Yes, I Am Latino; No, I Am Not Joking: Joe Laughon’s Story


Also by Joe Laughon on HA: “Engaging the World — Debate and the BJU Protest: An Interview with Joe Laughon.”

First I think the sensitive nature of this topic demands me to explain what this piece is not about. It is not intended as a litany of racial incidents I saw or a list of microaggressions allegedly inflicted upon me. It isn’t some blanket condemnation of the society home education creates, painting it as a reborn White Citizens’ Council. Nor is it intended to be a condemnation of identifying as American, being of European background, middle class, Christian or conservative. Lastly, I am not going to pretend like I was oppressed by any means. (Sidenote: For those who are far more learned in this subject, I would like to note that my subject of study has not been critical race theory, postmodernism or even sociology but rather was rather early modern European political theory and the Near East. So, mea culpa, if I use imprecise terminology. By all means let me know.)

That being said, I feel like my experience in home education can possibly provide a helpful perspective. My experience in homeschooling has slowly taught me how race operates in our society. It’s rarely some KKK bogeyman but rather is often unconscious and structural rather than personal, and is usually unthinking. In particular it’s made worse by what theorists call whiteness.

Now what do I mean by “whiteness”? By this I do not mean simply being of a European background but rather a society system in which being labeled as “white” (a constantly changing definition with several criteria such as light skin, European background/features, English speaking, Judeo-Christian and being seen as “respectable” and middle class) is the unconscious presumed default in society and is seen as best, where one is given the benefit of the doubt. The more checkboxes you can list off the more benefit of the doubt you will be given (throw in American born, and male in there and you won the bingo game). Today that has often meant:

1. Not being classed as a criminal.

Pastor Matt Chandler, of the Acts 29 network, made a really helpful insight when he stated that his son, blonde and blue eyed, would never be followed around in a store with the assumption he was up to no good.

2. Historically seen as more accepted in society and those people of color who do conform to what we see as respectable are labeled as “courageous” or peculiar.

3. Thanks to the mistakes and outright misdeeds of history, someone who is white is more likely to be better off, better educated and safer.

This does not discount personal success or personal failure but it does mean that history does play a role into where in society we start. Historically being white has afforded economic privileges such as not being redlined, being considered acceptable for credit, being shown houses that were often denied to people of color. This meant that their children could use equity to build more opportunities such as college education and business loans, which creates more opportunity. There is nothing inherently wrong with this ladder of opportunity itself, but the fact that the rungs have been traditionally denied to people of color.

4. Lastly, and most powerfully with recent news, it means that, being white, you will not be inherently defined as suspicious or a threat.

For instance, even the rate of drug usage, possession and sale is the same across the board among ethnic and racial groups, people of color will find themselves targeted for prosecution more often and, when equally prosecuted given harsher sentences for the same crime o the same severity.

Now how did my experience play into this? Specifically I saw how the way we racially and ethnically construct identities is a game in which whiteness determines the rules and gets to decide what identity you have. For instance my family’s identity is not monolithic. English is my language, I have an Anglo sounding surname and my mother’s family is pretty stock European Midwestern-southern white folks. On the other hand, my father’s family is entirely from Mexican from South Texas and Los Angeles and I usually identified most with the Latino community, especially growing up in a neighborhood dominated by this demographic and going to Catholic school in which I was certainly the whitest there.

In my old neighborhood I was certainly an anomaly perhaps but not totally unheard of as “gueros” (“blondies” or “whiteys”) can be more common in some parts of Latin America. Thus my friends didn’t really question what I called myself (although I do remember parents laughing when I had told my class my father was born in Mexico. I simply assumed, “We’re Mexican, he must be from Mexico.”). However once we moved and I began to homeschool, I noticed a subtle shift in how the identity game was played. If you don’t even fit into one identity, one will be chosen for you. Period. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve explained to folks, “Yes, my skin is very light. Yes, I am Latino. No, I am not joking.” (This could turn into an Abbot and Costello routine as one father literally refused to believe me.) My particular favorite was during our testing and a mother witnessed me filling in the “Latino/Hispanic” bubble. She quickly pulled me aside and noted that if I was mixed I needed to put mixed. No exceptions.

