[eDebate] Race and debaters - Artificial Distinctions

Ede Warner ewarner
Thu Apr 10 12:29:57 CDT 2008


Hello David,
 
I'm sorry but I don't know you very well.  I don't know your title, your job, or what you even do in debate: alumni, coach, etc.  I apologize  in advance, but I will use some educational examples that may or may not relate very well to your social location.
 
First the comparison to the class: not analogous.  The class doesn't offer the promise or expectation that debate inherently makes.  If I figure out a way to approach the topic in a way that includes my social location in a competitive fashion, I have the right to do so.  That expectation fails to exist in the physics course, although I will say that in many courses race does become a connection that Black students see and what to explore, but often gets marginalized in class discussions because predominately white classes can't/won't/don't relate to the different experiences being introduced, hence feelings of frustration and alienation.
Second, your decision to categorize and justify the "choice" in debate as my social location OR the topic is where the problem starts.  It's a false dichotomy that debate training has created.  That is a unique and narrow construction created by a very specialized form of debate that privileges certain types of evidence, quantity of arguments and word efficiency as part of an evaluation process.  Read the three pages of Malcolm's autobiography: he had to introduce race and then win the "topicality" debate that followed.  How was he able to do so? All forms of evidence and persuasion were at his disposal.
 
He could use examples, analogies, metaphors to make connections between topics and his social location.  Many of these forms of argument, and broader than that the ways we debate credibility and emotional persuasive appeals have become extremely, extremely limited.  
 
Under the time demands of debate, is it more competitive to read a card or tell a story?  You might say "do both", but the problem is that isn't more competitive in our game, it's less, because our game privileges certain evidentiary claims in the evaluation process more than others.  So now, the debater who is interested in making comparisons between the Middle East and Baltimore, is forced to "find a card", even though there may be plenty of good comparisons that don't require evidence, but require the one thing a debater likely doesn't have, time.  Students are "taught" that it's best to read the maximum about of cards they can in a 1AC for a reason.  That reason is a choice based on the competitive evaluation system and it by definition, excludes other choices.  These are all questions of privilege with regards to how debates occur.  I hope you can see that.
 
But compare this to a persuasive speech in a public speaking class or to a oral assignment, would we ever teach a student to "choose" one type of evidence over the other.  Of course not, we would encourage the story as part of their ability to establish credibility and the evidence to help validate the logical aspect of the claim.  Both work together.
 
Now I don't want to rehash arguments about style, but I do want folks to understand that the competitive forced choice makes it less likely that debaters use the analogy or the metaphor instead of the card.  That's some of the rift because the critical and policy sides of the house.  The competitive rigors involved privilege different types of evidentiary claims as the most competitive.
 
Now I'm not sure what that does for your attempts to create some type of "double standard" between the expectations of those who want to debate the topic against the expectations of those wanting to debate the Middle East except the Black debater wants to debate the topic too, even the one making the sacrifice to debate institutional racism.  They invoke a strategy to illuminate the problems they have if they choose to debate the Middle East.
 
Does controlling the ground in debate create frustration?  Has always and will continue to do so.  Malcolm created frustrated when he moved the topic discussion to a race discussion relative to the topic.  That's good debate.  The institutional racism discussions are certainly frustrating to those with an expectation to debate the topic, but so the inability to debate the topic as it relates to one's experiences is deeply personal, a part of one's identity.  I'm not sure a white student not getting to debate the Middle East because the ground is shifted to a discussion of institutional racism in debate and whether that white student recognizes her or his argumentative choices from impact analysis to style may impact how the Black student gets to compete.  For me, the impact, nor the sympathy is the same.
 
If you are referring to a student of Middle Eastern descent being called to debate institutional racism, they have some unique social location arguments that make for a damn fine and interesting debate about coalitions and whose rhetorical choices are the most productive in that moment of that debate.
 
