[eDebate] Race and Debate

Kuswa, Kevin kkuswa
Sun Apr 13 22:46:34 CDT 2008


Hello e-debators,


Race is paramount, omnipresent, and inevitable.  Like time, it is an inescapable site of being and becoming, a moment of collective and individual awareness, an ever-changing mechanism for inclusion and exclusion, and an entrance into the lived experiences of our multi- and intersectionality.  There is love in something that cannot be put down, there is compassion in every expression, every attempt to communicate.  Denying race means suffocation, drowning, and the confusion of enlightenment for racial terror.  Sometimes censorship hides behind calls for reconciliation.    


I am enjoying many of these posts, reflecting, feeling many emotions, thinking about race and debate, race and the academy, my own whiteness and critical whiteness studies.  White is a race, as contradictory and diverse as any other and tied to specific contexts like any other.  White can both merge with, and diverge from, other races.  In the United States, however, whiteness is often invisible, not explicitly "raced."  Its connections to colonialism and imperialism are certainly visible across his-story, but those and other pejorative connections are often de-linked from considerations of whiteness as a race.  Even Conrad's darkness has a heart, but America's image of that beating organ needs Vietnam (as an Apocalypse) to occupy a territory, not Africa.  Nakayama and Krizek's article about the strategic discourse of whiteness contends that most considerations of the white race involve a vague gesture to European national identities, glorified immigration and settlement narratives, and individual family genealogy.    


These self-identified components of whiteness, though, are generally not limiting, not pervasive as a source of fear or insecurity, not associated with the legacy of slavery, and not evident or overt on a daily basis.  Ronald Jackson interviews whites at HBCs and finds the same relationship between whiteness and a voluntary sense of European nationalism, food choices and other ethnic practices, and a way to "objectively" describe the majority in America.  Whiteness, for those with access to its yoke of privilege, often becomes a silent backdrop that quietly defines progress and civilization from an Anglo-Saxon starting point perfected through the resources of white Christianity united with American exceptionalism and economic globalization.         


The view that "White Trash" is an aberration and that white nobility is the norm contributes to the sanitization, purification, and social authority of whiteness.  The unconscious possession of whiteness as a currency reserved to a particular group has oppressive effects on Blacks, Chicano/as, and the orbit of the entire race constellation (Which race assumes the role of the Sun?) circulating through the United States.  The white serial killer, the white atomic bomb, the white meth lab, the white tendency toward militarism and extermination are not visible as "white" and typically not associated with the (white) American majority.  Despite the generalizations and the risks of essentialism, there is a context and a history here worth exploring, what Paul Gilroy does in The Black Atlantic, that asks us to map these meanings and their movements, even in current policy debate.  Another articulation comes from Gilroy before his later conflation of culture with race, a rather long quotation (1992, p197):


 "<Indent> Matthew looked again at the white leviathan-at the mighty organization of white folk against which he felt himself so bitterly in revolt.  It was the same vast, remorseless machine in Berlin as in New York.  Of course there were differences-differences which he felt like a tingling pain.  W.E.B. Du Bois (1975, p7).<End indent>


As far as cultural studies is concerned, it is equally significant that both were centrally employed in those European attempts to think through beauty, taste, and aesthetic judgment that are the precursors of contemporary cultural criticism.  Tracing these 'racial' signs and their conditions of existence in relation to European aesthetics and philosophy can contribute much to an ethno-historical reading of the discourse and aspirations of Western modernity as a whole.  It would appear, that 'race,' ethnicity, and nationality form an important seam of continuity linking English cultural studies with one of its foreparents-the doctrines of classical (that is European) aesthetics."


