Ways That Debaters Can Help or Harm Anti-black Racism Efforts

  1. Judging
    1. Judge blind: Be aware of ways that your own biases DO affect why you may feel inclined to give certain individuals higher speaker scores. Understand that our initial judgements are rarely independent of some forms of prejudice, and even if they are it never hurts to double-check. 
    2. Giving “colourblind” feedback: If you are even semi consistently aligning the reasons for decisions and or feedback that you give debaters with stereotypes about their particular group please check yourself. Is there a reason that you felt the need to tell a black debater to “tone it down,” or “try being less aggressive.”
  2. After-Round discussions
    1. Actually listen: For some people, certain debates can never just be about “an intellectual exchange of ideas.” Rarely are debates independent of some sort of lived experience and being in a round can bring up different real-life connections for people involved. Try to be aware of the real-world implications when discussing the round after it ends, people do poorly or seem “less structured” in rounds because the motion is connected to something they have witnessed or experienced personally. 
    2. Make it a debate: particularly when it comes to social justice rounds be careful about turning after round discussions into “impromptu debates.” A round about whether should BLM support BDS should never end with a non-BIPOC debater getting a BIPOC to justify their personal stances or views a social movement directly related to a group they are apart of. 
  3. Motion making
    1. Intercultural motion consideration: Clear and discuss motions related to particular groups with members of that group. Thinking hard about motions that involve individuals or movements representing marginalized folks, as to avoid setting a motion that invalidates or alienates those particular individuals. 
    2. “But what’s wrong with the motion, I don’t get it?”: Just because you are not personally offended or impacted by a motion that others with less privilege then you have called out does not entitle you to debate whether the motion should have been set. Don’t defend motions that others found offensive because you were not offended or don’t see how the motion was offensive, you may not have had the same experiences as them and should instead try to listen to why they felt uncomfortable in the debate. 
  4. What’s the point of debate anyways?
    1. Do Debate for change: Use the skills you learn in debate to help work towards a more equitable world for all. Use the confident and vocabulary gained to advocate for those in more marginalized positions than yourself. 
    2. Don’t Treat debate like a game that is independent of politics, lived experiences, or identities. This may be fun to do but recognise that it can and often does go along with ignoring and therefore reinforcing existing systems of oppression.
  5. What privilege?
    1. Question your privilege instead of dismissing someone else’s oppression: If your first instinct, when confronted with the possibility that you contributed to anti-blackness, is to yell at, ridicule, or discredit the person bringing the issue to the table (especially if they are black)…please check your privilege. Treat being called out as a learning opportunity in improving as a person and welcome the chance to reconcile the hurt you may have caused another member of the debate community. 
    2. Don’t use debate to solidify your privilege: If you use your success/experience, achievements, and or official positions as a debater to belittle or discredit claims of anti-black racism against you then you, my friend, are a big part of the problem. 
  6. Barriers?
    1. Work to dismantle barriers inside and outside of debate: Support affirmative action policies within debate organizations that you participate in, vote in favour of increased financial aid and making sure that anti-racism is taken seriously in your debate club or camp. 
    2. Don’t put on your blinders: pretending that financial and social barriers don’t exist or minimizing them does nothing but solidify your own privilege at the expense of others. Recognise that its a privilege to grow up being taught that you voice matters and deserves to be heard. Black folks are subliminally encouraged to remain silent by a society that warned them that speaking freely and passionately is a display of “attitude,” or unwarranted aggression.
  7. Look I just came here to debate…what’s with all this social justice talk?
    1. Recognise elements of debate that are constructed on inherently oppressive and restrictive metrics: not every issue is debatable and even those problems of which solutions have not been found yet can rarely be boiled down into a simple dichotomy of for and against.
    2. Don’t externalize oppression to structures outside of debate, don’t pretend “that’s just the way it is” or that we have come far enough. The more we ignore the ways that the activities we participate in on a regular basis are immune from systems of oppression and the perpetuation of anti-black racism, the worse it is for black individuals engaged in debate.
  8. Wait, so why can’t I have an opinion on X social justice issue?
    1. Stay in your lane: Learning about the world around you can grant individuals the power to be able to discuss and understand many complicated and nuanced issues. However, lived experiences of those that continue to be denied the same basic treatment as their lighter skin counterparts can never be dismissed on the basis of those experiences not being “objective.”
    2. Claim Expertise: Please try to refrain from casually arguing with POC about the intersectionality of oppression as if they are concepts that are independent of real-life consequences. If you have never experienced anti-black racism the best thing to do is listen to people who have as they will have a wealth of knowledge that you never had a need to be exposed to.  
  9. Weaponizing education or positionality 
    1. LISTEN: Try to create a bridge between the knowledge that you are able to acquire on your own thorough research into institutional racism and the lived experiences of BIPOC when they are voiced. Understand that you can and never will fully understand their experience, and that’s okay. Just take a seat and be willing to listen, learn, reflect, and grow. 
    2. I can’t be racist? I’m a woman..hell I’m a feminist!”Its often easier to get caught up in thinking about the ways in which life was difficult for us rather than looking at the ways that we perpetuate a racist society. Winning social justice rounds, being part of a debate equity team, or attending a social justice seminar never removes the ability of a person to engage in anti-black behaviour. 
  10. Performing intellectual allyship 
    1. Allyship isn’t a gym membership: Allyship is a continuous process that is contingent on the constant checking of one’s privilege and the ability to be willing to put their own feelings aside in instances where one is intentionally or unintentionally using their power and privilege to make others feel less than human. The quality and even the existence of your allyship is decided by those that you claim to support. Please don’t use your previous “acts of allyship” to dismiss criticisms of your present anti-black behaviour. 
    2. “I can’t be racist I took an anti-oppression course!” A claim to allyship or intellectual knowledge (whether from classes, the news, or debates) of oppressed groups can never be involved as a reason to dismiss their lived experiences. 