Your criticisms aren't true, but they are argument strategies that still exist as a competitive substitute for fixing the problem.  As such, they will usually further fuel frustration in the same ways that reverse racism arguments usually do, because they lack a broader understanding of the issue, especially as it relates to privilege.  And until the competitive choices, or the debate theory becomes more equal to allowing more analogies and examples to have the same persuasive, read competitive, weight of a "card", and you address the impact analysis problem, things are likely not going to improve.
 

>>> 

From: "David Glass" <gacggc at gmail.com>
To:"Ede Warner" <e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu>
Date: 4/10/2008 12:06 PM
Subject: Re: [eDebate] Race and debaters.
CC:edebate <edebate at ndtceda.com>
 
Hi Ede,
 
I just want to address one of your points for now, so it can be focused on - the idea that if a
Black debater does not bring up issues of race in a debate round he/she might feel complicit
with institutional racism, and that this is the true and legitimate feeling of the student.
 
Given that the subject of the round this year was quite explicitly the Middle East, it is difficult
to avoid concluding from the report about the students' feeling that Black students have to bring up race in any or all contexts or else feel guilty of institutional racism.  For example, if a student is taking a gravitational physics
course at Johns Hopkins, then she or he is obliged to stand up and start talking about race, when
asked if he or she has a question, or else be judged as guilty.  
 
You preempt this type of argument by saying debate is open to people speaking about anything - but that simply is not the case. Topicality is entrenched to make all debaters stick to one particular subject, so that people can prepare for that subject.  For a debater to break out of that - and as you say put themself at a competitive risk or potential disadvantage - one must recapture a very strong competitive advantage, and this advantage is achieved given a good debater, and a judge open to this approach. As long as you have a judge willing to mitigate topicality in deference to these arguments, the competitive advantage can be devastating to the opponent.
 
As long as we are talking about feelings, perhaps people can put themselves in the shoes of the non-black debater who walks into a round prepared to discuss the Middle East, and is instead called to account concerning problems of institutional racism in the activity.   Similar to the judge's dilemma previously delineated, the non-black student is now thrust in the role of being the opponent to these claims, even if he or she may believe the claims to be true.    Remembering the goal of the round is to win the debate, the forced roles of the opponent and the judge become particularly problematic.    I don't see how your particular suggested calculus for how the judge decides the round escapes the central issue; deciding those issues the other way, or debating on the other side of that calculus, is quite a terrible thing to force on a judge or opponent-debater, and thus one both appreciates tha argument as a strong strategy, an d one deplores the approach as a potentially extremely cynical way to win debates.
 
Anyway, I'm sure these points aren't a revelation to anyone...   I just think the Counter-kritik here has to do with the problems that are inherent in raising the issues to win a debate.  You've clearly grappled with this a lot longer than I, from a strategic perspective...
 
best regards,
David
 
 


 
On 4/10/08, Ede Warner <ewarner at louisville.edu> wrote: 

This is an important discussion Kade and David.  I would like to add a couple of historical thoughts about my perfect preparation of this argument, my decision to stop having Louisville run this argument, and community responsibility.
 
1)  Preparation of the debate is institutionally racist argument.  Debate is institutionally racist debates generally started with a student confronting the dilemma that debate holds for them, i.e., the privilege associated with the opportunities provided by debate.  Some talked about how they failed to understand the privileges they held in the past, while others talked about the unique opportunity that debate participation creates for them, and the sacrifices they must make that are different than others choose to make.  And even once, but only for one tournament, my top team of Harris and Floyd, debated the strategy differently, by beginning the debate with narratives about how each of them were institutionally racist at the 2005 NDT.  This is really important so I put it in cap's: IF I AS A BLACK DEBATER, DON'T USE THE UNIQUE PRIVILEGE OF SPEAKING IN DEBATE'S TO ADDRESS THE SERIOUS PROBLEMS OF MY COMMUNITY, MY DILEMMA IS THAT I HAVE USED THE PRIVILEGES I HAVE GAINED IN SOCIETY IN SELFISH WAYS, AND I AM IGNORING THE PLIGHT OF MY COMMUNITY THAT NEEDS ME NOW!  I HAVE MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP!  So I want to compete by relating the topic to my racial issues.  Please don't send me a bunch of posts about what students should do, this is how they feel, how they want to use debate and as such can't be debated.  Given that policy debate is sold on the promise and expectation that people can choose to debate how they want, this is not an unfair nor unique expectation.  The problem is whether they can equally compete if they exercise that choice.
 