In Gilroy, the complexity is with the context of "aesthetics" as a particular social movement, for he notes later (p189) that, "The figure of the black appears in different forms in the aesthetics of Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche (among others) as a marker for moments of cultural relativism and to support the production of aesthetic judgments of a supposedly universal character (for example, to say what is authentic music...)"   So, it appears that it is not just reading bell hooks' Outlaw Culture (to respond), but attaching it to John Frow's formulation of "cultural capital," an element shared by everyone in debate, to listen and chew on these deliberations.   How can we all participate in argument in the present and commit to accept argument as the impetus for change in the future?  Identification in debate (both performed identity and rhetorical subjectivity) matters...always, but not always in the same ways in the same place.   


Yes, these connections may reach back to the Greeks (Who wants to emulate Plato?) and a public sphere generally devoid of women, slaves, and others without property or citizen status, but who would know?  The Black Athena poses a productive counter-memory about Egypt as the cradle, but not one with a monolithic origin theory that would simply invert a black-white binary.  Such connections, though, fall to the wayside in the United States where a "loosely" or in(di)visibly aligned racial majority uses the narrative of the demise of slavery, the reconstruction of the South, and the Civil Rights movement to appease white guilt and pave the way for white privilege as the hidden consequence of colorblindness and a multicultural norm that supposedly transcends race.  It is lucky to obtain whiteness.   


Ignatiev (How the Irish Became White) and the race traitor do a much better job detailing this history and the project of critical whiteness, a non-necessary supplement to a radical anti-racist stance that seeks to decenter and color white privilege.  The literature is now quite mammoth, starting as a trickle with A Possessive Investment in Whiteness and ballooning into an academic industry (feeding capitalism, of course) featuring journal issues, conferences, edited volumes, a speaker circuit, classes, and major academic resources.  


The construction of Jesus as a white male (see D&G on "Year Zero: Faciality" in TP) cannot help but contribute to the centering of whiteness and the salvation aims of the crusades and the "missionary" impulse (the whiteness of militarism, stealing the "new world" for the sake of the inhabitants who could assimilate or die).  Visibility makes the indivisibility of white privilege more difficult to sustain when social constructs such as the "model minority" are exposed as additional centering mechanisms.  Bitter?  Guns or religion would be better than both. 


There are significant differences between the arguments advanced during the past decade under the sign of anti-racism in/and debate.  Some debaters and programs have fore-grounded the recognition of racial privilege as a starting point, the positioning of scholarship as personal, organic, and intellectual, and the move to confront the innumerable aspects of white privilege in competitive policy debate, both reflected and constitutive.  How did YOU get here?  Who did not?  Who else should?  By the way, where are we going?  Do we care how or where your grandparents live(d)?


Other debate teams hone in more directly on questions of technique and its residue, interrogating everything from speed and traditional fiat, to judging preferences, to the presentation of evidence.  The deployment of the flow (paper or plastic?) to make arguments "count" is only the cusp of this dimension.  Debating without the flow (or pretending to debate off the flow) calls into question the exclusions of the flow itself- initially, what physical requirements must be met in order to write and speak in succession from the flow?  Who is most likely to receive flow training toward what purpose?  At what cost (to self and institution)?  What is required to really clash?  


Certainly Louisville has shifted the conversation in powerful ways, as has Towson-not only CL, but many of their debaters including the international students there-in addition to a long and growing list of schools and teams from across the country.  One area of neglect-a little room inside the elephant-bringing together all of these debates, the struggles they represent, and the hopes they carry, is PLACE.


The place of the debate round, the classroom, the campus, the physical location of debate is relevant.  The place of debate opens and closes the agency available to debaters and therefore influences manifestations of race in debate.  Standpoint epistemology is one way to conceive of the geographic element of debate, and another is the intersection between the deabters and pedagogy.  It is not about debating race (debating) as a "teachable moment," but as a platform.  Period.  Territories can be gated and preserved just as they can be imagined and re-formed.  Did you surpass your training?       


