Why I don’t debate white supremacists.
Like young earth creationists, white supremacists and white nationalists are obsessed with finding opponents to debate in public forums — not because the facts are on their side, but because they seek to elevate their nonsense to the level of genuine intellectual dispute. For the creationists, this is a stepping-stone to their “teach the controversy” argument; for white supremacists, it’s a long-shot bid for mainstream credibility.
Even though I’ve engaged in several public debates on a variety of topics, I don’t debate white supremacists for two simple reasons:
- Their premises are ridiculous.
I don’t debate them for the same reason I don’t debate members of the Flat Earth Society, David Icke followers, chemtrail/vaccine truthers, or people who believe that the moon landing was faked: it’s an enormous waste of my time to take seriously ridiculous fictions about the Liberal One World Jewish Satanic Communist Masonic Conspiracy To Ruin Our Precious White Women or whatever.
As Jonathan Kay explained, “arguing down a committed conspiracy theorist is impossible … the conspiracist claims victory merely by scoring a single uncontested point — since, as he imagines it, every card he plays is a trump … The defender of rationalism is stuck fighting for a stalemate.”
White supremacists and white nationalists are terrified paranoiacs who tremble at the thought of their future minority status. Behind every conspiracy theorist is a deeply frightened, insecure person who feels that the world is spinning out of control, that society would be much better off if it returned to an idealized traditional past, that powerful forces just behind the curtain are the ones responsible for all of the misery in his life. Just as you would not waste your time formally debating a grown man who insisted that the nine-legged alien insects living in his pancreas are responsible for his constant bedwetting and public nose-picking, I do not wish to waste my time debating people who insist that straight white Christian men are the most oppressed minority in the United States.
I can just imagine all the white supremacists out there right now as they read the previous paragraph: “Ha! The reason he doesn’t want to debate us is because all he’s got are lousy ad hominem attacks!” So let’s pretend for a moment that I’m completely wrong about white supremacists; that they are, in fact, dispassionate intellectual iconoclasts whose perfectly valid points are just ignored by self-hating, brainwashed race traitors like me. That still doesn’t trump my second reason for refusing to debate them.
2. Elevating any white supremacist argument to the status of debate-worthy topic is an act of dehumanization and degradation.
Even if we pretend that the talking points of white supremacists are worth considering, aiding them in their bid for mainstream respectability is a crime I cannot countenance. Included among their fundamental premises — either buried in code words and dog whistles, or proudly and explicitly trumpeted — is the idea that my friends, family, students, coworkers, neighbors, and fellow human beings are less than human. Treating that idea as worthy of debate, as if we were disagreeing over a favorite sports team or the correct course of action for Congress, is nothing less than obscene. I cannot imagine standing publicly in front of people that I love and pretending to take seriously, even temporarily, the idea that they ought to be ushered out of the country, or out of life itself.
And so, when I am asked to choose between endorsing an abstract intellectual “free speech exercise” and refusing to dehumanize people that I care about, I will always choose the latter. The endgame of white supremacists is expulsion and/or extermination; when you treat their little theories as worthy of debate, you are playing their game by their rules, and I cannot find it within myself to do that.
For further reading:
- Jason Sanford, “I Don’t Debate Racists”
- Charles R. Lawrence III, “If He Hollers Let Him Go: Regulating Racist Speech on Campus”
- The Morning Star (London), “Welsh Candidates Refuse to Debate with Fascists”