Mr. Glass contextualizes the choice for the judge as vote for race or be labeled a racist.  But that's way too simplistic of an analysis.  Why?  Because it ignores the forced choice that a Black student is left with on the front end to even engage in this activity.  The debate begins by that student acknowledging they too are complicit in institutional racism and will always be if they don't use this moment in time, this unique privilege of speaking to a predominately white activity, as a platform to address race issues.  They know that they too, support the structures of institutional racism, albeit in very different ways depending on their choices.  The uncomfortable forced choice FOR THEM, those Black students, becomes debate the topic for me the way whites are debating it to win the greatest number of debates because I know the game is rigged so I can't strategically win by connecting my race issues to the topic, ignore that I have an opportunity through debate to address a problem in my community, and forfeit any connection of this debate to race. If you don't understand how it's rigged, please reread Rashad's thorough discussion of this.
 
The impact analysis at the end of the debate, shouldn't be the feeling of "am I a racist, yes or no", but we are, have been, are, and will be supporters of structures that disproportionately hurt people of color (given no one has ever solved racism, that can't be the net impact of the argument, can it?).  The judging consideration should be:  consideration of the magnitude of the competitive sacrifices being made by the Black student, choosing to make the anti-competitive choice to introduce race at her or his strategic peril, against the competitive choices by the opponent.  Once the concession is made that the minority issue is important to address in debate, almost uniformly by opponents, the impact analysis should be that the sacrifices made by the Black student are always greater.  Why? because they are, by a long shot. But most debates aren't evaluated in this way.  The evaluation process reverts to a decision calculus that minimizes the competitive value of the minority issue relative to other issues.  
 
Because of competition, many see Dayvon's, Deven's, Adam's, and a host of others decision as strategic, but what they don't see is the level of competitive sacrifice that accompanies such a decision.  I as a Black student know that making a decision to run this strategy, only furthers my own oppression.  Why?  Because I will be perceived as less than a policy debater.  I will be perceived as bias about race. I will be seen as forfeiting everyone's education on the topic.  I will be seen as forfeiting the respect of others who choose to debate the topic.  I will likely lose.  I will be perceived as less strategic relative to my opponent.  
 
Listen to Rashad's story, really listen.  Listen to my story.  Listen to the Black story.  The game prevents race from every being competitive and strategic.  That's a problem!  There are real DA's, stereotypes that accompany execution of any race strategy in this activity, whether in a hardcore policy making approach or a kritial/peformative approach.  That is the sum total of the narratives being shared. 
 
2) My Decision to stop running this argument. Two reasons:
a)  The inability of Black students to generate sufficient compassion for it to really, really work consistently.  Funny thing, after enough of these debates, where their sacrifices aren't being acknowledged or rewarded, hell they usually are being dismissed with judge's saying "debate the topic" or "I don't get it" or whatever reason the Black student should compete "better" and stop making these less than strategic choices, because the judge can't see or appreciate the forced choice thrust upon the Black debate given the nature, Black debaters get angrier and angrier.  So why is that?
 
Look, today's Black debater can't do what Malcolm X did, or the HBCU's did.  Then the only requirement for making race strategic in debate, was to make a persuasive case for the racial perspective of the argument as it related to the topic. The Black perspective on Civil Disobdience; or military compulsion; or segregation.  But the game was changed.  The evolution of tournament debate destroyed the possibility of making race strategic and competitive through persuasion, by reducing the debate to policy impacts that privileged the biggest ones, don't you get it?  So the game, absent the ability to use debate to speak on Black issues, lost relevance for Blacks.  All of this stuff that the culture evolved into, moved away from the needs and wants that Blacks had, hence the decision of HBCU's to come to NDT, once they FINALLY could legally.  Their decisions to dismantle debate programs.  
 
