About The Great Debaters (and a little about race)

We did get to see The Great Debaters on Saturday, and it was just as good as I thought it would be.   It was, at its heart, a formulaic sports movie (more on that in a minute), but its predictability was overcome by some incredible acting performances.  Denzel Washington’s direction was, I thought, very well paced, and he shrewdly allowed his character to fade somewhat as the movie went along, because Washington is so electric onscreen it takes away from other performances.

Even though it was based on true events, the movie very closely mirrored another underdog story, Hoosiers, even going so far as including a scene where the members of the small school team look in awe at the arena they’ll be fighting Goliath in.  (BTW, I’m pretty sure Sylvester Stallone invented this device, in Rocky).

The debate scenes (and there were few actual debate scenes), were true to life, and pretty much how I remember things, except in our public high school debate tournaments, we only had judges present when we debated.  The scenes when the debaters are researching before the big debate really rang true to me (especially arguments about approach).  It occurred to me on the way home that things have REALLY changed in respect to debate research since I last debated in 1982.  They have the internet now, and it changed everything.

As an aside, in Nashville, the part played by the Harvard debate team would be that of Montgomery Bell Academy’s team.  They have always been the gold standard.  I will never forget when my partner Darren and I had our own Rocky moment.  We defeated a team from MBA, and everyone in the room knew it.  The judge gave the round to MBA anyway, but we walked away knowing we had beaten the best, even though we didn’t get the first place ribbons.

It would have been nice if the Wiley college team would have been shown arguing the negative on an issue for which they really wanted to argue the affirmative.  This is the magic, and the greatest teaching tool, in debate.  You don’t get to choose which side you argue, and have to be ready to defend either side.  It really makes you seriously think about all arguments about an issue, and makes you a better advocate for the side in which you really believe.  It would do us all good to try it once in a while.  Could Aunt B write an argument for outlawing abortion that wasn’t a caricature?  Could Kat compose a compelling argument against the death penalty (or in favor of using PCs over Macs)?

Those who can only write compelling arguments for issues they are passionate about have an Achilles heel that can be exploited.  Debate makes you see the flaws in your own arguments, the strongest arguments of the other side, and makes your arguments that much stronger in the end. 

Of course, we had long discussions with our kids about the Jim Crow south, both before the movie, and afterward.  One thing really stood out to me as I heard their questions: their personal pronouns were all in the third person.

Let me take a step back.  In the US, and especially in the American south, discussions of race are always, always,always  implied to be about black and white.  This is perfectly natural of course, considering our history.  And, let’s face it, this isn’t San Fransisco.  As of the last census, Asians made up a little under 1% of Nashville’s population.  Asians are almost always an afterthought in these discussions.  I’m not saying they should be in the forefront, it’s just the way it is.

But it struck me as we spoke about these things: they haven’t picked a “side”.  There is no “we”, when they ask questions about race.  Did you have any idea the opportunity Lintilla and I have here?  There are no centuries-held hatreds, no generational grudges, no automatic racial defensiveness.  Based upon the questions they asked, and how they asked them, it is obvious that their views are not poisoned with the personal baggage that we whites and blacks carry (and lately, Hispanics). 

This is when I knew that our experiment in living our lives as cross-racially as possible without pointing out that doing so was any big deal, or even pointing out that we were doing it, is starting to pay off.  We will continue to do so, no matter how much criticism we receive for it.

 I do not discuss race directly on blogs anymore,  because I’m tired of people who do not know me questioning my motives, or claiming that their life experience should carry more weight than my own, simply because of the color of my skin.  There are too many people who live for the fight, then get angry when you do not give it to them.

It took a long time to retrain my mind, but now, every time I see an interracial couple, I smile.  It will not happen in my lifetime, but eventually there will be enough “inter” marrying and parenting, that one day the entire population of the United States will be a nice shade of light brown.

Then y’all are going to have to find something else to hate each other about.

8 Responses to “About The Great Debaters (and a little about race)”

  1. nm Says:

    Those kids are young yet. They likely won’t start doing the “I” thing about race until their early-to-mid teens. I have two Salvadoran nephews (very indio looking) raised by white parents, in a pretty mixed white/black/Latin@ community. In their teens, one started to identify as white, the other as black. They still feel and act that way. Go figure.

  2. Volunteer Voters » A Slightly Different Dream Says:

    […] Slartibartfast may not get there with you but he believes thinks eventually we won’t have to worry Martin Luther King’s dream of little black boys and black girls being able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. It took a long time to retrain my mind, but now, every time I see an interracial couple, I smile. It will not happen in my lifetime, but eventually there will be enough “inter” marrying and parenting, that one day the entire population of the United States will be a nice shade of light brown. […]

  3. dolphin Says:

    Then y’all are going to have to find something else to hate each other about.

    Unfortunately the human race has never had any problems coming up with new reasons to hate each other.

  4. Katherine Coble Says:

    I think you underestimate me and don’t really understand what it’s like to be an INTJ person. Nearly every position I have–including both Mac v. PC and Capital Punishment–are only held after carefully weighing both sides of the argument. That’s what it’s like to be an analytical person. You spend most of your life crafting arguments from both sides, and then evaluating your choices against your overall worldview.

  5. Aunt B. Says:

    Exactly, Coble. I don’t know what an INTJ person means, but, otherwise, yeah. I was a little surprised, too, to discover that Slarti seems to think I’m unthoughtful about the positions I hold.

    Slarti, I make a frowny face in your general direction 😦

  6. John Lamb Uncovers Secret Plot! « Tiny Cat Pants Says:

    […] feel like one effective strategy is to try to meet them somewhat on their level (despite what Slarti thinks–I do get why people disagree with me.  I just think that in some cases, they’re so […]


    Dear debaters, im interesterd in being among for the reality show of debaters.i love debating and defending myself.Thanh\ks


    i love to debate

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