[eDebate] Considering Brown vs Board of Education

NEIL BERCH berchnorto
Wed May 24 07:33:26 CDT 2006

I believe I was the first to say on this list that the debate community would "never consider" a resolution that overturned Brown v. Board of Education, so I will respond to Ede's post.  Actually, I'll respond to both of Ede's posts.

1.  First, I should mention that I don't generally participate in these discussions because I'm of the view that far greater debate minds than mine are on the case.  When I read one of the posts, where people say that wording X does this to uniqueness and does that to CP ground, I almost inevitably have to sit down and diagram what's being said, before conceding that it makes sense.  I then do the same thing with the next post that disagrees with that post.  So, don't take lack of participation to mean lack of interest.  I suspect I'm not the only one.

2.  I made my statement as part of the argument that we should consider carefully the concerns raised by Nicole Colston and Nicole Richter about debating Roe.  Before I address Ede's point, let me add that my parallel was a poor one for a different reason.  There is little about debating Brown that would require anyone to surrender their privacy and their personal medical decisions.  In thinking about the concerns raised by Nicole and Nicole, that is to my mind the biggest issue with debating Roe.

3.  Ede raised a different response when he suggested that he would LIKE to see us debate Brown v. Board.  I didn't respond at that time, partly because it caused me to reflect on some things that seem long ago and far away in my life.  

4.  Background (skip if you think my life is likely to be boring):  I grew up in New York City and Long Island.  Until I was 10, I lived in a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly (like 99%) white and Jewish.  I attended a public school that was probably majority white, but not by much.  There were a large minority of black students as well.  When I was 10, we moved to a neighborhood on Long Island that was overwhelming white, and predominantly Irish-Catholic and Italian-Catholic, followed by a 15% or so minority that was Jewish (what I'm capitalizing and not capitalizing here is certainly critiquable, but I've decided to follow predominant usage).  The most underrepresented minority in our neighborhood was probably WASPs.  I went to schools that were fairly similar in makeup.  I was a very lazy student, but reasonably bright.  I was a fantastic taker of standardized tests.  That combination, together with a desire for class diversity on the part of the institution, got me admitted to Princeton University (and financial aid was such back then that it cost less for me to go there than to SUNY-Albany--I didn't understand that you had to pay back loans).  I just thought it was a really good college; I didn't understand the world of privilege that I was about to enter.  My dad, a New York City high school teacher who got his degree from what is now Baruch College through the GI Bill (BTW, Vik Keenan and the Baruch debaters are going to put on a great tournament this fall--be there if you can!), did understand.  He told me rather tearfully that he didn't think he'd ever know anyone who went to Princeton, much less have it be his own son.  

5.  (Boring autobiographical diversion continued; not sure whether it helps to make my point, but, hey, I spent time typing it.  I'm not going to turn back now):  at Princeton, I quickly learned class-consciousness.  I was overwhelmed by just how wealthy rich people really were and how much I didn't like most of them.  At Princeton, when you met somebody and he introduced himself as "Billy Ford", it was entirely possible that Daddy ran the car company (today, he's Bill, and he runs the car company).  I met two roommates, one of whose father was the Chairman of RCA, one of whose father was the Chairman of NBC.  It was a happy thing until the father of one fired the father of the other (the latter being Eric Schlosser who recently wrote "Fast Food Nation".  And I earned extra money (beyond that I earned by suffering the abuse of my classmates while I served them their food in the dining halls) by playing poker with rich people who had too much money for their own good (Eliot Spitzer, soon-to-be governor of New York, was an awful poker player).  Beyond that, though, I found that I still was a lazy student (I attended fewer than 10% of my classes over 4 years; note to WVU debaters:  this wasted a tremendous opportunity and is NOT behavior to be modeled!).  I spent most of my time engaging my "radical" (or was it liberal?) awakening by participating in student political movements.  Primary among these was one of the earliest student anti-apartheid movements.  It was hugely successful in terms of activity, and it was close to unique among student anti-apartheid groups of the era in that it was truly multiracial (indeed, 210 Princeton students who took over a building in 1978 to demand that the University divest were evenly divided between white and what were referred to at that time as "Third World" students).  As an aside, much of our attention was focused on the fact that the University President, William Bowen, and many of the Trustees served on the boards of companies that did business in South Africa (ironically, Bowen is today perceived as one of the strongest academic supporters of affirmative action, while some of the leaders of our "movement" are major Wall Street honchos).  Our group eventually collapsed, but I stayed with it.  By the end of my time at Princeton, I was one of the few remaining white students in the group.  Upon graduating, I first realized that outside the privileged Ivy League environment, my future could best be used talking to other white people about race and class.  Over time, that has happened less often, and I justify my choices in more and more oblique ways (one notable exception was the conversation I had with several of our students following Louisville's dramatic outround departure from the West Point tournament this year).  One other side note:  I almost joined Ede at Wayne State for grad school, due in large part to a romanticized notion of Wayne State stemming from reading "Detroit:  I Do Mind Dying".

