Saturday, May 23, 2015

Any Questions?

As you might imagine, I go to a lot of academicky sorts of panels and lectures. Last Monday, I attended a panel at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture entitled From Binaries to Bridges: Black Liberation and Model Minority Mutiny. It was moderated by Soya Jung and featured UConn professor William Jelani Cobb, Indiana University professor Ellen Wu, and Deepa Iyer from the Center for Social Inclusion. Overall, the event was incredible (except for Twitter). You can watch the full recording of the talk here.

Like most of these things, the Q&A session was mostly a chance for people to hear themselves be deep on the microphone than actually ask a question. And so a stunned silence filled the room followed by a chorus of whispers when someone actually did. The first question of the night was from a young Black woman who asked, "I would like to know what we have discussed during this event."

The moderator incredulously repeated the question back to her. The woman continued:

"Yeah. Could you go over it please? Because some of...most of it I didn't understand, but I understand it was in Black history, and that you were talking about the Asians, and the Koreans, and even the Black Americans, and the white Americans, too."

In the video you can hear her fairly clearly because the camera is hooked up to the soundboard. However, in the audience it was difficult to hear over the low hum of at least half of the room chattering about the woman at the microphone. My friends and I, all educators, were quietly waiting for someone on the stage to do the right thing.

And Jelani did. He started to speak, but then, recognizing the volume of the crowd, quieted them down with a microphone check. Then, in plain, down-to-earth English, he said this:

"We've been talking a lot, but the most basic point, I think, is that we're trying to find common ground and understand the histories of Asian Americans who have been mistreated, of Black Americans who have been mistreated, and what that means, and what we should be doing today. So there's kind of a lot more that can be said about it, and we can talk after if you'd like to ask more specific questions, but that's the big theme of what we've been talking about."

And that's what an educator does.