[eDebate] How to Build a Rainbow

Ede Warner ewarner
Sat Apr 12 23:29:35 CDT 2008

Yours is an important, important post, and I appreciate your
willingness to post in spite of your fears/concerns/disclaimers.  I hear
two parts that I'd like to engage.  The pissing contest part and the
larger issues of what I will call, for the moment, non-Black issues of
identity (I think that race is a misnomer so far as well as I'll
explain).  I received your post while watching the movie "Guess Who", a
movie with Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher.  Most would call it a movie
about race, and therein lies some of the problem.  If you haven't seen
it watch the two scenes going on at the same time, with the men and
women drinking separate, and discussing their "issues". I see a gender
movie, and even a little sexual orientation theme in addition to the
racial plot.
Part One: Pissing Contests

I selectively and strategically participate in "pissing contests", even
during a time of such potential productivity.  Why?  Isn't that
divisive?  Well yes and no.  Yes because the decision to pick apart
arguments is usually initiated as a response to questions asked about
race, often by whites.  No because my willingness to engage such
strategies have value for both whites who are trying to understand why
the pick apart strategies aren't true, and for Blacks who are frustrated
by having to spend a lot of their time engaging the pick apart strategy
as a diversionary tactic from addressing their issues.  Just like
Malcolm X used debate early to show Black prisoners that they weren't
inferiority to whites in spite of a culture both in and out of prison
that indoctrinated everyone to belief in white superiority, and when
Malcolm did the same for Black America by debating on college campuses,
I choose to engage in pissing contests to demonstrate that Blacks can
defend and compete equal to any white who chooses to engage with an air
of superiority when engaging advocacy of the Black perspective.  So
there is generally a method to my madness.
Part Two: Non-Black intersections of identity
Christopher, for a second let me express a racial difference that you
and I have.  I don't see what whites may generally describe as
"non-Black" issues:  non-Black racial and ethnic discussions, sexual
orientation, gender, age, classism, religious difference, or any other
demographic difference as "separate" from the Black issue.  I see them
all as interrelated.  And your post, while sincerely showing care and
concern about Black issues, the call for a focus on the "rainbow" and
the introduction of sexual orientation sees these as something separate
from Black issues.  Your orientation runs counter to my personal
experience, and likely in fact, fuels a stereotype and misconception of
what it means to discuss "race" or "Black" issues.
Let use an example by looking at our understanding of the terms "theory
vs praxis".  Theories are large umbrella thoughts about how the world
works or should work.  Praxis is that day to day application of those
theories applied to single, particular situations where said theory
might apply.  Sometimes the call to focus on a theory can help us to
look at a situation, or sometimes a theory becomes so general that it
has no real application to any particular situation.  We might call this
ideal or utopian.  And moving the other way, we might learn way more by
studying a particular example, then just that example.  We might learn a
method that can be used with other examples.  We might learn a new
theory from studying the single example.
My Blackness is a social construction that was thrust upon me as an
identifier by others of who I am based on skin color.  My Blackness
however, is also being an identity that I choose to embrace.  Why? 
Because their is a method and perspective I have learned by my choice to
study other Blacks, their history, and their struggle that relates and
speaks to my existence in this world.  One of the stereotypes that seems
to accompany white views of my Blackness is that it is so
lely about
race.  However, when I went on a mission to increase Black students in
debate, my journey in part because of white perspectives of our argument
in competition, that we were ignoring every other aspect of diversity by
focusing on race, and through the reality that the effort of recruiting
Black students challenged my own personal stereotype.  My goal of
recruiting based on race, became more diverse than that: I found myself
confronting issues of gender, sexual orientation, non Black race issues,
religion issues, age differences, and academic difference, I learned
that my personal efforts to increase Black participation in
intercollegiate debate broke down my own personal stereotypes of what
that meant.
So the process of starting by trying to fix the problem of one race,
forced interaction with a variety of issues and a reorientation of what
Blackness meant.  For inside the Black race, existed all the other
demographics of diversity.  But my experience with whites is that when
they invoke Black or race, they are limiting the discussion to race, not
What's the point?  The point is that a journey by this community to
understand Black culture is a journey to do so much more than that,
starting with challenging the stereotype that Black only means race. 
Black lesbians; Black gays; Black women; Black Muslems; Black
Christians; Black Aetheists; Black students; Black faculty; Black old
people like me; Black youth create the intersections of the concerns you
address.  It would seem that one of the first steps in challenging
conceptions of whiteness is thinking about how you think about Black. 
Do you separate gay from Black?  Or gender from Black?  Or do you see
the relationship?  That seems like a great starting point.
Christopher, I have sat on diversity committees that when the
conversation began about Blacks on campus, the group quickly wanted a
broader discussion of other forms of diversity.  What happened was that
the discussions became so abstract and theoretical that nothing got
accomplished because no one knew how to "include" all the groups in
terms of pragmatic actions.  No rainbow gets built.  That is also how I
feel about the debate community's response so far to our call for
consideration of addressing Black issues head on.  And while one
certainly doesn't have to start with Black-White race relations, my fear
is given the legacy and inability of this country to label color
blindness as the solution to Blackness, when Black still exists in the
mind of every person in this country, I fear that shifting from that
starting point can become a move away from any real solution to
anything.  I believe that the Black experience of struggle can teach us
a method that can be applied to other areas of diversity, I've seen it
in my own squad room.  And from that one color, we can learn how to
build the rainbow.  But that's just my perspective.
I hope that if you haven't see "Guess Who" you watch it.  If you saw it
but thought it was a race movie, you watch it again.  And if you saw it
the first time, and didn't categorize it as a race movie, you are
already on the way to building a rainbow.  Now just apply those lessons
to debate and we are halfway there.
I gotta run. Pay it Forward came on afterwards and I haven't seen it. 
I hear it's a great movie.