However, I won’t pretend that being white didn’t bring privileges. Besides those listed above, I didn’t have to act as the spokesman for all things Latin. What was also interesting was, as my hand was stamped, I got to see how history and society is shaped by the default of being white.

In particular I saw that a self-reinforcing narrative is created when being white isn’t just assumed to be the default, but it often is the default in homeschooling (especially when you get to subsume everyone else’s identity into the team). Which means seeing the events of history and issues in society entirely through the eyes of one “side.” Every other narrative is conveniently ignored because it is assumed to not exist.

This occurred most notably in the NCFCA and in the wider homeschool debate scene.

Having to combat civil war revisionism (Did you know that it was just over tariffs and slavery was just totally incidental to the entire war? Yeah, me neither), or even remind some students that slavery was not a “win-win” for everyone involved, became a full time occupation as a competitor and coach. But by being white, no one would think twice about sharing their fairly one sided opinion with you as they unwittingly reinforced whiteness by engaging in a host of presumptions about undocumented immigrants or why democratic governance “can’t work” in Arab society. Around me, there was no self aware look over the should to see if any of “them” might hear but rather the opinions about how Latin immigrants will “balkanize” America and how a “Euro-American majority” is needed for society to work could be shared freely.

The catalyst for this realization came when the BJU protest occurred. To recap, NCFCA chose Bob Jones University, a school associated with racial segregation, discrimination combined with a virulent fundamentalism combined with a healthy dose of violent anti-Catholicism (if you don’t believe that last one ask why Northern Irish loyalist demagogue Ian Paisley has an honorary doctorate). Many, in particular coaches, competitors and families of color objected to associating a multiracial, multiethnic and multiconfessional organization with a tainted institution.

The response was total tone deafness from some. We were asked why we were so bitter about “ancient history”, why we can’t bring ourselves to forgive BJU (I was unaware institutions have souls to absolve) and why it was acceptable to let historically black colleges exist but there were “no colleges for whites.” I finally realized that whiteness meant not only getting to decide the rules of identity, not being afraid of spouting off nonsense about race, but also never having to acknowledge the legacy of racism today and in the past.

This is not to say that I experienced a culture of open bigotry or one filled with racial strife. More often I saw a loving, tranquil multiracial group that genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. However I also saw implicit racial assumptions and privilege reinforce itself through a lack of acknowledgement and understanding in a way that was somewhat unique to the home education scene.

So how do we move forward? I think the obvious way is to rely on what unites us and it’s not our identity as homeschoolers, as Americans or as conservatives, but rather our common faith identity, which clearly rejects such constructs (Acts 10:34-35).

The first way we do this is by listening to each other.

This is some basic advice given from James as we are told to be “quick to hear.” However unfortunately our lack of hearing has created a huge perception gap. Last year the Association of Religious Data had a telling study which demonstrated a wide gap in how different groups in America viewed the interaction between race and society. The first step to overcoming our empathy gap is to overcome our perception gap. That is going to take listening. In particular that is going to take hearing narratives on race and how it effects us from others that don’t include ourselves. Rather than get defensive and jump to meaningless tropes such as “What about black on black crime?” or “What about affirmative action?” maybe we should be quicker to hear and slow to speak.

But we need to take this further.

Pastor Scott Williams, author of Sunday: The Most Segregated Day of the Week, pointed out how the institution homeschoolers are most likely to share in common is also the institution that is most racially segregated. Roughly 90% of American churches are dominated by 90% of one ethnic or racial group. Now part of this trend reflects simple demographics and part of this trend reflects the effects of historic exclusion of people of color for mainline Protestant churches. However it should give us a reason for concern. How can we understand each other and start to break down the toxicity of race in America if part of our lives that is most significant to us is the one that is the most racially segregated? Movements like Church Diversity and Operation: Desegregation are the beginnings of something that could be truly healing.

