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Morally objectionable argument...a reconsideration
I am a white male. I've never been called "nigger," threatened with bodily
harm because of my appearance, or treated as an inferior because of my skin
I have no clue how difficult and insulting it might be for a person of
color to engage in a self-imposed process of disassociating with their
experience for the purpose of evaluating a racist argument, which is
probably coming straight from the mouth of a white male. I can't imagine
Nonetheless, yesterday I did advocate it.
As a white male, I can imagine dissassociation. I can imagine a sense of
"objectivity" when listening to the position. That's because no one in my
family was ever beaten up for being black, because my grandfather never had
a problem getting into a restroom or restaurant, and because I have never
felt even a personal sting of racism.
I still feel compelled to believe that, from an intellectual perspective,
my position is correct.
The process of opening the door to wholesale judge intervention based on
personally held moral perspectives risks the academic integrity of debate.
The process of compelling debaters to explain Why things like racism are
evil (instead of protecting them from dealing with the argument by stating
"I won't listen to that crap!" prior to the round) is desirable.
I am reminded of something Al Madrid used to preach to me and Chad when he
coached us. He was always telling us to look at underlying assumptions.
That is why I advocated that judges listen to the repugnant and endorse the
execution of arguments as opposed to the content. I would maintain that
forcing debaters to Explain why racism is bad and to Understand why the
core values that they (hopefully) hold are Desirable provides debate with
an utterly unique ability to educate on values. The next holocaust is most
likely to occur somewhere where people don't know and cannot explain why
these things are bad. Let's discuss them--let's look at the underlying
assumptions of the "morally correct" alongside those of the "morally
There is, no doubt, an element of reification that occurs when judges
remain "objective" in the face of racism (and more so if they are to vote
on it). I would like to think that this reification is somehow
overshadowed by the good done by forcing critical examination of the views
held about these positions.
Clearly, there are "risks" in each approach. To block discussion of racism
with de facto censorship (making it known you will not listen to an
argument type) does establish a precedent to chill the scope of debate. To
accept bigoted filth risks some level of reification.
So, the white male typing this letter is trying to decide which side to
And, he has been wrestling with that question from a white male's
And he is informed by his socially structured worldview that Al Madrid is
full of shit and that the impact of reification and enactment are so damn
small that the benefits of bringing the issue out into the open for "fair
discussion" are so damn big that it should be AOK to run "racism is good,"
"baby stew is tasty," "patriarchy is wonderful," etc.
And that is the problem. My worldview doesn't work like Al Madrid's. My
experience as a white male from the wheat fields of Kansas is not Al
Madrid's experience as a black Panamanian. And I might be able to
empathize with his feelings of repulsion, but I cannot understand them
I know enough to know what I don't know. And I don't know a way out of
It's easy for people like Kuss to say, "get off your personal life and
judge the round like an automaton, devoid of emotion." It's easy for me to
intellectualize the eventual benefits of discussing race issues in a
so-called "objective" fashion. And the reason it is so easy for me is
because of who I am and what my life has been--not because I have The
And the reason Al Madrid says he won't play the "objective" game is the
same. It's because of who he is and what his life has been.
So, what's the way out?
Right now, I don't know. But, I am backtracking from my previous position.
And I'm going to keep following this thread and trying to think of an
Because this isn't really about judging debate rounds anymore. It's just
as much about how we, as members of different subgroups, can find a way to
understand one another.
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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