This preface has now outlasted its purpose and the basic argument that race and debate require direct attempts to tackle place has been advanced.  Let me finish with an example.  Debaters here at Richmond have more than benefited from the questions and research compelled by rounds against Towson, Louisville, and Fullerton among others, thinking that is not only crucial for students at a small private liberal arts school located in the same city as the Confederate White House and a row of monuments to Southern Civil War heroes, but also thinking (about the black aesthetic for example) that would not have been provoked otherwise.  Pursuing the intersection of race and place, a few faculty members and debaters here at Richmond applied for and received a grant to work on a class about environmental justice and the politics of race, space and place.  From there, based on the interdisciplinary platform developed in the first course, we continued the overarching inquiry into our specific place and the significance of race.  One major result has been the formation of another course called Race, Space, and Place: Critical Confederacy Studies.


Finding a way to criticize the contemporary manifestations of racism in the South that surface through states' rights and the remnants of slavery cannot simply target all aspects of modern life in the South.  Thus, our goal is an academic intersection and a node of resistance that can take Richmond, Virginia as one possible starting place. Most likely you are not interested in the details of the course, but just in case it is pasted in abbreviated form down below, including the bibliography.  Student projects are starting this week and the plan is to paste descriptions of research areas on the web.  I'll post the link as it comes together.  


In the meantime, an active but volatile edebate is better than a slow slide into obsolescence and a silent list serve. The main point of this post is to chime in, do some active listening, give a shout out for some pedagogy, offer some citations, and make an argument to add place into the conversation.  Another pass through Gilroy (1992, p197):


"The recent debate, if one can call it that, in New Literary History typified this.  There was no escape there from the hermeneutic claims of ethnicity and nationality, only an argument over the precise ethnic recipe involved in being able to walk that walk and talk that talk.  I understand these impulses.  The invocation of nationality and ethnicity corresponds to real political choices and to the wider field of political struggle.  Yielding to them makes the world a simpler place but if the political tradition of cultural studies scholarship teaches us anything at all, then it is surely that the drive toward simplicity should be distrusted." 


In other words, some questions remain: Where are these debates taking place?  By contrast, where is edebate?  Where is the University in the cultural landscape?  Where are social movement forming and fomenting?  Where would debaters and judges be if not IN debate rounds?  What is displaced when the location of the round is filtered through the imaginary of the debate resolution?  Not being ready to debate race is not being ready to debate, but being ready to debate is a perpetual state of becoming that always requires new arrangements (as opposed to the assumption that requiring readiness is the end point of debate).  Thanks for reading.  More eventually.




Kevin Kuswa

U. Richmond   




University of Richmond

Weinstein Fellows Program

Critical Confederacy Studies

Interdisciplinary Studies (IDST) 379, PLSC 325, RHCS 413, Spring 2008

Dr. Paul Achter (RHCS), Dr. Kevin Kuswa (RHCS), Dr. Andrea Simpson (PLSC)


1.  What is the "South"? What is the Confederacy?


                In politics and in popular culture one would not need to look hard to see that the early part of the 21st century has been one of continued debate about the politics of the Confederacy. Just last year, a South Carolina teenager sued her school district for the right to wear confederate flag clothing, and a state legislator from Henrico County told a black colleague in regard to slavery to "get over it."  It was also the year Virginia Senator George Allen's campaign crumbled when his fondness for confederate symbolism and his use of a racial slur were exposed. The resilient rhetoric of the "Lost Cause" circulates in public culture amid new challenges that redefine it and the union it formerly fought.


                Today, neoconfederate groups are countered in public culture by voices urging racial reconciliation, acknowledgment of past wrongs, and atonement. Several states have considered, and many passed, official apologies for slavery. Universities such as Brown, North Carolina, and Emory initiated projects to document their debt to slaves and to memorialize slave laborers on campus. The city of Chicago passed an ordinance in 2005 that any company doing business with the city must reveal its ties to slavery. Finally, here in Richmond, Mayor Douglas Wilder fights to raise $200 million he needs to open a controversial National Slavery Museum.


