Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Should panel moderators have to answer their own questions?

In Ta-Nehisi Coates Asks: Who's French? Who's American?, the New York Times recently interviewed the author about an upcoming panel he'd be moderating in New York about French and American culture. And one of the questions asked him to answer a question posed as the title of the panel.

From the interview, the question, and Coates's answer:
You’re moderating the opening panel, “When Will France Have Its Barack Obama?,” which features Jelani Cobb from The New Yorker, along with three French scholars, including Pap Ndiaye, the author of “La Condition Noire” and a founder of black studies in France. What’s your answer to that question? 
I’m going to let the folks on the panel talk. But I’d say that Barack Obama, to an extent that is not fully understood, is really a product of black institutions. It’s not like he ran from Hawaii. He went to the South Side of Chicago, which has a long, long political tradition. There was a community to root himself in. How does that happen in France? There you had the lack of a trenchant Jim Crow system, the lack of slavery on the mainland. The things that made racism so severe here actually gave black institutions much of their vigor. And there is a strong sense of community held together by those institutions. I could be dead wrong about this, but it would be tough to look for a Harlem in Paris. There are black neighborhoods, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not all Harlem is.
It's a good answer, making sure right from the start that he's waiting to hear what the panel says. But he does add some context and perspective on the panel topic.

It's also a good reminder to panel moderators. You might be asked to answer your own question, or the question posed by your panel topic--and that might come in an advance media interview, in a hallway conversation at the conference, or by a panelist or a member of the audience in real time, while the panel is ongoing. So when you're prepping your questions, be sure to prep your own answers to your own questions.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan)

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