From: "Christopher Thomas" <chrisscottthomas at gmail.com>
To:<edebate at www.ndtceda.com>
Date: 4/12/2008 10:37 PM
Subject: [eDebate] Something forgotten about in this discussion:
Tasting theRainbow

I guess I should start off with a few disclaimers
--I am a terrible writer and horrible at comprising complex thoughts;
but I felt compelled to post something
--I am not an amazing debater?I did not go to the NDT or large national
tournaments; so I do not know how qualified I am to discuss things
concerning the community.
But for the past few days I have been pondering the debates occurring
on Edebate and attempting to figure out how I want to word my opinion.
And then that fir
st disclaimer comes into play and I find out why I have
not gone to the NDT.
To me, this discussion could have gone places and actually changed a
lot of things about this community. But it has become, pardon my French,
one big pissing contest for some people. They pick apart the small
arguments, like debaters do, and fail to look at the bigger picture. But
that is simply my opinion.
My take on the issue of race and exclusion in debate is this; while the
discussion of race in debate seems ungodly important? I feel like this
discussion always glosses over other forms of identity in debate. It
becomes a black versus white issue, or policy versus performance issue
rather than, what I will classify as, a normal versus abnormal issue.
For me the community creates a center of normal?White, Wealthy,
Masculine, Male and straight. (Probably a few more descriptors left out,

And everything outside of that center is abnormal and excluded one way
or another from the community. The issue of sexuality is what impacts my
role in this community the most and I feel no one ever discusses it.
Things such as religion or looks can be changed. And things like race or
sex are impossible to completely alter. But queerness is in a category
of its own. It is something that I can either hide or celebrate.  In the
debate community I feel like I have to choose every round which identity
I need to be in order to win or get speaker points. I have to act
"straight" with some judges in order to gain respect for my arguments.
And often, if not always, these issues get forgotten from this
discussion of exclusion. 
I don't think that there should be some pyramid of identities, and I
agree with a lot of what Ede, Jackie and some other people are
suggestion. I guess I am attempting to include another identity into
this discussion which often gets pushed to the periphery. There are
things we can do for queer communities in debate.
-understand there are identities out there beyond our knowledge: People
who are in the closet, transgender, bisexual are all that can feel
scared and excluded when we make homophobic comments, make jokes about
queer sex at award ceremonies and give away speaker awards that others
in the room find horribly offensive. 
-include these discussions into our topic discussions: I know Skippy
Flinn on the courts topic pushed strongly for a case concerning
homosexuality but was laughed at because it did not provide "good ground
to debate". Not every topic needs to be "gay friendly" but just the
consideration and the act of discussion of it is important. 
-As debaters and coaches, pay attention to the interactions on your
squad: this is probably where the majority of hetero normative exclusion
happens. I can speak from personal experience that it is not always
coincidence when the two homosexual men on your squad often share rooms
by themselves. And the other males on your squad have jammed 6 people
into a room. And some queer debaters do not like certain words to be
used to describe their identity or community, and while this may not
pertain to me, can often instill fear of retaliation(whether that is
verbal, physical or psychological) in others. 
 I don't know if this makes sense or even adds to this whole
discussion. But I felt that this community should understand that these
discussions go outside just race or just types of debate. This
discussion of exclusion and what is considered normal in this activity
has multiple layers of intersecting identities that cannot just be
ignored. If this is meant to really change something then we need to
talk about all of it and not just select identities. 
But this is just my take.
Christopher Thomas
KU debate
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