                In all of these instances, the Confederacy is represented, debated, and interpreted for contemporary audiences. Toward what purposes? How does the Confederacy fashion itself to fit today's needs and desires? What aspects are celebrated and which are concealed, and by whom? How is historical foreclosure (the argument that the past has no bearing on the present) used to interpret the Confederacy? What is the importance of efforts to reckon with the Confederacy in public memory (statues, rhetoric, museums)? Is the Confederacy or concepts of the Confederacy, worth studying, talking about, researching, or taking seriously in an intellectual way?  We may not answer these questions definitively over the course of one semester. We ask them because we believe it is in these discussions that ideological progress and change can take place.


2.  Understanding the Historical, Social, Political, and Symbolic Confederacy


We wish to situate the confederacy as a cultural phenomenon in order to confront history, theory, identity, and place. Our interdisciplinary approach to confederate culture affords the war a prominent role in helping us understand the Confederacy, but, among other advantages, it preempts the possibility that the confederacy can be understood as a relic of history or that it can be conflated with military conflict. If the Confederacy has contemporary resonance, where do we find the confederacy today and how does it work? We wish to examine how the places, rhetoric, music, art and popular media of the Confederacy inform our thinking about race, and how the Confederacy is implicated in today's racial discourse. Though a history of the Confederate States of America (CSA) would be interesting and important as a stand-alone topic, "Critical Confederacy Studies" enhances and challenges current approaches based on narratives or history by emphasizing the materiality of everyday contemporary life.


3.  Understanding Reparations and Resistance to Reparations for the Descendants of Slaves


                One of the most interesting political, legal, and intellectual debates centers on the idea of reparations for descendants of slaves.  Reparations have been granted to other groups-the victims of the Jewish Holocaust and the Japanese-Americans placed in Internment Camps to name two.  Yet, when the idea of reparations is raised for African-Americans as a way to correct past wrongs, there are many who resist, some on legal issues, and others on the grounds that there is no way to compensate those who actually experienced slavery.  We hope to begin a discussion of reparations with recognition of the way slavery, as an institution, is depicted in contemporary Southern life-especially the tourist industry.  When Williamsburg, Virginia, re-enacted a slave auction, there were extreme reactions on the part of White and Black "bystanders."  From there we turn to the politics of reparations as well as the possible effects.


4.  Understanding Where We Live, Learn, and Play:  Richmond, Capital of the Confederacy


                In one way or another, there has always been a struggle over the territory of Richmond, Virginia.  The Confederacy is crucial to that struggle. This is evident from the prominence of confederate statuary and public memorials in the street plan, to the annexation of portions of the city in 1970 by Chesterfield County that diluted the collective power of a growing black population, to the remnants of desegregation plans in the public school districts. It is evident also in its absences or disconnections: as banks find themselves making reparations for slavery nationally, Richmond's black history museum makes no mention of slavery or the Confederacy in its exhibits. To many, "public" spaces in Richmond re/present a hostile, racist Old South, and the stubborn permanence of the monuments and other symbols serve as daily reminders that Richmond is still the preeminent place of/for the Confederacy. Perhaps the most tangible and prominent of confederate symbols is the flag, which recently again prompted an impassioned debate.  Senator George Allan's racial slur against one of his opponent's campaign workers prompted renewed attention to his affinity for confederate symbolism, including the Confederate flag pin he wore in his high school yearbook photo, the flag he once displayed in his home, and the proclamation of a Confederate Heritage and History month he made while governor in 1997. See Peter Hardin, "Allen talks of Racial Journey; Tells black educators he hadn't grasped pain tied to Confederacy," Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 13, 2006, p. A-1.  A Lexis-Nexis search for articles about the Confederacy in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reveals that in the past five years there have been 928 stories, an average of three to four per week.


