[eDebate] An Honest Answer to Adam Jackson's Question

James Maritato james.maritato
Tue Apr 8 02:19:36 CDT 2008


Mr. Adam Jackson, Towson Tigers, and Debate community:

     I know, I said I wasn't going to read e-debate for like three weeks,
but Adam's question is actually important, whereas Zomp's ability to rank,
Hester's mouth and the scars he bore upon his mother for kissing her with
it, and the Kaiju Big Battle of Many Avatars (Featuring Omri Ceren and Matt
Stannard as guest referrees!) are all fairly irrelevant to me.

    Let me first say, that as many people know, I hold a lot of respect,
admiration and plain ol' love for the Towson Tigers.  I've grown a lot
closer to the Towson debaters in the last few years and especially this
season as we attended many BCD tournaments.  Andy is also a close friend and
functions as Marist's assistant coach as well so our squads interact a fair
share.  I also dig Adam Jackson, and I'm pretty sure that he and Deverick
Murray will make the best movie ever made about policy debate by the time
they graduate.  Seriously.

    Adam, in answer to your question, I will offer 5 things that "black
people have done to deserve their treatment in the debate community."  These
are offered in no particular order of importance:

1.  Provided the basis for white people to blather through ill-informed
understandings of race through a variety of self-important ethnocentric
readings of black authors. You may have heard of these things - they are
called "race k's" or something.  I heard one was cut at <insert white-ass
america> camp this summer by a group of kids who are really "down."
2.  "Networked" successful students from urban centers to distant schools in
need of 'talent' and fulfillment of diversity initiatives.  Essentially,
served as a commodity.
3.  Provided effective fodder for distractionary arguments from the actual
issue by allowing blackness to be commoditized down to the identity or
strategy of one (or a handful) of squads for each 4-year era of students.
This allows for effective marginalization of black issues as the discussion
becomes "one school's" or "one director's" "crazy" view of debate.
4  Invented hip-hop, causing a spur of god awful T and gotta have a plan
debates against social movements and performative discourses with clear
connections to the topic and more practical goals than stopping Mead's
latest (oldest?) nuclear war with the Counterspell cards in debater's decks.
5. Won a pretty important debate once, providing the grounds for a film to
be made starring Denzel Washington, allowing lots of white liberal college
professors to extol the virtues of their otherwise esoteric little game to
their friends, colleagues, and debate community.

If you read those things too literally, your brain probably hurts.

I think the 5 things above illustrate what black people have done to
"deserve" their treatment in this activity:  contribute.

My argument here is not that black people should not contribute to debate,
and I think you know just as well as I do that debate has inherent benefits
to people, regardless of their identity.  There are also benefits derived
implicitly from identity (and for many folks these are the hardest to
question - this is why discussions of things like "white privilege" remain
such divisive issues not only within the debate community, but within
society at large).  However, my argument is that the discussion shouldn't be
about what black people did to deserve this -- the answer really is that
they've done nothing to deserve this treatment.  Pointing out that fact,
does, however lead to the larger question:

Why does the debate community treat black people in this way?

I might be a poor representative of said "community" to respond to this
question, because in the last two years I have given up on seeing debate as
a singular community of people with common goals, and have instead began to
see communities of people within an activity (or subcultures within the
larger culture--or cult?).  I think this notion is evidenced in the posts
that Towson CL received (mine included) along with the rest of the Tigers in
congratulations, and in the backlash witnessed by individuals at the NDT, in
discussion forums, etc.  I think that the discussion of race within our
community is extremely important, but I think there is another element at
work here as well that race becomes encapsulated within.  We engage in a
communicative act of difference, and everyone wants to believe their view is
the right view.  Communicative practice, especially one rooted in
oppositional relationships (aff/neg, win/loss), involves the constructions
of binaries - we derive meaning by determining what things are not - and
while you may not construct them, and Towson may not inherently construct
them, those interpreting the discourse do.  This is inherently what allows
the debate community to look at black politics and black aesthetic issues as
being a "Louisville" construction or at other points a "Long Beach"
construction or at other points a "Towson" construction.  It's what allows
the discussion of Latina politics to be conflated as a "Fullerton"
argument.  It's what allows aesthetic approaches to debate to be termed a
"Bard" construction.  It's what allows us to fill novice debaters tubs and
heads with conceptions of politics and life like "Nuke war bad" and
"Economic Downturn bad" and "Development good/bad" and any other good/bad
distinction you can ever think of that was written on a piece of evidence or
spoken in a debate round.  Debate pedagogy serves to reinforce this binary
thinking, and probably only those debaters who stick with the activity the
longest break out of some of these forms of binary thinking.