I’m not saying this will solve everything. Homeschoolers who aren’t Christian or are excluded in other ways, such as gender or sexuality, may not find much solace in this. But it could be a start.

The general principles of listening and engaging in community with The Other hold real promise to ameliorate the problem of racism and white privilege in homeschooling.

Resolved: An Index

Resolved: An Index


Call for Stories

By Nicholas Ducote: Resolved: That We Should Talk about HSLDA Debate, NCFCA, STOA, and CFC/ICC, Part One

By Bethany: “Resolved: That We Should Talk about HSLDA Debate, NCFCA, STOA, and CFC/ICC, Part Two”


Debate History and General Topics

By R.L. Stollar: “A Brief History of Homeschool Speech and Debate”

By Nicholas Ducote, “A Letter of Gratitude, A Call for Dialogue”

By Luke: “Debate As Socialization: Luke’s Thoughts”

By Andrew Roblyer: “Angry Emails And Thoughts On Why They Happen: By Andrew Roblyer”

By Alisa Harris: “The Shining City’s Superman: By Alisa Harris”



By Libby Anne: “The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts”

By Finn:

“Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part One”

“Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two”

By Philosophical Perspectives:

“Of Love and Office Supplies: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts”

“How NCFCA Taught Me to Fight Sexism: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts”

By Andrew Roblyer: “The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts”

By Kierstyn King: “Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts”

By R.L. Stollar:

“The Most Controversial Thing I Ever Wrote, Part One: By R.L. Stollar”

“The Most Controversial Thing I Ever Wrote, Part Two: By R.L. Stollar”

By Jayni: The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story



By Krysi Kovaka:

“I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part One”

“I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part Two”

By R.L. Stollar: “I Was The Original CFC Fuck-Up: R.L. Stollar’s Story”

By Marla: “Competence, Not Character: Marla’s Story”

By Michele Ganev: “CFC Gave Me Confidence: Michele Ganev’s Story”

By Renee: “Sharing the Burden of the Pedestal: Renee’s Story”


Great BJU Protest of 2009

By Joe Laughon: “Engaging the World — Debate and the BJU Protest: An Interview with Joe Laughon”

By Ariel: “The Embarrassment of Protesting Racism: Ariel’s Thoughts”

By Krysi Kovaka: “When I Recanted What I Truly Believed: Krysi Kovaka’s Thoughts”

Engaging the World — Debate and the BJU Protest: An Interview with Joe Laughon

Note from R.L. Stollar: I had the honor and pleasure of asking NCFCA alumnus and coach Joe Laughon about his debate experiences as well as his role in organizing “The Great BJU Protest of 2009.”  We decided to present our interaction in an interview format.

HA: Talk a little bit about your experience in homeschool debate — how you got started, how long you competed, and if you did any coaching after graduating.

JL: I first got involved my freshman year. I was part of a small club solely comprised of first timers, including our coach. I competed all throughout highschool and eventually competed on junior college and four-year college level. I continued to coach my old high school team for roughly 4 years and also coached in a separate league for a year.

HA: Would you consider your experience in NCFCA to be positive, negative, or mixed? And mention a few examples of what makes you feel that way.

JL: I consider it overall to be positive. It was a huge growing experience for me. I started as a fairly awkward, very angry (my family had just split up) freshman and left someone who was miles away from where I had started. It wasn’t all debate, but debate played a huge role in it. I made friends that I am very close with to this day and it was a great outlet for me.

That being said, there were times that the experience took a turn for the negative. It was odd to see, like in any other activity, parent-coaches live vicariously through their students, even to the point of becoming borderline cutthroat, like manipulating who got what ballots. Furthermore I think there was a “squeakiest wheel gets the oil” mentality when it came to oversensitivity. Seeing people throw conniption fits over a ceremony at a Mason Lodge (Technically Shriners “Temple” but yeah), or disqualify one of my competitor’s IEs because it “promoted cannibalism” made me roll my eyes more than once. However, competitors weren’t above making it groan-worthy either, occasionally advocating for Southern slavery or saying fairly nasty things about LGBT people.

On the whole, however, it was positive.