5.  A Learning Experience


                The team's research projects and course readings will cover a broad range of topics within the Confederacy.  We want to utilize humanistic and social scientific research methods to assess the objective and subjective features of this crucial cultural formation. Our goal is not to simply "bash" the Confederacy, but to ask questions about what the construction of the Confederacy meant in the past, and what it means today.  Some of the questions we will ask are as follows:  How does the Confederacy influence contemporary discourse on race, integration, and democracy?  How can we untangle notions of the Confederacy from the myths of the Civil War?  What was "Zion Town" and how did the University negotiate its proximity to a community of freed slaves? How have film, literature, and popular media influenced public consciousness about the conflicts that led to the establishment of the Confederacy? What is the relationship between southern identity, a "southern way of life" and the Confederacy, and how can we link it to class and race?  How do monuments to the Civil War and the Confederacy work for different audiences, and is it important to preserve them? What is southern pride and who feels it? How does the city negotiate the legacy of the Confederacy as it works to attract businesses and tourists to Richmond?





UNIT #1.  Framing Critical Confederacy Studies: History and Theory



Connelly, Robert J. (Summer 2002). "The challenge of reconciling with Black America. <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A98124740&source=gale&userGroupName=vic_uor&version=1.0> " International Journal of Politics and Ethics <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A98124740&source=gale&userGroupName=vic_uor&version=1.0>  2.2 : 145-156. 

Rhodes, James Ford (1913).  "Antecedents of the American Civil War, 1850-1860," in Lectures on the American Civil War, London: Macmillan and Company; New York: The Macmillan Company.


McGraw, Marie Tyler (2006). Southern comfort levels: Race, Heritage Tourism, and the Civil War in Richmond. In James Oliver Horton & Lois E. Horton, Slavery and Public History: The tough stuff of American Memory. New York: The New Press, 151-168. 


Jansson, David R. (May 2004). American Hegemony and the Irony of C. Vann Woodward's "The Irony of Southern History" Southeastern Geographer - Volume 44, Number 1, pp. 90-114.


Hague, E, Giordano, B & Sebesta, E. H. (2005). Whiteness, multiculturalism and nationalist appropriation of Celtic Culture: The case of the League of the South and the Lega Nord. Cultural Geographies 12, 151-173.


Moeser, John (2000). "The Best of Times and the Worst of Times: An overview of Richmond, Virginia." Interpretation, January, pp. 36-44.


Foucault, Michel (1986). "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics.  Spring, pp 22-27.


Sheehan-Dean, Aaron (March 2004). "Everyman's War: Confederate Enlistment in Civil War Virginia"
Civil War History - Volume 50, Number 1, pp. 5-26


McKerrow, Raymie E. (1989). "Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis," Communication Monographs 56, pp. 91 - 111.


Schramm-Pate, Susan L. Lussier, Richard (December 2003-January 2004). "Teaching Students How to Think Critically: The Confederate Flag Controversy in the High School Social Studies Classroom." The High School Journal, 2 (87), pp. 56-65.


Ash, Stephen V. (June 2006). "The Great Confederate Debate." Reviews in American History - Volume 34, Number 2, pp. 182-187


Hicks, Scott (Brian Scott). (Winter 2006). "W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Richard Wright: Toward an Ecocriticism of Color. Callaloo 29 (1): pp. 202-222


Chandler, Nahum Dimitri (Fall 2000). Originary displacement. Boundary 2, 27, (3): 249-286.


Feder, Ellen K. (Spring 2007). The Dangerous Individual('s) Mother: Biopower, Family, and the Production of Race. Hypatia 22  (2):, 60-78 


Lemert, Charles C. (Fall 2000). The Race of Time: Du Bois and Reconstruction

                Boundary 2 27 (3): 215-248 


Zwarg, Christina (Spring 2002). Du Bois on Trauma: Psychoanalysis and the Would-Be Black Savant  Cultural Critique 51, 1-39.


