Seeing and Hearing Multiple Perspectives—A Roundtable Discussion

28 people from a diversity of backgrounds and affiliations gathered for two hours on April 25th for the semester’s final Racial Literacy Roundtable workshop.  Facilitated by English Education MA student Noah Gordon, the session began with an open letter to discussants where Gordon shared his hope that “by exploring multiple perspectives, we may begin to understand our own.”

Attendees were introduced to the legend of folk hero Stagger Lee, and then were invited to respond to materials telling his story.  And while Gordon prepared hours of these materials to guide the discussion, he was willing to “throw it all away” if the conversation demanded it.

The basic story of Stagger Lee was gleaned from poems and song spanning two decades:  In the late 1800’s, a man (possibly a pimp) murdered another man (probably defenseless) over the loss of a hat in a gambling bet.  From these basic facts, each telling of Stagger Lee’s tale (in poetry and song) diverged wildly, revealing to discussants the particular perspective of the storyteller.

How did the discussants respond? Comparisons to modern-day hip-hop messaging, the identification of victims versus perpetrators, the disempowerment of black men, the power of objects, and the slipperiness of defining morality were a few of the themes explored.  Just as each version of Stagger Lee’s story was different, so too was the lens of each of the discussants.  Which is precisely why Gordon encouraged guests to openly talk and share, for “your perspective is essential for our discussion”.

Race, gender, class, violence:  Not easy topics to talk about freely, though doing so—in a format that encourages other viewpoints to be considered—is essential for the development of educators.  “Who are the Stagger Lees of today, and how do we view them when they come into our classrooms?,” discussant (and Racial Literacy Roundtable concept creator) Professor Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz posited.

Next year’s academic calendar will feature six Racial Literacy Roundtables, with dates and details to be outlined in the September issue of the Gazette.  Everyone is invited to attend, for as Sealey-Ruiz explains, “It is about bringing who you are to the table and saying exactly what you feel.  The spirit is for us all to talk.”