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.