“F--- the time!” That’s what some black participants at the March 24 Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University recently declared when the clock ran out. According to a report this week in the Atlantic:
Two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.
And rather than participate in college debate as the rules dictate, these teams went there to argue that debate itself is racist. As the article reminds us:
This year wasn't the first time this had happened. In the 2013 championship, two men from Emporia State University, Ryan Walsh and Elijah Smith, employed a similar style and became the first African-Americans to win two national debate tournaments. Many of their arguments, based on personal memoir and rap music, completely ignored the stated resolution, and instead asserted that the framework of collegiate debate has historically privileged straight, white, middle-class students.
The fact that these arguments are winning is not just absurd. It’s sad. Obviously, it is unfortunate that a debate tournament--one of the last places you can have a rational discussion in an academic setting--is disappearing. Every so-called debate on college campuses these days is really just a contest of who is offended more. When speakers come to campus to say provocative things, they are met with protesters shouting them down rather than any kind of reasonable discussion. Or, more often, the provocative speakers are discouraged from coming at all—just take the rescinding by Brandeis of an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an example.
But the lesson offered to these particular students is much worse. As the Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari tweeted, “This foolishness hurts African-American debaters. ‘Fuck the time!’ won't fly in court, the boardroom or the newsroom.”
In a 2007 documentary about high school debate called Resolved, the filmmakers followed a couple of high school kids from one of the worst schools in California as they became the state champions. It was an inspiring story of how anyone, no matter his or her background, can learn to succeed in debate. It was not dissimilar to some of the urban schools that have formed successful chess teams. Debate, like chess, seems to help kids in difficult environments become better, more disciplined students.
Sadly, again, the students who became the state champions then went on to embrace the same sort of loony ideas that won the day at Indiana University. The team went on to argue that debate itself is part of some kind of system of structural racism.
Where is all this going? Don’t we ultimately want kids of all races to be able to succeed in whatever career they decide to pursue. Whether they want to be lawyers or doctors or journalists or politicians or community activists, they will all have a better chance if they can persuade people of their views, rather than just calling their colleagues racists.