media in elections and politics, the influence of a Jewish scholar on African-American self-identity, and racial stereotypes of Middle Easterners in film.

The conference is hosted by U.Va.'s Office for Diversity and Equity in collaboration with almost two dozen entities around Grounds.

The keynote speaker will be Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an MSNBC commentator and associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University. She will give the talk, "Representation, Shame and the Politics of Engaging," at a luncheon that starts at 12:20 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom.

Harris-Lacewell's research investigates the challenges facing contemporary black Americans and the multiple, creative ways that they respond to these challenges. She is the author of the award-winning book, "Barbershops, Bibles and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought."

U.Va. and visiting scholars and experts will hold discussions in three sets of concurrent sessions. What follows is a sample; see the Web site for the complete schedule and follow it on Twitter at /UVaDivConf.

• Mediating Disaster: Haiti and the Politics of Representation
10-11 a.m., Kaleidoscope Center

This session will include native Haitians Joel Dreyfus, managing editor of theRoot.com, and Wadner Pierre, a journalist and blogger. Diane Hoffman, an educational anthropologist at U.Va.'s Curry School of Education, also will be a panelist. Z'Etoile Imma, a U.Va. graduate student in English, will moderate.

Hoffman studies the role of culture and cultural diversity in education. Most recently, she has developed a research focus on children and education in Haiti, including how children participate in social networks and use informal learning to survive in oppressive conditions.

Pierre recently returned from Haiti and has written regularly about Haiti's problems with the bureaucracies of foreign countries (including the U.S.) and non-governmental organizations in giving aid to Haitians.

Dreyfus has been in American journalism for 35 years, including editorial positions at Fortune, PC and Black Enterprise magazines and as USA Today's New York bureau chief. He recently joined the Root, a daily online magazine that adds black voices and perspectives to mainstream media.

(Hosted by the U.Va. Haiti Working Group, in collaboration with the Magnitude Collective, the U.Va. Department of Anthropology and the Ralph Bunche Society.)

• Everyone Has a Voice: The Disruptive Power of New Media Technologies on
Politics, Business and Mass Communication
11:15-12:15 p.m., South Meeting Room

Social media changed the landscape of American politics during the last presidential campaign. It also significantly disrupted the "business as usual" practices on the media and political fronts.

How does the intersection of social media and business affect the actions and attitudes of the public sector? What is the impact of a business-oriented approach on public service and elections? Who benefits and who loses when the audience for these areas is broadened?

David Bullock and Gregory Fairchild discuss the implications of social media's growth from its primarily information-sharing orientation, to an indispensable tool for business – whether the business of the private sector or of elections. Sonya Donaldson, a graduate student in English and technology editor of Black Enterprise magazine, will moderate.

Bullock is the co-author of "Barack 2.0," a book that takes a business perspective on Obama's success with social media.

Fairchild is executive director of the Tayloe Murphy Center at U.Va.'s Darden School of Business. Prior to joining the Darden faculty, he taught at Columbia University and held marketing positions at Procter & Gamble, Kraft General Foods and Saks Fifth Avenue.

(Hosted by U.Va.'s Darden School of Business.)

• Reel Bad Arabs: Hollywood's Portayal of Middle Eastern People
1:45 - 2:45 p.m., South Meeting Room

Author and media critic Jack G. Shaheen has spent years collecting and analyzing examples of the film industry's treatment of Middle Eastern people and the historical precedent established through representations of other ethnic groups.

Shaheen will discuss how these stereotypes have developed over the years, why they continue and the relationship between these media portrayals and the political climate. He offers recommendations for countering what he sees as harmful and widespread misperceptions of the Arab-American community.

Hanadi Al-Samman, a U.Va. assistant professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, will moderate the session. Her research is focused on contemporary Arabic literature and culture, Arab women and Arab-American diasporic studies.

(Hosted by the Middle East Studies Program.)

• Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness: A Documentary Screening and Discussion
1:45-3:30 p.m., Minor Hall room 125

Who has the power to know, describe and define your cultural identity? "Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness" is a documentary about how anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits redefined black history in the 1940s and '50s, making it possible for a people formerly despised as "Negroes" to configure themselves with pride as African-Americans.

The film's producers, Vincent Brown and Llewellyn Smith, will be on hand to discuss the film after its screening with moderator Kath Weston, anthropology professor and director of U.Va.'s Studies in Women and Gender program.

The film, which was broadcast on the PBS series "Independent Lens," won the Best Documentary award at the Hollywood Black Film Festival and Beyond the Box's Critics' Pick for one of the Top 25 Documentaries of the Decade.

Herskovits himself was not black; he was a white man of Jewish ancestry. In remaking the historical understanding of black people, he engaged in conflicts with black scholars and white institutions of the day and helped propel African-Americans' struggle against white supremacy. The film incorporates rarely seen archival footage, provocative animation, photo montages and interviews with leading scholars of race and culture.

Brown, professor of history and of African and African-American Studies at Harvard, is a multi-media historian interested in the political implications of cultural practice. He is the author of "The Reaper's Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery."
 
Smith is president of Vital Pictures Inc. As a writer/producer, he has contributed to several PBS series, including "Eyes On The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years." He was project director for the Peabody- and Emmy award-winning series "Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery." Smith was also co-executive producer for the PBS series "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?"

(Hosted by the U.Va. Department of Anthropology, in collaboration with the American Studies Program, Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, Media Studies Department, Studies in Women and Gender and the Corcoran Department of History.)

— By Anne Bromley