As a post script to my answer, I'll say that race issues are just one of
many binaries that create difference within our community, and I don't think
that the question of why black people are treated the way they are (nor the
solution to the problem) can really be addressed until we as a group of
individuals committed to the productive growth of an activity and the
positive benefits derived from it begin to change the way we encourage
binary thought.  Now, I realize that this was in some ways the argument that
Fort Hays was making during the Quarters round during CEDA, and in no way do
I think that the Fort's argument in that debate was superior to Towson's
-especially when considering some of the cross examination questions in that
debate.  I love Chris Spurlock - he is one of a number of people I consider
closer than the average debate participant - I coached him in Wyoming and
have counseled him through difficult times and celebrated with him during
the best.  But when Chris said during CX, "Why are you guys calling us
racists, I mean, we've been like your closest allies all year long," my
stomach turned.  It was another instance wherein it was advantageous for a
white team with established credibility within our community to declare some
sort of interwoven alliance or advocacy that simply did not exist in
practice - only in celebratory spirit.  It was a space where adoption of
black politics and the black aesthetic functioned for the sake of affirming
s.q. debate politics.  I was left thinking, "Well that's fantastic guys, but
what does Towson CL get out of this alliance, besides a parasitic "ally"
willing to reorient the discussion away from black politics and into insular
and esoteric aesthetic representations of oppositional politics at work and
an advocacy to reject them?  Iterations of the Fort's solvency like "we need
to break down these aff and neg binaries thus the best solution is to vote
neg to affirm the aff" (and I'm paraphrasing here because my memory wasn't
set to TiVo mode) make me question what the hell is going on in debate,
because they illustrate the unpreparedness for people within our activity to
illustrate how deconstructing binaries extends into the material realm - how
it moves beyond what happens in some hotel banquet hall, or some college
classroom, but they also illustrate that some of us are unable to detach
from the game long enough to recognize that the ballot is not a magical
piece of paper that re-orders the world.  Even if the Fort had won CEDA,
rhetorical binaries would still exist in debate, just as white supremacy
still exists in debate.  The question is, would we all be sitting around on
edebate talking about the construction of oppositional binaries, rather than
race issues?  I'd argue no.  And just to clarify, I have no ill-will toward
the Fort, or desire to fight men without shoes or emo hipster kids I like
very much - but I think their quarters round illustrates an important
example.

Unless we look to where/how binary opposition creates impacts, we can't
identify what their impacts are -- unless we engage and work with those who
"debate" as constructed as different how in the hell are we to know what
problems exist.  The solution is not to abandon binary constructions - it's
to question them and to recognize what material impacts they have already
created - not to claim "I don't see race" as if we were realistically
invoking Stephen Colbert's irony. Thus, while I think we have to address the
issue of constructing difference through binaries, I also think its
important to recognize that race is probably the "prima facia" binary we can
and should address (because of its unique impacts even within the
intersection of other identity issues) within the activity - but that can
only happen in an environment where we address binary logic on the whole and
begin focusing on breaking down those structures into nuanced explanations
and extrapolations of theory (hello, perm).

Finally, I think it's important not to play into the debate "community's"
politics of difference.  It should be of no surprise to any of us that we
are consistently surrounded by people who are exemplary at identifying and
capitalizing upon difference in one way or another, and there will always be
people who will utilize that difference to commoditize and compartmentalize
any discourse that establishes itself as different from traditional debate.
I am reminded here of the number of debaters I have seen pick up rounds in
front of staunchly K unfriendly judges by pulling their K cards and putting
them on solvency as case turns.  The elimination of the disliked difference
- the aesthetic of the Kritik and all of the judges' assumptions about it
suddenly become irrelevant when they can conceptualize the argument as a
solvency turn.  Perhaps this is a strategy that folks looking to make change
should try to engage -- not to create the ideological difference, but to
point out the disads and solvency turns to the policies of white supremacy.
I don't know if that would be a more understandable or practical way for
folks to look at these issues, but I'd like to think that reorienting
discourse to suit those who are open to change but unfamiliar and
uncomfortable with the rhetoric is still one of the practical strategies of
persuasion we teach in this activity.  I also think that this means taking
an active role to make sure that those who would exploit difference for
their own benefit don't commoditize you, your fellow teammates, and allies
within the community.  It means not letting people, regardless of who they
are, identify the issues of oppression via identity as being the cause,
crusade, movement, or central thesis of just one squad or one person, but of
students across a multitude of squads.  It means networking with debaters on
other squads who will align with your position to reorient the norms of
debate  - because reorienting the debate community won't be established by
us old bastards - you all set the norms of what we do and don't talk about
far more than we do.  And sure, there are always going to be some judges who
influence win/loss records as a result of their own ideological hegemony,
and this is ultimately why strike sheets are probably important (go ask
those teams that are straight up how I feel about their dopey politics
disad, and they'll tell you we need strikes too).  But shitty judges whose
decisions go unquestioned can only exist for so long before the norms of the
community that are established/reinforced by what debaters bring in the
round year after year can only roam the tar pits for so long before they die
out or are forced to seek higher ground, so keep it up because every time
this issue gets raised in a debate by a motivated, spirited and
knowledgeable person you're making an impact on someone.  Whether its on the
generations of debaters that will follow you in this activity, or those your
squad inspires within UDL communities, your impact will be felt and create
benefits that transcend the commoditization and binary opposition you face
now.

Peace sir, and I want to be the narrator for the DVD commentary when you
make the best movie ever. :-)  I hope I've provided you with "an" answer to
your questions, though it probably shouldn't be confused with "the" answer.

Jimbo

P.S. - I have merely decloaked my Bird of Prey. If you'd like to comment on
this post, it's advisable that you reply to me in addition to eDebate if you
desire some sort of response, as I'm not really in it for rhetorical
warfare, but more to answer a question that seems to have gone largely
unanswered all day posed by an individual I regard highly.  I have no
interest, for instance, in engaging the NDT is the Illuminati discussion -
this problem is not just endemic to the NDT, it's endemic to debate-  but I
mean, it's not like anyone was quick to drag up the NDT and CEDA as two
oppositional binaries and set them at odds against each other rather than
actually focusing on the question at hand or anything.  Is that solvency pie
I hear baking in the oven?  Oooh!  W00t!   :-)
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