The increasing racial diversity of college debate is directly attributable to the work of these leagues, but of course the presence of more Black folks in any space also fundamentally challenges the ground upon which business proceeds. Black students have not only excelled at traditional debate, but they have invented new modes of competitive forensics, including a more performative style of debate that incorporates rap music, poetry and personal anecdotes.
Pioneered in college debate programs like that at the University of Louisville, this more performative style of debate has productively disrupted the traditionalist forms of debate centered on spouting, at the highest rates of speed, copious amounts of academic literature in order to prove a point. When I spoke with Korey by phone about this piece, she was hesitant to characterize her and Ameena’s style in a singular way, since they tend to incorporate both traditional elements like the reading of arguments published in academic journals and books with newer elements like poetry. Korey told me, “The word ‘traditional,’ the word ‘performative,’ the word ‘k-debater’ (which refers to “critique” or “kritik” debaters, who argue more philosophical rather than policy positions) will never actually capture what we are trying to do here.” That resistance to labels, and ambivalence about “the violence labels perform,” are hallmarks of the speech of young thinkers, searching to find their way in the world.
However, as my own scholarly research about Black female public intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries indicates, we live in a world that still struggles to see Black women as serious thinkers and intellectuals who have something to contribute to our national grappling with social problems. Frequently for young Black women thinkers, particularly those who invoke a clear Black feminist perspective, there is a resistance to donning a stance of detached objectivity. Korey asked me rhetorically, “How can we talk about policy if we don’t know [the] social location of the people?”