The debate team for Atlanta’s Morehouse College recently withdrew from a tournament for reasons that, as far as I can tell, boil down to one thing: Black people can’t exist in predominantly white spaces without battling racism.
The incidents that led to the team leaving the competition began at round five of the British Parliamentary-style debate held during this year’s United States Universities Debating Championship (USUDC). Of course, in this instance, the battle against racists in higher learning ended in the entire tournament being shut down after other schools, including Spelman College, also pulled out of the debate as a show of solidarity against anti-Blackness.
From 11 Alive:
The tournament was on Zoom, and the Black debaters could see and hear white debaters from other colleges mocking them, and using racist gestures and comments.
They say the judges and organizers did nothing to stop it.
The impact of the Morehouse protest is already provoking possible long-needed reforms in the predominantly white college debate world.
For years, the Morehouse College debate team has been a powerhouse, consistently winning national championships. Also for years, every class of student debaters has also dealt with persistent, subtle and not-so-subtle racism, and, “This was the last straw,” said the veteran Morehouse Debate Coach Ken Newby.
Newby was speaking about Round Five of the annual, U.S. Universities Debating Championship.
“The cameras of some of the other debaters in the room were turned on, when they should have been off,” Newby said, “and my debaters could see them mocking them during their speeches, while they’re delivering their speeches, micro-aggressive, anti-Black behaviors.”
Admittedly, I’m no expert in the goings-on of college debate tournaments, but what it sounds like is a bunch of white people got in their feelings over a team of Black intellectuals who are smart enough to kick asses and take names year after year in an academic sport that is traditionally dominated by the melanin redacted. However, another issue, according to members of the team, was that debate moderators showed a bias towards narratives that centered whiteness as opposed to non-white cultural things that give white people the ethnic heebee jeebees.
According to the Undefeated, which first reported the story, the last straw for members of the Morehouse debate team came after they said members of opposing teams taunted them with racist caricature impersonations of a Black debater’s speech, among other things. The team said that debate judges not only failed to check other teams for their racism, inappropriateness and for breaking the rules of the debate, but they awarded points to those teams and as well as other schools for making arguments that were more wypipo-friendly than that of the Black students.
For example: One topic that was debated is known as “narrative gentrification.” Morehouse team members said that they essentially lost points for being Black while centering their arguments around people of color.
“The judges said they cared more about the Western stories that were being discussed such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid as compared to native African stories that we talked about, like the Epic of Mwindo or Cherokee creations,” sophomore Caleb Strickland said, the Undefeated reports.
Newby said that Black debaters have been complaining about anti-Blackness during the annual tournament for years, but he said those complaints went largely ignored.
“It would be a mistake to say this was about one round and one team,”he said. “It was about anti-Blackness issues within the British Parliamentary debate space.”
Newby told 11 Alive that it wasn’t until after other schools withdrew and it had to cancel the tournament that the USUDC Organizing Committee began listening to the concerns of Black debaters and released a statement apologizing for ignoring their complaints in the past.
“And the more people heard from the students giving their stories, and giving their experiences, the more people understood that these issues that Morehouse may have initiated the discussions about were much bigger than one round and one school, and needed to be addressed,” Newby said.