None of this is unique to Black folks issues.  It applies to all minority interests.  And as the game is played now, it will eventually run off all minorities who have interest in debating about their minority status.  You're not welcome here, because you can never, ever win, especially in a traditional policy calculation.
 
The promise of debate as individual empowerment fails for students that need debate for reasons other than playing a game to garner some academic benefits.  They need debate to replicate the interracial debates of the 30's and 40's like in the movie.  And despite the MOUNTAIN of uphill battles and hurdles required for the HBCU's and Malcolm X to succeed in debates, they still did.  Why?  Because the game allowed them a true chance to succeed, it allowed them the chance to persuade an audience that their unique and different minority experiences substantively improved the world of the majority, by improving the decision making of the majority.  Made better policy for whites.  But that required persuasion.  Take persuasion away and replace it with impact calculus that privileges majority interests and true persuasion is no longer competitive.  I can't compete by showing you how minority interests makes the world better, because the majority of debaters are trained that majority impacts are better.  The majority of judge's are trained to make that their impact calculus.  Their racism impact isn't as big as my three nuke wars.  Your racial justice movement isn't as important as the six social movements I'm a part of.  Can't you see that?
 
Using the kritik as a less than equal substitute doesn't fix the problem, in fact over time it has made it worst.  Because the kritik lacks the common standards found in policy, and lacks any theoretical foundation as it relates to the policy construction of theory.  The result: spectacular exchanges that have no ethical boundaries as the warring sides clash for competitive success.  The kritik was a necessary, but insufficient first step to address the central issue.  But now, because the kritik issues never got resolved, it grew into the disillusioned, a social movement to challenge the power of the policy purists.  However, it too lacks a central purpose and the competitive strategies by those interested in critical approaches theoretically dismiss and minimize other minority experiences.  It too doesn't answer the question: how to minorities become competitive by advocating on behalf of their social location.  In fact, the kritik has become a weapon of unlimited questionable ethical, moral and educational approaches, equally used to marginalize minority perspectives in the same way that policy calculations do.  Many even more so because they are devoid of context.  We don't teach people how to think compassionately and ethically relative to context, so pies in the face engage race arguments.  Pretty sure that's not making any of this better for Black students.
 
All of this makes Black students incredibly angry with both sides eventually.  Some transfer their anger productively into becoming the technical best like Deven and Rashad.  Some give up on debating issues important to them.  Others just isolate themselves from the large group of people that continue to walk through debate with blinders on, frustrated that the Black students are messing with the game they understand and compete so well in.  But most, just walk away, looking for somewhere else to make a difference, to find validation, to exist.  Cuz' for my wife, the benefits didn't outweigh the costs.
 
One reason I stopped coaching the strategy: the strategy became so uncomfortable because most Black students can't generate the herculean and unrealistic and unreasonable amount of compassion and love required to look past the stereotypes, the abuse, and the indifference, to continue operating in productive ways given the ways the community chose to compete and evaluate their arguments.  I know I couldn't.  I was headed to violence or walking away if I didn't make a change.  So I did.
 
b) The conclusion by Glass is why I stopped
 
The new community conclusion is that winning doesn't produce change.  Mr. Glass says that voting against racism should force a strategic change by the team making the claim.  He puts the burden to strategically change and adapt on the team alleging institutional racism. Yet, another sacrifice.  I couldn't keep coaching and listening to the post-round critiques.  I couldn't watch my students get angrier and angrier until I thought they would explode, and the external disrespect and lack of appreciation for what we were doing, produce ongoing conflict and stress inside our squad room.  I'd watch these debates over and over, where the line always shifted, there was always something else Louisville needed to do, some small thing missing from what could turn the competitive tide, just answer one more detail, cut down one more tree.  But that was as imaginery and magical as Michael Korcok's God.  
 
