Philosophy Professor Receiving Death Threats (updated with transcript, letter from colleagues)


Tommy Curry, professor of philosophy at Texas A & M University, has been receiving racist hate mail and death threats in the wake of an opinion piece at a conservative website that frames remarks of his in a misleading way—and among those apparently misled, it now appears, is Texas A & M president Michael K. Young.

The article, “When Is It Ok To Kill Whites?” by Rod Dreher, appears at The American Conservative, and uses as its launching point an interview that Professor Curry did four years earlier. In that interview, Professor Curry discusses the contemporary popular lack of awareness of calls for violent black resistance against slavery and racism in U.S. history, the history of violence against black people in the U.S., the way in which the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment has been made use of in racist ways, and related topics. Dreher uses misleading rhetoric and selective quotations in an attempt to frame Curry’s remarks as “racist bilge.” [For a transcript of the Professor Curry’s full remark see update 1 below.]

For example, in the interview, Curry, discussing Jamie Foxx’s joke about how great it was for him to be able to kill all of the white characters in the movie Django Unchained, says:

What I’m surprised about is that I’ve seen no black public intellectual come out and actually address the issue of violence or social revolution or radical self-defense by black people historically. So right now black people simply buy into the idea that “oh, it’s entertainment,” or “oh, you know, violence against white people is only the idea of the Black Panthers.” But in reality we’ve had people from Nat Turner to Robert F. Williams who was the father of the radical self defense movement that inspired the Black Panthers… that thought about killing white people in self-defense…

When we have this conversation about violence or killing white people it has to be looked at in the context of a historical turn, and the fact that we’ve had no one address, like, how relevant and how solidified this kind of tradition is for black people saying, “look in order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people may have to die,” I’ve just been immensely disappointed, because what we look at week after week is national catastrophe after catastrophe where black people, black children, are still dying…

Dreher takes all of that and reports it as follows:

“In order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people might have to die,” he says

—completely ignoring that with those words Curry was describing a view that some people, historically, have held. You get the idea. Dreher, no stranger to the Internet, knows exactly what he is doing here, and what the likely result will be.

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Within hours of The American Conservative’s post, YouTube’s comments section and Twitter lit up with demands for Curry’s termination and racial slurs against him. Curry, who is black, said via email Wednesday that he’d received death threats and pictures of “apes, monkeys, etc.” As an example, he shared one tweet directed at him, showing someone putting a gun in a monkey’s mouth.

IHE also reports this development:

Michael K. Young, university president, in a statement Wednesday night called Curry’s four-year-old comments “disturbing” and standing “in stark contrast to Aggie core values— most notably those of respect, excellence, leadership and integrity—values that we hold true toward all of humanity.”

Young says “the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of others to offer their personal views.” Good.

Yet Young seems to buy Dreher’s framing, implying that Curry said things that were “reprehensible” and that he advocated “violence, hate, and killing.” You can listen to the interview, below, and see how that is a mischaracterization.

Perhaps Young knows this, and his remarks are public relations damage control. That is too bad. It would have been much better for President Young to stick up for Professor Curry, rather than say things which he should know will in all likelihood make things worse for him. [See update 2, below for a letter of support from Curry’s colleagues in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M.]



UPDATE 1: Courtesy of WW, who put it in the comments on another post, is a full transcription of Professor Curry’s remarks in the video.

WW writes: I have not included the interviewer Rob Redding at the beginning and end. I have inserted punctuation as best I could, and edited out “uhs”, but tried to include all actual words. The usual infelicities of spoken English I have reproduced. I think in an age where taking snippets out of context is nearly universal, it is best to give as full a transcript as possible. It can be unkind, I know, to any speaker not to smooth out even the most obvious of verbal missteps. Any philosophers who are moved to comment should use a principle of charity when looking at the syntax of individual spoken sentences.

* * *

PROFESSOR TOMMY CURRY:

Today I want to talk about killing white people in context.

So over the last twenty years, black people allowed white academics, white liberals — and I don’t know if you saw the recent movie Django Unchained — factual history of black civil rights struggle and black slave insurrections.

What we have today is a situation where the symbols of King and peaceful white progressives have become the hallmarks of the black civil rights struggle.

I mean we saw this with people like Skip Gates when Obama won the election, saying that even all of our slaves foreparents who were enslaved and stolen from Africa, all the suffering dying and death that we had during the civil rights movement, have all accumulated in Obama himself, right.

And what that does is it puts a public-relations face on the history of enslavement. It puts a popular face on the suffering of African-descended people, and it puts a smile, a persona from black people, that we can in fact talk about American racism without mentioning the threat of violence or social social revolution at all.

Now two weeks ago Jamie Foxx made a joke about how great it was for him to be able to kill all the white people in his new movie. And I saw it and he’s right, practically every white person in that movie dies a very violent and well-deserved death for their participation in enslavement of African descent people.

But the problem I have with that statement — and it’s using a context of Django — is that it’s a fantasy where the death of white people are really just an entertaining spectacle. It’s something that didn’t really happen. It’s not like black people had that type of opportunity under enslavement.

