By

Amber Kelsie

Rashad Evans

Jillian Marty

Shanara Reid-Brinkley

 

We are not doing anything in secret. No secret “doomsday” strategy was hatched on the Resistance Facebook page in some secret backroom discussion. The discussion happened on the NDT CEDA Traditions page where Rashad Evans (who is not a current member of the Resistance Facebook group nor a member of the CEDA forums) publicly announced his decision and described the reasons for the choice. In addition, Rashad changed his judging philosophy to reflect his decision. In all caps at the bottom of his philosophy he writes: “I will be operating on a 29.5-30.0 scale in all open debates that I judge for the indefinite future.” A few others have experimented with the strategy in a few debates at Wake before finally deciding to add the above statement to their judging philosophies. We offer the following explanation in the spirit of openness called for by Sarah Spring in her CEDA Forums post. However, it is interesting that our judging paradigms become relevant at this moment.  They have not seemed to matter previously. 

            Lack of community discussion is neither random nor power-neutral. We have tried to have discussions.  These discussions have been regularly derailed—in “wrong forum” arguments, in the demand for “evidence,” in the unfair burdens placed on the aggrieved as a pre-requisite for engagement.  Read the last ten years of these discussions on edebate archives: Ede Warner on edebate and move forward to Rashad Evans diversity discussion from 2010 to Deven Cooper to Amber Kelsie’s discussion on CEDA Forums and the NDT CEDA Traditions page. We have been talking for over a decade, we have been reaching out for years, we have been listening to the liberal, moderate refrain of “we agree with your goals but not with your method.” We will no longer wait for the community to respond, to relinquish privilege, to engage in authentic discussion, since largely the community seems incapable of producing a consensus for responding to what “we all agree” is blatant structural inequity. It seems that meta-debates/discussions about debate are generally met with denial, hostility and—more often—silence.  This silence is in fact a focused silence.  It is not people in the Resistance Facebook group that comprise these silent figures—it is (as has been described) “the old boys club.”  We have been quite vocal—and we believe that it is this very vocalness (and the development of a diversity of tactics in response to status quo stalling tactics) that has provoked response when response was given.  Sarah Spring’s cedadebate post is a case in point. 

The decision to change our speaker point scale is not in order to produce a “judging doomsday apparatus” (this kind of apocalyptic rhetoric might more aptly be applied to the current racist/sexist/classist state of affairs in this community), though we must admit that we are flattered that our efforts have affected the community enough to result in such a hyberbolic labeling.  It indicates that civil disobedience is still an effective tactic; the debate community should take it as an indication that our calls for change are serious.  We will continue to innovate and collaborate on tactics of resistance. This “crisis” in debate has no end in sight. The rationale for changing the point scale was not simply to “reward” people for preferring the unpreferred critic.  We recognize that MPJ produces effects, and we hoped that changing our point scale was a small but significant tactic that was available to the disenfranchised in this community.  MPJ:

A)   Limits judging opportunities for blacks, browns, and womyn

B)   Limits opportunities for debaters who are (and are not) black, brown, and womyn to be judged by such critics.

The effect is: 

A)   That the evaluations of these categorically marginalized critics are deemed not valuable or costly.

B)   That the debate efforts of categorically marginalized debaters are deemed not valuable.

We believe that debaters deserve to have black, brown, and womyn critics (in general debaters should be judged by multiply situated critics across varying social locations). We think the community deserves to know what we have to say.  Therefore, it seemed appropriate in this context to play the discriminative logics at work against themselves by demonstrating just what “value” or “cost” our evaluations could have.  We worked with the limited options available to us. It seems this system works as long as it is comfortable for the majority or the major powerbrokers.  The community pays lip service to, or simply ignores, the concerns of those for whom this system is not working.  Now it is everyone’s concern.

