A Letter to Debate From the Black Community

by Rhyen Hunt

Dear Debate, 

It seems as though you do not understand the experience members of the Black community have in your environment. We are writing this letter to give you the information you need to make the change we need to see. 

Being Black in Debate means there’s nobody else to validate our experience of racism or  oppression. Especially as a black man the conversation is always about creating space for other identities that most of the time that can intersect whiteness (gender, class, sexuality). So our issues always get put on the back burner and ignored. Stop ignoring us.  

In rounds non black debaters will read pretty intense framing about the legacy of racism and policy making. When replying with a commodification response in speech, debaters often reply “I don’t understand the argument so I won’t respond”. Non Black debaters do not understand how to amplify black voices. 

Being Black in Debate means exclusion. From expensive travel costs to little black coaching we are just at a disadvantage from the start, with so few people that understand the experience. Judges that aren’t receptive to certain identity arguments. We either have to change the way we go about things to debate styles we aren’t used to or do what is comfortable for us and take the loss. When people generalize Black debaters to certain things, arguments, styles etc. it creates extreme exclusion because we are all our own people with our own identities and ways to go about living and functioning in debate. 

Being Black in Debate means a lack of representation. We feel as if we can’t do great things, because very few people that look like us are doing great things in the debate space. Most black success in debate is concentrated in policy and LD. By our coaches and those on the circuit, we are told to switch to LD or Policy to use our racial identities to win rounds. In Public Forum specifically, so many other identities can drown out the black voice in the community. It makes it hard for us to feel heard. Please hear us. 

What you need to know, the dearest debate community, is that debate means something different to each person. And it’s important to be understanding and respectful of what the space means to different individuals and make attempts to center underrepresented groups in discussions and attempts for change. We are fighting an uphill battle in an event that was created to amplify others voices and silence our own.  Don’t minimize the struggles that each of us have with the excuse that other identities have it worse. In debate we are taught to weigh different types of suffering over each other but in real life we should not. Give our issues the same level of priority as others because they are just as important. Celebrate the success of black debaters in the activity now so we can have more Black voices join. 


a Chorus of Black Voices within the Debate Community 

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