But I knew the truth, there was no strategic adjustment that would fix the problem for us.  And the fact that judge's either didn't understand, didn't care, or were just lying made it impossible to continue.  DAMN!  Can anyone here see the forest!!!  The answer is "no", because we were all trained to look at the trees and never taught to see the forest.  We didn't have a tool to do so.  So I chose to find a more productive way to approach all of this.  But at Louisville we are pretty much back to where we started, talking about institutional racism.  Got there a totally different way, but still ended up there.  But I believe God has a purpose and that new road taught us important things that hopefully will serve all of us well.
 
3) The Community responsibilty
 
I couldn't disagree with Mr. Glass more about where the burden to change lies.  Certainly not with the race strategy.  It is not Black students responsibility to fix this problem, it is ours.  Everyone, but mostly directors who have ceded the entirety of the creation of norms and procedures to students, who in turn want to maximize competitive success for themselves, lacking the broader perspective and purpose on the value of education, including the importance of diversity in our critical thinking process.  The result:  individual acts of dehumanizing behaviors that the institution or structure lacks that ability to hold people accountable for.  The result: a covert system that covers up the ugly truth that minority issues aren't competitively welcome here.  This is not Deven, Davyon's, Adam's, Andy's or even my problem, this is a community problem with a community solution required!  And if every Black debater won every debate they were in as reparations for the complicitly that everyone in this community shares as this problem continues, as the community digs it's head in the sand about the realities it faces, that would be a small, inconsequential price to pay to repair the unnecessary pain and suffering that has been caused.
 
Sadly, if people would just listen, as Scott so eloquently posts with his loving heart, those voices on the bottom who have to live with the dilemma of sacrificing privilege, can offer solutions that can transform the community.  Dayvon just did in his debate with Korcok and I offered a method of evaluation that gives him a chance to win, to compete.  If your decision calculus doesn't know how to evaluate the policy impact debate of racial justice versus the other "ism's", then perhaps you should reread that post and try to listen.
 
In my evaluation of my not so imaginary debate between Dayvon and Mike I attempt to use a framework (see I know some of the new lingo) to make my decision.  It's nothing new or sexy, but it's tried and tested.  I use a framework of full and complete persuasion: which team has a method that best engages the different ways we communicate and attempt to influence one another.  Why is that important?  Because if we want to share our different experiences about a common topic with each other, it's the only evaluative framework that history tells us makes sense.  Dayvon attempted to persuade you regarding issues that affect him regarding the initial topic question asked, "what are each of us doing to reduce the oppression that he feels in debate?"  
 
And if you don't want to personally go this far yet, at a minimum your starting point should be that your judging philosophy should address how minority perspectives get incorporated into your decision calculus in ways that stop forcing students to make a choice: compete on majority, universal terms and sacrifice who a student is and wants to be OR embrace their minority purpose and risk the inherent backlash from a game that won't fully respect and value that competitive choice.  It's an unfair, institutionally racist choice and it must change.
 
Love,
 
Doc
 
>>> 

From: "David Glass" <gacggc at gmail.com>
To:"Kade Olsen" <kade.olsen at gmail.com>
CC:<edebate at www.ndtceda.com>
Date: 4/10/2008 08:10 AM
Subject: Re: [eDebate] Race and debaters.

Hi Kade,

Your email resonated, because you touch on the issue that for me distorts these frequent conversations
and discussions...  which is that in the current setting race" is being used as an instrument to win debate rounds...  so  if there was an actual concession that people were coming together, and that everyone did actually did have their hearts in the correct place, then there would be no argument left, and a strategic advantage would be lost.

To me it is somewhat amazing that there would be this intense set of discussions after an all- African-American team won a major championship using a non-traditional argument.