Statement regarding the Strictly Classified Journal of a BP Debater series Chapter 2

Dear Readers,

Our attention has been brought to some concerns about the second chapter of the Strictly Classified Journal of a BP Debater series.
First of all, we want to openly acknowledge the harmful and unfortunately pervasive myth that progressive taxation policies shouldn’t be implemented because those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder may one day become rich. The Debate Correspondent does not agree with or endorse these view as they ignore a whole host of structural inequalities and continued injustices that makes it so that many people have little choice but to rely on government assistance to meet their basic needs.
All around the world, a popular conservative talking point is to claim that poor people only want higher taxes on the rich because they are jealous and are not the target of such policies. As inaccurate as it is, this view is part of the reason why many underprivileged persons would rather work dangerous, low paying jobs without complaining rather than fighting for their economic entitlements. The main character of the story is a victim of such beliefs.
The recently released chapter is about the true story of someone bringing their pre-conceived notions about the world into debate world. The arc we intended to create was that of a person re-evaluating their beliefs after participating in an activity is supposed to encourage critical thinking and analysis. Their view on progressive taxation is unfortunately not an uncommon one.
Lastly, as debaters, we have to realize that the world is bigger than the often self-congratulatory liberal space we live in. Even within our space, people still continue to experience discrimination and abuse while debating against those same wrongs. In order to be better advocates for change, we have to first understand that the beliefs we share amongst ourselves may not be as common as we would think and always be willing to challenge our takes.
In conclusion, we’d like to say that we are glad that our story was able to generate discourse on a very important subject. The main aim of our story series is to bring to view the challenges that debaters face in the debate circuit. If you have ideas or suggestions, we would be happy to hear them. Op-ed submissions can be made on the deate correspondent’s website’s contact page or by messaging Jeremiah Sekyi or Jubilee Lambie on Facebook.

-The Debate Correspondent

Mistakes and Misconceptions: HHIV 2017 -Round 2

THBT Pharmaceutical Companies Should be Civilly Liable for the Opioid Crisis.


Round 2 of the HHIV dealt with whether or not pharmaceutical companies should be civilly liable for the opioid crisis. David Register, Bard College judge, gave a statement to the Debate Correspondent after the round and said that debaters needed to do a better job on identifying if this was a US-based issue and give a description of where the problem exists. He further added that knowing how lawsuits work is where he saw debaters fall short and that a strong round would have analyzed current regulation in the pharmaceuticals market, the effects of what happens when someone wins a lawsuit and, if not, how this incentivizes pharmaceutical companies.

He made a specific note for opposition teams in this round and how they needed to talk more about why lawsuits will make things worse. Since the pharmaceutical industry is built on investments, lawsuits would ultimately scare companies and investors alike. Opposition teams should explain what the reaction of these pharmaceutical companies would be if lawsuit capabilities were enacted.


“The question really comes down to this: is it the responsibility for the citizens to sue or the government to regulate and would civil liability be a preferable alternative to lobbying?”



Another judge, Mehdi Bouchentouf, from Carleton University agreed that a major contention in this round was who the blame should fall on. He explains that pharmaceutical agencies provide a portion of revenue to doctors for various factors, but this in turn might lead them to prescribing medications that are not in the patient’s best interest and so debaters also need to look at the responsibility of doctors and what extent they may be at fault.

Mehdi noted, that a particularly good extension from closing opposition that ran in his round was on minorities and how they are negatively impacted. If pharmaceutical companies are now subjected to lawsuits, millions of dollars would now have to be allocated towards this and as a result insurance premiums would go up. Impoverished individuals suddenly have an increased difficulty to pay for this price surge and the overall benefits from the class action lawsuits wouldn’t be gained until decades following. The cost and effort for people is simply too much. Back-half teams should have overall dove more into the nuances of minority groups in relation to the motion.