Frank, David A. and McPhail, Mark L. (Winter 2005). Barack Obama's Address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention: Trauma, Compromise, Consilience, and the (Im)possibility of Racial Reconciliation. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 8 (4), 571-593


Hettle, Wallace (March 2002). "'United We Stand, Divided We Fall": Examining Confederate Defeat.  Reviews in American History - Volume 30, Number 1,  pp. 51-57


Young, Robert M. (Winter 2001). The Linguistic Turn, Materialism and Race: Toward an Aesthetics of Crisis. Callaloo 24, (1): 334-345.


Arac, Jonathan. Toward a Critical Genealogy of the U.S. Discourse of Identity: Invisible Man after Fifty Years. boundary 2 - Volume 30, Number 2, Summer 2003, pp. 195-216 - Article


UNIT #2.  Race, Reparations, the Confederacy



Westley, Robert.  1998. "Many Billions Gone: Is It Time to Reconsider the Case for Black Reparations?.  Boston College Law Review, Boston College Law School.


Johnson, Joan Marie (2005)."Ye Gave Them a Stone": African American Women's Clubs, the Frederick Douglass Home, and the Black Mammy Monument." Journal of Women's History 17 (1): pp. 62-86.


Smith, Jon, (Fall 2003). "Hot Bodies and 'Barbaric Tropics': The U.S. South and New World Natures." The Southern Literary Journal - Volume 36, Number 1, pp. 104-120.


Ayers, Edward L. (1996). What we talk about when we talk about the South. In All over the map: Rethinking American Regions, eds. E. L. Ayers, P.N. Limerick, S. Nissenbaum, and P.S. Onuf, 62-82. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Flores, Lisa and Moon, Dreama (2002). Rethinking race, revealing dilemmas: Imagining a new racial subject in Race Traitor. Western Journal of Communication 66 (2): 181-207

Nakayama, Thomas K. & Krizek, Robert L. (1995).  "Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric," Quarterly Journal of Speech 81, pp 291-309.


Coates, Rodney D. December 2004. If a Tree Falls in the Wilderness: Reparations, Academic Silences, and Social Justice. Social Forces 83, (2): 841-864.


Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. (December 2004) Getting to Reparations: Japanese Americans and African Americans. Social Forces 83, (2): 823-840.


Biondi, Martha (Fall 2003). The Rise of the Reparations Movement. Radical History Review 87,  5-18.


UNIT #3. Manifestations of the Confederacy


Lieb, Jonathan (2002). "Separate times, shared spaces: Arthur Ashe, Monument Avenue and the politics of Richmond, Virginia's Symbolic Landscape." Cultural Geographies 9: 286-312.


Farmer, James Oscar (Spring 2005). Playing Rebels: Reenactment as Nostalgia and Defense of the Confederacy in the Battle of Aiken. Southern Cultures - Volume 11, Number 1, pp. 46-73.


"Luther King Was a Good Ole Boy" (Summer 1999). The Southern Rock Movement and White Male Identity in the Post-Civil Rights South. Mike Butler. Popular Music and Society, 23 (2) p41. 


Garnet, Henry Highland (1843).  "Address to the slaves of the United States of America." Given to the National Convention of Colored Citizens, Buffalo, New York.


Jasinski, James (2007). Constituting Antebellum African American Identity: Resistance, Violence, and Masculinity in Henry Highland Garnet's (1843) "Address to the Slaves". Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 93 Issue 1, p. 27-57.


Ono, Kent A., and John M. Sloop (Mar. 1995). "The Critique of Vernacular Discourse." Communication Monographs 62.1 19-46.


Boyd, Todd E. "The Meaning of the Blues." Wide Angle 13 (1991): 56-61.


Turner, Khary Kimani (1998). "On the outside, looking in" Metro Times Detroit. Also available online: http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=543


Grem, Darren E. (Winter 2006). "'The South Got Something to Say' Atlanta's Dirty South and Southernization of Hip-Hop America." Southern Cultures, 55-73.


Shelley, Fred M. , Zerr, Kimberly J., et al. (May 2007). The Civil Rights Movement and Recent Electoral Realignment in the South. Southeastern Geographer 47 (1), pp. 13-26.



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