Let's think about that for a second.  These students won.   Now if there was even a significant amount
of racism in the activity, one would expect that a team so-constituted would be significantly disadvantaged when  even attempting to advance the usual, accepted arguments.  But this team went much further - they competed using approaches which are problematic for many judges and coaches on grounds of debate theory, but were still victorious. So  when I listen to these continued charges and counter-charges in that environment, I filiter the discussion the following way:  "just because there was victory at CEDA, doesn't mean we can't keep running this argument."  In other words, there is a strategic need to rebuild the case, in order to continue the strategy.

I have a similar issue with the approach when I'm judging.  In that setting, you have a situation where students are called together in a competitive framework to affirm or negate the resolution, and as a *strategy* to win the round, one team directly indicts the community, which of course includes the opposing team and the judge, with racism.   This puts the judge in the interesting position:  either she/he votes for the strategy, which endorses the idea that there is systemic racism in the community, including the judge, and that this needs to be recognized - or the judge votes the other way, which from the specified perspective of the team that introduced the argument, quite clearly labels the judge as a racist.

The way I deal with such a clearly loaded approach is to filter the arguments for their strategic potential, and understand them on that level.  But as a child of the 60s, who grew up on 155th Street in New York City, and who was dragged onto the picket lines in the NY City school wars by mom when I was six,  I must say that for me there is a real real problem in having to dissect the arguments for their truth-value versus the particular needs that come in play when these approaches are brought into a competitive environment, for the purpose of getting a win in a debate round.

So the only contribution I have to all of this is that it is useful to do what we do - and to "unmask" all approaches in all their forms, to find their purpose.   Let's not kid ourselves - every argument in a round is about power, it is about gaining an advantage or precedence over the opponent.    That understanding should be applied equally, to every argument.

I dunno if that helps or not...

Good luck in your marathon (or is it half marathon?) coming up...

David 

On Thu, Apr 10, 2008 at 12:11 AM, Kade Olsen <kade.olsen at gmail.com> wrote:



 
I don't have much to say or any answers to these discussions.  Many of them are just painful to read and the problems with race and gender discrimination in debate still make me sick to my stomach when I think about it. 

 
The thing I would like to briefly mention is that there are hardly any current debaters involved in this discussion.  Or well, any E-debate discussion for that matter.  I've read Adam, Deven, and Dayvon's posts, but if I unless I am missing something, they are the only people who debated this year who have written anything on the subject (I may have missed posts, if so, I'm sorry).
 

 
I'm the first to say that I owe everything in debate to the people that have coached and judged me. But this conversation, like all of them on e-debate, will soon end.  But we'll only hear from a couple of debaters.  This is quite sad given that these are the people making  arguments and the reason why the activity exists.

 
I can't speak for everyone that debates or most normal people generally.  However, I think something that is quite lost in all of these conversations is the role of competition and what it does to debaters.  Even though there are million reasons people debate, most everyone debating goes into a round to win.  I haven't coached yet, but I'm guessing they feel the same (given how much time and effort with little thanks they put into debate).  The extreme importance on winning means often times debaters don't really care about who is hurt in the process (If I was debating the 2nd coming of Christ I would want the decision to be a 5-0).  I can't say that debate tournaments bring out the best in people.

 
I'm not sure what this means for responding to race and gender discrimination.  Part of me wishes we could do "something" (I have no idea or the answers) that isn't at these pressure cooker tournaments; if these means substantially changing debate, so be it. 

 
I think a lot of people might be missing how intense it has to be to put Yourself on the line in a debate.  I couldn't have managed debating longer than a couple tournaments if I had to talk about myself in a debate; And Then listen to judges tell me I'm wrong.  I can't, for the life me, understand how anyone wouldn't have the utmost respect for debaters that can talk about their identity in a debate and let people JUDGE THEM.  


The problem might be the only place any discussion about race or gender can happen is in an extremely competitive environment.

 
But if the only way change can happen is by watching a bunch of debaters destroy themselves in debate rounds, thats life.  I always hoped for the better,
 


 

kade

 

 


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