6.  (more directly relevant, boring autobiographical material):  As a major in Politics with a Minor in what was then called Afro-American Studies, one of the most striking courses that I took was a course entitled, "Politics and the Black American", taught by Professor Michael Mitchell, who is now at Arizona State.  I remember to this day being stopped dead in my tracks when Professor Mitchell argued that Brown v. Board of Education was bad for the Civil Rights movement.  After Ede posted, I tried to recall Professor Mitchell's arguments.  As I recall (and I haven't done any research to support this memory), they focused on:
a)  how the courts as an elite actor were bad; Congress was better.
b)  how Brown v. Board of Education created such a backlash that it delayed voting rights;
c)  how the notion that blacks could only get a good education by going to school with whites is a racist one;
d)  how the effort that went into achieving the Brown decision could have been better used elsewhere;
e)  how movements would be squelched by relying on the courts.
Of these, only c) would argue directly in favor of overturning Brown (several of these could serve as arguments against achieving liberal goals through court decisions, though).

7.  I think that debating race (through either through Brown or through one of the affirmative action cases) would be good for our community (though uncomfortable at times).  I know it would be good for my students to talk and think about the relationships between race and class privilege.  For the reasons stated above, I think it would also allow us to talk about movements, actors, and backlash in ways that are somewhat fresh.

8.  On the landmark decision issue, unless there is some overriding technical reason not to do this (and my response to Ede's defense of this approach is the same as usual; his technical points seem to make sense to me), we should do this.  I can't think of anything that would energize debate more.  I can't think of anything that would help novice recruitment more.

Just some random and rambling thoughts.
--Neil Berch
West Virginia University
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Ede Warner<mailto:ewarner at louisville.edu> 
  To: edebate at ndtceda.com<mailto:edebate at ndtceda.com> 
  Sent: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:40 PM
  Subject: [eDebate] Considering Brown vs Board of Education

  Dear Topic Committee and NDT/CEDA Community,

  I'm not sure what to make of the silence on this listserv since my post of last evening.  It was not my intent to silence discussion, but rather create some.  But since no one is using the airwaves, I will do what I promised Malcolm I would do:  discuss my views on race and the possibilities on a Supreme Court topic.

  Several folks have offered different ways of accessing the race debate.  Affirmative action seems the most direct route, although there are others.  Affirmative action in higher education via the Michigan cases is one route.  But I'll argue that it is a more indirect route.

  2 years ago, there were celebrations across the country celebrating the *landmark decision Brown versus Board".  There is much healthy debate about this decision.  Just a quick google search:  "Brown versus Board of Education debate" brings up a host of interesting dialogues on the issue.

  This is an NPR dialogue led by Tavis Smiley:

  The critical race law literature has a healthy, healthy discussion of Brown from many sides.  And Brown is cited as a landmark throughout the legal research.

  Here is the beauty of this case to engage race:  this discussion/debate has occurred primarily within the Black community.  The concern cited earlier on this list that we would "never consider" overturning Brown is a very white, liberal privileged community and I agree that this community would likely not consider it.  The topic paper discusses education but ignores Brown.  I suspect this is the reading of most in America, outside of the academic discussions to the contrary.  Exactly the reason for including this case.  It would be a unique case where the best evidence would be found in Black journals and Black authors, a great experience for our students.  I'll hypothesize that nor of the other race cases would find as much quality evidence located in a different literature base.

  Brown should be given serious, serious consideration.  Nothing has cut against it's uniqueness.  It's cited everywhere, creating a great possibility of advantages while keeping a stable mechanism, and it opens students up to some literature and perspectives that they might not normally access.



  Ede Warner, Jr.
  Director of Debate Society/Associate Professor of Communication
  University of Louisville
  308E Strickler Hall
  e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu<mailto:e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu>
  eDebate mailing list
  eDebate at ndtceda.com
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