HA: Before you started debate, you were a “conservative Christian.” Today, you are also a conservative Christian. Did debate inspire any evolution in how you would define that term and how you, as a conservative Christian, look at the world?

JL: Debate definitely changed how I view the term. It opened me up more so to other points of view beyond the very socially conservative/neoconservative “Bush republican” point of view that was so common then. By the time highschool ended I called myself a big L Libertarian. However when my debate career took me through college, my horizons really opened up. I came in contact with cogent and coherent defense of points of view from the left. Today I would call myself a moderate Republican, ideologically somewhere between libertarianism and conservatism but with a strong emphasis on pragmatism. I don’t really consider social conservatism all that important to me, though I remain pro-life.

I remain a doctrinally conservative Christian, but I am less concerned with Christian infighting over secondary doctrine than I used to be and more focused on how we present Christianity and the gospel to the rest of the world.

HA: In 2009, you and several other individuals from NCFCA started “the Great BJU Protest of 2009.” I was long graduated from NCFCA and high school — in fact, I was even graduated from my M.A. program at the time — but I heard about it almost immediately. It was a really big deal. Can you explain what the protest was and what inspired it?

JL: The BJU protest came on the heels of some major disaffection from Region 2 (CA) in 2008. We felt that we had been punished for not conforming to the Board and we felt the rug was pulled out from us in regards to Nationals.

Many of us in California, in particular coming from racially and doctrinally diverse families and clubs, felt that BJU did not represent who the NCFCA was. We saw BJU as still recovering from a racist and bigoted past, and is still intensely legalistic and fairly un-Christlike in how they present the gospel. We didn’t want the NCFCA to be associated with that name, as Christian homeschoolers get a bad enough rep as is.

However, by then the decision was made, so it transformed into overall disgust at how the Board ran things. Again the Board was secretive, rejecting transparency and had learned nothing from the ill will of 2008. Furthermore, some of us saw it as a regional coup as the last four nationals were held in the South. It began to represent everything that was wrong with the Board, but also it was a protest against racial indifference and insensitivity in the League.

HA: After your protest gained traction, and a bunch of competitors, alumni, and coaches had signed the protest petition, NCFCA regional coordinator Lisa Kays wrote an email that sent some shockwaves through the community. What did she say and how did you think about Kays’ email at the time?

JL: Her letter was fairly offensive not just because of how it proposed to deal with the protest but also how she characterized it. She functionally claimed we were all whiners, and we simply wanted attention (fairly common points). This was unfair and didn’t help dialogue.

But the worst was her policy for “dealing” with it. She used her power as a Regional Director to strip people from her region (or threaten to) of their Nationals slot and then used her position as a member of the Board to pressure other regions to do the same. I thought and think Mrs. Kay’s response to be frankly really unacceptable, immature and also another example of how bylaws that allow people to hold multiple offices can be abused.

HA: After the protest controversy happened, a whole section of the country split from NCFCA, thereby creating a second homeschool speech and debate league, STOA. Do you think how certain NCFCA leaders handled the protest was a catalyst for this forensics’ “civil war”?

JL: I absolutely think so. I think even the more timid among Region 2 coaches and parents were appalled with how the Board had responded to concerns in the past and even those who weren’t sympathetic to the protest didn’t like how the Board handled it. It wasn’t the only issue but it highlighted a lot of problems. I think a wide amount of people outside of CA clearly agreed due to the growth of Stoa at the expense of the old NCFCA.

HA: It’s been four years since the BJU protest. Looking back, are you proud of what you did or do you regret it? Also, four years after, what do you think about how Kays handled the situation?

JL: I am definitely proud of what we did. We highlighted the issues of racial indifference in the community and how the Board played a role in this. Furthermore, we highlighted major problems with how the Board and the League were set up, problems people had known about for awhile. The work that many people did — like Dr. Konrad Hack, Ryan Herche, Jon Chi Lou and others — is something to be proud of. I think Mrs. Kays’ response was unacceptable but also pretty typical response; malign, misdirect and then punish for different views. It’s too bad. I hope she looks back on the event with regret.