To be clear: we did not alter our point scale because we believe we are not preferred for unjust reasons (we know we are not preferred for unjust reasons), but because the system produces the effect of magnifying and enforcing on a social scale the delegitimation of blacks, browns, and womyn.  We think this is a question of ethics and a question of pedagogy; it is something that stunts the growth of all members of this community regardless of identity or social positioning.

Stuart Hall said “crisis occur when the social formation can no longer be reproduced on the basis of the pre-existing system of social relation.”  This community is in crisis because the reality of debate has changed.  The backlash we have faced in response to this crisis (“breaking up with the K,” unethical engagements with arguments, resentment, refusing to listen to certain arguments, and even refusing to listen to particular teams, etc.) is reactionary conservativism.  Blacks, browns, and womyn face micro-aggressions in this activity constantly.  Sometimes it is outright hostility. We are always already uncomfortable in this space that many so easily call a community. We are always already aware that this community would prefer an empty celebration of diversity without the critical re-interrogation of the activity that our very presence demands.

In these kinds of hostile environments, self-segregation is a self-protective measure.  We produce safe-spaces where we may gather, discuss, regroup, lift spirits and figure out how to resist while maintaining sanity.  We see nothing wrong with this. In fact, any review of the history of social movements and activism would demonstrate the necessity of building spaces for the disenfranchised to speak and plan resistance to a powerful majority. The Resistance Facebook group is such a forum. To even describe the gathering of people in the group as a clique demonstrates the very invisibility and lack of concern that people of color face in this community. Our experiences of discomfort and horror stories of blatant hostility are invisible in this framing. If our experiences were real to the majority, rather than just what some students are using to win debate rounds, then the necessity for the Resistance Facebook group would be clear. The group is a forum for ally building.  Often it is a rare place where the K v K or Performance v Performance debate can be considered in its practical and ethical implications.  It is precisely the kind of place for open discussion that Sarah Spring calls for—the kind of place where discussion that needs to take place often does.  But those discussions also do not stop there.  Discussions that begin in the group are often taken to wider groups within the debate community to broaden the discussion and yet they are often derailed and then we must retreat and regroup, review our strategies, discuss potential options, and seek advice. Note that the example of the “active and lively debate” about the hotel architecture at the Clay mentioned in Sarah’s post, was hashed out for months on the resistance page before many of us began to speak publicly about the issue. It was through that vibrant debate in the Resistance Facebook group that produced the very conditions for the open discussion you mention. The Resistance Facebook page is a response to the increasing ghettoization of some bodies and some discursive forms in debate—not the other way around.  The fact that the existence of the group was what was critiqued rather than the necessity of the group is deeply troubling to us. 

It is unclear what the bright line is between “group discussions or backchannels or facebook groups” and a discussion group (articulated as “closed backroom discussion” – which is by the way, homophobic) which produces disenfranchized discussion  As far as we can tell, Sarah Spring is upset that she has not been able to see what mischief the slaves are hatching “in the slave quarters on the plantation.”  The Resistance Facebook group has a wide range of members.  It includes current debaters, former debaters, coaches, judges, high school students, academics (with no relationship to debate), radical community activists. All members of the group are granted administrative access once they are admitted, so people request admission through the relationships they have cultivated with already existing members.  If someone has not been invited to the group, it is because they lack authentic relationships with any of the members—perhaps the perceived secrecy of the group could be better understood as a symptom of the lack of social relations you have with a wide group of differently situated people.  The argument here is likened to the question, “why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?”—an argument meant to imply that it is the burden of the black students to make friends with the whites, and that the whites cannot be faulted for choosing to maintain distance.  There are a number of issues that marginalized members of the community simply do not know about.  For example, many of us did not discover the existence of Sarah’s post until the last round of the evening, although we have since learned that people have been talking about it (not to us) throughout the day.  If you are excluding yourself from us—via MPJ, on the quad, in the hallway, at the hotel—then you should hold yourself accountable, not us.  We are not secret.  We are not hiding.  We are just invisible to you.

P.S. It is no longer called the Dixie Classic. 

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