One of my goals, going back decades now to my high school years, was to write something that high school debaters would use. Thinking back on it now, that may not have been such an ambitious or even worthy goal. I mean who wants to be cited alongside William Offals' Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity for the proposition that there should be government-imposed controls on reproduction? We've been there before and think that really morally problematic. (For those of you who're interested in this, internet archive has the full text of Offals' 1992 revisiting of the book.) Still, I am delighted to say that during September and October the public forum debate topic is reparations to African Americans. Now I am going to be trying a new form of communication. I'm going onto a reddit forum on high school debate for an "ask me anything" session with forum members on September 24 at 6 pm. We'll see what turns up!
I have very fond memories of my time in high school and college debate. That gave me my first experience with legal research -- I remember using a note in the California Law Review on police use of deadly force in riots. (Whose author, Barbara Rhine, I now realize is a famous civil rights attorney in the Bay area.)
One of the things that was very popular thirty plus years ago -- and seems still to be a big part of high school debate -- is the argument that civil rights reforms will lead to a backlash by voters that makes everything worse. While some of the most respected scholarship on the legal history of civil rights focuses in important parts on a backlash of white voters to the civil rights movement, I am not sure that's the best argument to use about the case for reparations for the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. Debaters who employ backlash seem to be accepting the moral claim for reparations and then trying to defeat a reparations plan with speculation about effects down the road. First, I'd say that there's more to be said about the moral claim -- while I'm an ardent believer in the moral case for reparations, I recognize that there are serious questions about why the current generation should pay. And I'd think those are worth exploring in a reparations debate -- more so, anyway that the questionable issue of whether payments will lead to voter backlash.
I think it makes sense for debates to turn on core values of the extent of state culpability and the state's obligations to citizens and that such debates can be much more productive than speculation about backlash and the ultimate effects of backlash. But as I say, I'm really excited to see what debaters are thinking about and in particular what's working at the tournaments.
Thinking back on this some, I guess my high school experience may explain some of my continuing interest in oratory and in pre-Civil War college debates about constitutional law.
Update: Here is the thread. It's pretty interesting to see what's working on both pro and con -- and I'm especially intrigued by the prevalence of the "backlash" argument and, relatedly, how much there's a focus on the effects of reparations on discussion of racial equality (a form of cultural backlash). I'm also going to be presenting a webinar for what was called the National Forensics League back when I was in high school -- and is now National Speech and Debate Association on Monday at 5 eastern time (4 central). Here's a link in case you're interested in seeing what I had to say.