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date: 22 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

At the turn of the century, the University of Louisville’s Malcolm X Debate Program, a mostly Black student group, founded a small grassroots movement in competitive college debate. Louisville battled a resistant majority white academic community for years. During their winning 2003–2004 season, the team transformed into what became commonly referred to as the Louisville Project. The development of an acclaimed Louisville Method of Debate would have significant reverberations through both the college and high school debate communities more than fifteen years later. By not avoiding but rather pointing to Blackness, Louisville’s argumentative and performative attacks on traditional debate practice force the community to turn its analytical tools on the racialization of debate itself. White discomfort in policy debate, in reaction to Louisville’s strategy and performance, has run the gamut of denial, anger, frustration, sympathy, engagement, and rejection. Troubling the assumption of neutrality, Louisville’s performance and argumentation highlight the hypocrisy of traditional debate performance, its relationship to anti-Blackness, and the normative performance of whiteness as the marker of achievement. The Louisville team delves into the neoliberal ordering of American democracy, making visible the hypocrisy of white liberalism and its attendant antagonism—subtle and overt—toward Blackness.

Keywords: Afro-pessimism, Blackness, competitive debate, Louisville Project, neoliberalism, performativity, race, speech, voice

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