Mistakes and Misconceptions: HHIV 2017 – Round 3

THBT the Democratic Party should prioritize/welcome the nomination of candidates at all levels of government who favor more radical changes to existing policies and structures over those who are seen as more “electable”.

“The first thing you need to identify in this motion is what the goal of the Democratic National Committee is and how they can best achieve that.”

-Gillian Hope Tiley (University of Vermont, Semi-Finals Judge)

In this motion, the general arguments from the rounds came down to which side gets the best electability of candidates and most participation from citizens. On the round Gillian sat in, the focus ultimately became more so about electability rather than involvement and government bench swept the debate.

Here is what happened and what went wrong:

To start, Opening Government argued that the DNC needed to progress and to get more young voters, leftist and passionate individuals involved, radical candidacy was the way to go. The warrant for this argument sat on the premise that the DNC is largely made up of moderate support and if it decided to back a radical candidate, the current backing would not drop off and switch parties due to lack of alternative. They further explained how radicals needed a voice in politics as well as a passionate leader and that the change in leadership would cast a wider voting net and lead to gains from undecided individuals.  In addition to this point, Gov. asserted that radical leaders better appeal to change opposed to  conservative leadership. Practical and intrinsically good impacts of this assertion (i.e. universal healthcare, maternity leave, redistribution…) further gave mechanism in the back-half which lead Closing Gov. to concluding that hard policies and direct change speak best to people and make them more likely to participate in the democratic process.

On Opposition bench, too much time spent on theory and baseless assertions lead to the panel giving Gov. the win. The primary errors, according to Buzz Kinger, were that Opposition needed a better analysis of who will vote and why, a more robust defense of the Hillary school of candidates and centrism. Furthermore, a lot of the impacts that came out of Opposition seemed to align with Government, except under a different name.

“Opposition really needed to display more argumentative imagination. Democrats. have been more centrist. More examples where democrats aren’t centrist and why that fails or where centrism works. Then on top of that, there should have been more hypothetical analysis on why radicals fail.”

-Buzz Klinger (Independent Adjudicator)

Even though Government bench took first and second in the debate, judges still felt that an area where the Government was still left underdeveloped was not spending enough time explaining why losing seats in the short-term is ok in order for long-term change to happen. Yet because they provided more practical material with unique and justified impacts, they took the round over the Opp. teams. On a final note, Zach Merson (University of Vermont, Judge) added that to do well in a motion like this, debaters need to know what the voting population looks like and where party numbers are coming from.

Mistakes and Misconceptions: THW Ban Police Unions (HHIV 2017)

The round 1 motion of the 2017 Hart House Inter-Varsity tournament proposed a ban on police unions. During the 15 minute prep time, judges shared their thoughts on where they expected the round to go. Kieran (Hart House Debater) predicts what he thinks the main arguments will come from:

I think we’re going to see two arguments from the government team:


  • Unions make police too powerful.
  • Police are essential.


If this is where the round goes for gov. then it will be interesting to see how they deal with the contradictions if they run this case and how opp. deals with them as well as they come up.

For the judges, they felt that for debaters to do well in this round, they needed to have an understanding for not only what a union is, but why a police union is so unique and important. Logan from Marianopolis University stated, “the key to this round is knowing police culture, having a strong grasp on current social tensions and why this is relevant.” There was general expectation for this round to see examples from the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality towards minority groups.

After the round, judges expressed the most common problems that came up were poor comprehensions of what purpose unions serve. Ben Levy, Hart House debate president, stressed how the biggest issue in his round was the lack of focus on a principle or value from all teams. The round fizzled out to rough descriptions of racism in the status quo with no clear conception of what unions actually do.

Assuming both sides are arguing something feasible, there should have been more explicit values articulated. It was unclear what values or principles both sides were trying to get across and that’s what this was debate about.

In the RFD, Ben shared some pointers on how to help debaters vocalise what unions do and explained that in the case of police unions, their role is to communicate and serve as a voice for police when it comes to dealing with management and handling other frustrations. Unions, in a more general sense, represent labour that is not represented and help balance a power asymmetry between employers and employees. Additionally, a clearer characterisation of police officers would have greatly benefitted the debate. A simple example of this is acknowledging that police officers might not come from the most privileged backgrounds as people assume.  

At the end of the round, here were the main questions left unanswered:

  • What differentiates police unions for others?
  • How much and what kind of additional power do unions give to police? To what extent would this be taken advantage of?
  • Why should unions then still be in place despite this possibility and the fact that police are a vital public service?
  • Does the aforementioned consequence outweigh police who may be disadvantaged and that would greatly benefit from unions to prevent abuse towards them?
  • And is this a big enough impact, even though unions might further hurt minority groups?