[eDebate] Dear Shanara,

Ede Warner ewarner
Sat Aug 2 19:13:05 CDT 2008

Dear Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley,
I feel like your pain, anger and alienation and most importantly the real issue, you courageously chose to illuminate is about to get lost in the fervor to take sides, posture, condemn, and attack.  As the third terminally-degree active African American director in CEDA-NDT (all apologies to Will, Ed, James, Shawntia, and several other coaches I haven't named without Phd's), I share your pain.  I remember in 1996, at the 50th NDT, when I sat hoping and praying that I would be allowed to judge the Final Round.  I remember the excitement when I told my friends Jon and Shawn that I was not going to drink, get some rest and offer my name for the final card.  I also remember the utter, utter devastation I felt when one team removed my name from that card.  But worse than that, was the devastation a prominent coach dropped on me when he said, "well, you wanted to earn it didn't, you?"  Like Matsuda said in discussing reparations, the lack of acknowledgment of an injury is worse than the injury could ever be.  I should want to earn it?
Not only did I want to earn it, I had earned it.  I had become the only active Black NDT director (perhaps the first, not knowing if Larry Moss directed a college program and not knowing how many HBCU's ever joined the NDT with Phd directors) at the time.  I was certainly the only African American Phd in Communication or anything else judging debates.  My teams annually qualified for the NDT, many using creative and innovative race arguments (about the topic) that were mostly theories and concepts developed by me.  I was gainfully employed in the summer at one of the most prestigious camps.  I had judged many a big debate.  Yeah, I thought I was qualified.  I was one of only 3% of Black faculty on my campus and the only Black director of the some 145 NDT participants.  It was 1996, over thirty years since the Civil Rights Movement, and there hadn't been a black judge in the finals of the NDT.  Yeah, I had earned it.  It's laughable that this community puts student comfort, code for competitive success, ahead of earned qualifications that should at least partially determine who judges debates.  Yeah, I had earned it.  And so have you.
But as you have learned, "qualifications" in this activity are fleeting and extremely subjective.  And who determines your qualifications are often hard to discern and even harder to get folks to take accountability for.  Coaches say they let their students make those "qualifications" calls, but during competition against Louisville's arguments about the preference system, students were quick to defer authority back to their coaches.  So after being "struck", the only power I had was to share my frustrations with my friends and catch up on those beers that I missed during quarters, semi's, and finals.  I wept that night and I decided to quit debate for the first of a hundred times, feeling that I was wasting my time trying to get a room full of whites to learn something beyond competition about who I was and why my issues should be just as important to them, because they were OUR issues, like increasing Black participation in the NDT.  The only recourse I felt that I had was to complain, whine, and weep to my friends or quit.  But I stayed.  I stayed and chose to stop caring about judging.  It was the easiest way to ease the pain and a way for me to unravel the hypocrisy of it all.
Now I know you likely won't quit, you certainly won't whine, and you probably won't cry, you are much stronger than I.  Although I do have my doubts about the tears, when you are alone or with your most intimate loved ones.  But the irony of this incident is amazing: I assisted in creating a new vehicle or tool that assisted you in expressing your frustrations about judging.  And those tools could never have been created without ideas brought forward by bill shannahan.  Ironic, huh?  You choose not to complain and whine quietly to friends, but attempt to productively channel your feelings into a procedural debate argument, no different than the subjective nature of education, predictability, or fair ground, and guess what? The amount of time spent by this community on the very, very important question of how objective and fair is our judge selection process, and how hidden biases exist within them, gets lost because bill first, and the community second, gets so caught up in how you respond to the hurt and pain being struck imposed on you, then ignore the real problem to blame you as the victim.  bill saw his debater's pain and his own as more important than yours, and that's too bad.  What bill doesn't see is that his rationalizations for his actions by couching them in the competitive framework don't sound much different than "go do parly" or "you can learn our style," or my personal favorite, "adaption good for education."  The "right" to strike judges to protect student participant comfort at all cost, treated as an absolute right in the face of the educational value of productive levels of discomfort, like having the amazingly educational and unique experience of being judged by Tria, Shanara, Tiffany, Jennifer Harris, Liz, or Tonia (just to name a few), could have avoided the entirety of the conflict.
But now, you are thrown in as part of the problem, not part of the solution, Shanara.  Why?  Because you didn't respond to your unique frustrations--as a highly successful NDT/CEDA debater, then graduate assistant, and now the second Black female Phd, following Janice Moss (someone many of you likely don't even know)--the way OTHERS feel you should.  Ironically, most don't offer a method or vehicle for doing so, just condemn you for finding your own vehicle, because it's inconvienent, inappropriate or disrespectful to them.  So the debate becomes about how you didn't, not "why" and what's lost is the real issue.  
So as a first year assistant professor and director of debate at Pittsburgh, when you were struck from a quarter-final debate between two schools who you considered "allies" and "conscious" of your plight, I understand why you went there.  And while I understand why bill responded the way he did, I can't stand in solidarity with him for his actions.  But I can and will with you.  I will stand with you and Towson today, tomorrow, and the next day for attempting to speak on your feelings of alienation and frustration.  Why?  
Because the community will say they stand with you all day long outside of the competitive framework, but once inside of it, your issues become invisible.  Why?  Because there isn't an effective place to resolve your issues, now is there?  The competition and it's norms and conventions have been left in large part to the debate round itself, and to a lesser degree to the free market of tournament operation.  So, in spite of the fact that those who condemn Towson's decision to make the argument, and by association, condemn Shanara, to the same gravity that they condemn bill for his outburst, I won't.  Their decision to spend more time rhetorically talking about the decision to run the argument as the "cause" for this incident, only demonstrates what is privileged here.  Civil intolerance is okay, but speaking out on the real problems in the community, especially if they threaten the sanctity and purity of competition, is morally reprehensible.  It reminds me of Tipper Gore and her efforts to stop out bad rap: she got rid of political rap and left gangsterism and materialism to flourish.  Don't hear much from the PMRC these days, now do you?
I say to those folks with criticism for Shanara and Towson: stop criticizing them and fix the real problem.  Take the competitive and procedural decisions out of solely the students hands via a system that has been created to destroy diversity of perspectives, and give back some real teeth to educators and other participants who often have just as much, if not more of a vested interest in the system than students.  Stop blaming the victim, spending one's time analyzing how she or he should address the inequities "appropriately", stop diverting people's understandable emotional responses to these sensitive issues, and give them some real help in fixing them.  
I will say this Shanara, I hope Adam and Andy talked to you about publishing this video.  I hope that you are cool with it because you, moreso than anyone else has the most to lose.  You are an assistant professor, and even if bill is too, the likelihood that this can be used to hurt your job evaluation moreso than him is a certainy.  But I'm sure you know this because you are Black living in America.  I suspect you saw all of the newest data on the CNN series.  
Chris Rock once said in a comedy skit about another man beating his wife, "I can't condone this behavior, but I understand" testifying and signifying to the unique, difficult, but educational and rewarding challenges of living with an in-your-face, take-no-mess Black woman,  Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley, just letting you know that,  "I, Dr. Ede Warner, Jr., definitely understand".
With love,
Ethical Means of Challenging Invisibility
Ede Warner, Jr.
Director of Debate Society/Associate Professor of Communication
University of Louisville
308E Strickler Hall
ewarner at louisville.edu 
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