HA: Coming from a background of conservative Christianity, what do you think is the proper response to the sort of institutionalized racism that prevailed for so long at BJU?

JL: I think, first and foremost, the response should be found in Scripture. The Biblical worldview brooks no racism. God’s concern for all, our common ancestry, Jesus’ concern for those outside the House of Israel and the Church’s mission to all peoples should make us be abhorred at racial bigotry. While those who repent are to be forgiven, I think there is an immense difference from true repentance and simply begrudgingly saying you’re sorry and changing policy (piecemeal) when forced to by the federal government. One can forgive people, but people aren’t called to forgive an institution. If Bob Jones University was serious about purging the environment of racism on campus and its memory, they should change the name to something else and replace or phase out administrators that were around in that day.

Also what went totally ignored in the discussion of, “Is BJU still racist?” was the problem of legalism and violent anti-Catholicism. Calling the pope “a demon”, denouncing Billy Graham as an unbeliever, continuing to give an honorary doctorate to Ian Paisely, a violent, unrepentant bigot who promoted sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, are all actions that have yet to be apologized for at all. Probably because federal tax exempt status isn’t tied to it. Such a shame.

HA: Do you think participating in speech and debate shaped your perspective on responding to social ills like racism?

JL: Definitely. It opened up my eyes to experiences beyond my own and it also made me realize that racism isn’t a box that one checks, “Yes” or “No.” Unfortunately prejudice and privilege follow us all on some levels. I think it revealed to me that the biggest problem in many of our homeschooled communities (overwhelmingly white and middle-upper class) isn’t racism, like some fantasy KKK boogeyman, but rather simple racial indifference.

My experience in NCFCA, the protest, coaching in Stoa and debating at Concordia really opened me up to understanding the issue of race relations and I think I am a better person and Christian for it. Too often I think we have insensitive or insincere discussions of race because we’re afraid of being called a racist or because it may challenge our little bubbles. We need to move past it and debate can be a great vehicle to do so.

HA: One final question, prefaced by a statement: Pop culture likes to stereotype conservative Christians automatically as fundamentalists. Add homeschooling to the batter, and the cake goes from fundamentalist to crazy. Yet here you are, a conservative Christian homeschool graduate who protests racism and is unafraid of speaking up about injustices you see happening on your own side — even in conservative Christian homeschooling itself. What do you make of this stereotype and how do you think it can be defeated?

JL: I think part of it is media-perpetuated to an extent. It’s easier and it sells more (more of anything, newspapers, movies, episodes, books) to show a stereotype than it does a nuanced picture. I remember rolling my eyes at portrayals of homeschoolers and their families in sitcoms or shows (almost always crime shows for some reason), as unbalanced, cold, crazy, borderline fascists who are on their way from a cross-burning from their abortion clinic bombing planning session. I think as time goes on, more people homeschool and the demographics of homeschoolers change, I think you will see this change over time.

However, part of it is the responsibility of the community. I have met people who are fairly insensitive and dogmatic. These are the kind of people who are attracted to homeschooling because it is difficult, and thus have somewhat of a martyr complex about it. They are waiting to be insulted. The rest are issues I think are common to conservative white Christians (not that any of that is negative, it is simply descriptive) sometimes. It happens with every demographic. Free association turns into exclusive association and some borderline self-segregate themselves from others. Thus, viewpoints outside the group that may be valid and shake things up, are rarely heard. The ideological water thus can remain a little brackish. It’s pretty common outside the homeschooling community, but it doesn’t mean the homeschooling community shouldn’t take it on.

I think it can be dealt with by making an effort to join things outside church or homeschool activity. Don’t discourage friends made outside of this, friends that may belong to different denominations or may not be Christian at all. We’re not called to build up the Church by just outbreeding people (ok, that’s a joke but anyone who has said the phrase “homeschooling van” knows what I mean), we’re called to build up the Church by engaging in the world. It’s a complicated issue and sometimes it’s portrayed worse than it is, but it’s one that I think the homeschooling community is now facing.