And today what you see is a backlash, from white conservatives on the one hand who were offended, saying that Jamie Foxx is racist, and white liberals on the other hand who are saying that, well this is not productive that you ever talk about killing white people, and putting the burden back on black people who have actually suffered these types of horror, saying that you can never have a political conversation about the killing of white people, ’cause that in itself is evil, is non-productive, is nationalistic, only evil black nationalists do that, right.

And I think that a lot of times black people will buy into this as well. What I was surprised about is that I’ve seen no black public intellectual come out and actually address the issue of violence or social revolution or self radical self-defense by black people historically.

So right now black people simply buy into the idea that, “oh it’s entertainment,” or “oh you know violence against white people was only the ideas of the Black Panthers.”

But in reality we’ve had people from Nat Turner to Robert F Williams, who’s the father of radical self-defense movement that inspired Black Panthers, and he wrote the book Negroes With Guns, that thought about killing white people in self-defense.

Now remember that these black people were actually in a world very much like ours today where white vigilantism against black people, murder, state violence, were all deemed normal. This was how you preserved American democracy. This is what Ida B Wells talks about. You lynched black people because they’re an economic threat to white, poor whites getting businesses. You lynched black people to show black people that they can never be equal, so they will never challenge you, they will never pursue politics, they would have never pursued the right to vote.

So when we have this conversation about violence or killing white people, it has to be looked at in the context of this historical turn.

And the fact that we’ve had no one address like how relevant and how solidified this kind of tradition is for black people, saying “look, in order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people may have to die.”

I’ve just been immensely disappointed, because what we look at, week after week, is the national catastrophe after catastrophe where black people, black children, are still dying. And we are front row, we’re front and center, when it comes to white people talking about their justification for owning assault weapons and owning guns to protect themselves from evil black people and evil immigrants.

But when we turn the conversation back and says, “does the black community ever need to own guns, does the black community have a need to protect itself, does the black individual have a need to protect itself from police officers,” we don’t have that conversation at all.

Now we see white citizens arm themselves with assault weapons fearing gun legislation, and we saw the nationalist rhetoric during the election where people are trying to kill Obama, but we don’t have any kind of connection between the arguments made today about the Second Amendment, where people say they have the right to bear arms, and the historical role of the Second Amendment, where it was used to allow[?] white people to press down slave revolts and revolts from indigenous natives.

So Robert Control and Raymond Diamond write this excellent piece called The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration, where they actually trace the history of that, and say that the second amendment isn’t about individuals simply trying to protect themselves, it’s actually about community.

But the problem is the black community has not taken the time, has not taken the, doesn’t have the discipline to look at black politics as an outgrowth of how it needs to protect itself from violent anti-black forces, that are still killing our children, are still taking our communities, and now is trying to justify nationalist rhetoric to preserve its right to bear arms.

UPDATE 2: Professor Curry’s colleagues in the Department of Philosophy have published the following letter of support in a Texas A&M school paper, The Eagle, on May 13th:

We, the undersigned, are writing to convey both our strong support for our colleague, Tommy Curry, and our disappointment at the lack of support from Texas A&M University for a faculty member undergoing widespread vilification on social media, extending to death threats taken seriously enough by law enforcement to warrant police protection.

We work in many different philosophical traditions. Some of us endorse pacifism and non-violence, while others endorse violence in self-defense or as a means to end injustice. But all of us think that there are important debates to be had on the role of violence, and that these are well within the mission of the university.

In a radio interview that first appeared on YouTube on Dec. 27, 2012, and that recently has been highlighted by the website The American Conservative, our colleague Tommy Curry contributes to this debate. Among other points, he claims that our society often has imposed a double standard on discussions of violence, which often are deemed acceptable when they concern the founding figures of our nation and state but not when had by minorities in our present society.

The death threats he has received, and the anemic support he has been offered by the university, suggest to us, regardless of our individual views on the role of violence, that on the question of this double standard he clearly is correct.

We would like to emphasize two points in particular: The first is that nowhere in the interview does Tommy Curry incite violence. What he does do is discuss remarks made by the actor Jamie Foxx about his (Foxx’s) role in the film Django Unchained and relate those remarks to the role that violence and armed struggle has played in the progress of black civil rights. Second, in pursuing this discussion Curry is not simply exercising his First Amendment rights as a private citizen, but also is doing the job for which he has been awarded tenure at Texas A&M University.

Tommy Curry’s assigned role at Texas A&M is to teach and research in critical race theory, an area where he is an acknowledged expert. He has been encouraged to disseminate his ideas both within the academic world and more broadly. Curry’s impact on the general, non-academic community has been recognized by the award of the Alain Locke Award from the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. The nominators and the award committee both specifically referenced Curry’s ability to engage lay audiences on complex subjects via multiple platforms, including radio and the internet.

As an institution that supports the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Texas A&M University is committed to protecting Tommy Curry’s academic freedom, and we urge the university to fulfil its obligations in the face of a vicious attack on the academic values that are fundamental to our faculty and to our students.

— José Luis Bermúdez, Kenny Easwaran, Robert Garcia, Amir Jaima, Claire Katz, Chris Menzel, Clare Palmer, Gregory Pappas, Martin Peterson, Roger Sansom, Robin Smith, Kristi Sweet, Linda Radzik and Gary Varner

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