[eDebate] racial microaggression & affirmative anti-racism

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Wed Aug 6 06:19:48 CDT 2008


wanted to show some solidarity with cooper's post so that the sentiments
expressed therein aren't passed over as mere 'venting'.

he mentions "structural norms of exclusion or alienation that alot of black
people... feel walking around at
tournaments," as when many participants
don't "bother to say... 'hi'", adding "the
white gaze that alot of us feel when
we debate in our style makes
us feel inferior at times, at least me...".

it might prove helpful to understand such experiences in the context of what
critical race theorists call 'racial microaggression'. here's a law review on the
subject which i hope everyone concerned would take some time to read:

davis, peggy c. 'law as microaggression'. the yale law journal. 98.8 (1989):
1559-1577. (thanks to nathan everson for filling my request so promptly.)

racial microaggressions are subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual)
directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously. the
psychiatrist who first coined the term - chester pierce - wrote in 1974: "one
must not look for the gross and obvious. The subtle, cumulative miniassault
is the substance of today's racism."


davis characterizes racial microaggression as "stunning, automatic acts of
disregard that stem from unconscious attitudes of white superiority and
constitute a verification of black inferiority" (1577).

in the first section of the article, she quotes charles lawrence's seminal essay
which discusses these 'unconscious attitudes of white superiority' at length:

Americans share a common historical and cultural heritage in which racism has
played and still plays a dominant role. Because of this shared experience, we
also inevitably share many ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that attach significance
to an individual's race and induce negative feelings and opinions about nonwhites.
To the extent that this cultural belief system has influenced all of us, we are all
racists. At the same time, most of us are unaware of our racism. We do not
recognize the ways in which our cultural experience has influenced our beliefs
about race or the occasions on which those beliefs affect our actions. In other
words, a large part of the behavior that produces racial discrimination is influenced
by unconscious racial motivation.

-- http://www.mediafire.com/?iyeafyltkd4
lawrence III, charles r. 'the id, the ego, and equal protection: reckoning with
unconscious racism'. stanford law review 39.2 (1987): 317-388, 322.

this 'we are all racists'-idea is easily misinterpreted, and it's telling that the
first response to towson and others who adopt anti-racist projects tends to
be one of immediate denial: 'but i'm not racist' - or as shanahan says after
the c.e.d.a. quarterfinals, "we didn't strike her because she's black".

davis writes that "anti-black attitudes persist in a climate of denial". she cites
research which suggests that contemporary racism expresses itself in ways
that 'protect and perpetuate a nonprejudiced, nondiscriminating self-image':
"anti-black feelings may be masked to the extent that they are displayed only
when there is a nonracial factor that can be used to rationalize them" (1565).

let's briefly return to the dispute between shanahan and reid-brinkley:


"i have great respect [for shanara]. i mean, there's no way that you make it on
the strike sheet if we're not ranking you highly", says shanahan (5:12s).

she then replies, "yeah you're right, and you still struck me". after a little
bombastic posturing, he explains: "the reason why is because the debaters
felt uncomfortable after the last debate."

she asks, "right, and why did they feel uncomfortable?"
he answers, "because of the points."

given the previous analysis, we might see 'the points' as a "nonracial factor
that can be used to rationalize [anti-black feelings]" - but that's a bit rough
and hasty.

it's rough because 'feelings' are typically understood as conscious, and if
these attitudes really are unconscious, then they're probably also unfelt.

it's hasty because we can almost never substantiate intent here... AND
THAT'S THE TOWSON TEAM'S ULTIMATE POINT: we can't investigate the
souls of those on the fort hays squad. all we can look to are actions. so the
question is absolutely not, are you racist at an unconscious level? that's not
decidable. the question is, are you sufficiently anti-racist in your methods?

recall that the dispute between reid-brinkley and shanahan began because
of an alleged racial microaggression:

"your anger is bullshit ... you fucking look at this kid while he's sitting on the
table shaking his head..." (:5s).

it's the look - what cooper called "the white gaze" - that's the subject of
criticism here. the anger may or may not be there (bill says he's happy),
but the look is also an act, as potentially hurtful as not saying hi, making
a racist joke, or striking a black woman from the judging pool.


- that's the c.e.d.a. final round. by my visual guess, there's not a single black
judge on the panel. i find myself agreeing that this is a lost opportunity, one
that the fort hays team is partially responsible for. they're responsible not
because they're consciously racist. i believe them when they say they didn't
strike shanara because she's black. but this defense completely misses the
point: if they sought to 'double' towson's goal of black inclusion, they have to
answer for why they excluded her, because that decision had consequences,
irrespective of their intentions.

gordon mitchell compares towson's argument to a batson challenge:


really, however, if it were a typical batson challenge, then fort hays'
initial defense would've worked:

The defendant first must show that he is a member of a cognizable racial
group, and that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove
from the venire [jury pool] members of the defendant's race. The defendant
may also rely on the fact that peremptory challenges constitute a jury selection
practice that permits those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate.
Finally, the defendant must show that such facts and any other relevant
circumstances raise an inference that the prosecutor used peremptory challenges
to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race. Once the
defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the State to come
forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors.

-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batson_v._Kentucky

the argument wasn't that they excluded her from the judging pool on account
of her race, but that they failed to include her on account of her race; it's a call
for affirmative action - a positive ethical obligation to resist white privilege. 

here's an article i found that applies affirmative action precedents to the
selection of jurors:

not sure where that stands legally, but the question participants should ask
themselves is, does debate as a forum have an interest in promoting racially
diverse judging pools? if so, are debaters' strikes susceptible to criticism on
that basis?


here's some more supporting literature for those interested:
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