A Statement of Support for Tommy Curry
In response to the news that Tommy Curry, professor of philosophy at Texas A & M University, has been receiving racist hate mail and death threats owing to a mispresentation of his words by pundit Rod Dreher, and that the president of his university, Michael K. Young, publicly reiterated this misrepresentation, graduate students from across his university have authored a public statement calling for support for Curry.
On 10 May 2017, President Michael K. Young of Texas A&M University sent an email to the university listserv concerning statements lifted from a 2012 podcast interview with Dr. Tommy Curry of the Department of Philosophy. Without naming him or describing the context of the interview, President Young characterized Dr. Curry’s statements in that interview as “disturbing” and “stand[ing] 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.”
President Young’s language in this email not only allows for but encourages the campus community to assume that Dr. Curry, in the podcast in question, used his First Amendment rights to “espouse hateful views” by advocating for “violence, hate, and killing.” We believe that this is not only a mischaracterization of Dr. Curry’s comments but serves to perpetuate a targeted campaign against his person and his work.
As members of the Texas A&M community, Aggies, and former students, particularly those of us who identify as Aggies of color, we are deeply alarmed and saddened by President Young’s decision to not support Dr. Curry in the face of these attacks. President Young’s response has not only exacerbated the situation but has legitimized dangerous and harmful rhetoric against a Black professor at Texas A&M University…
You can read the full statement and sign it here.
I though it might be useful to put a full transcript here of the central monologue of the podcast. The audio source I have used is
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.
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 stuff defense movement that inspired Black Panthers, and he wrote the book Negroes With Guns, that thought about 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 to preserve its right to bear arms.Report
Gosh, these are great points. Thanks for the transcript.Report
I believe that “stuff defense” was “self-defense.” Thank you for the transcription. Tommy is a decorated debater since a young age, hence his unbelievable ability to say such substantive and clear things so quickly. It’s one thing for an awful reporter to be grossly irresponsible, which he was. It is so much more troubling for TAMU’s President to have been. Each had fueled white supremacists in the ugliest ways and each should lose their jobs for it. Tommy should not be treated in these ways.Report
Eric, thank you for reading the transcript carefully and catching my error. You are correct, it should have been “self-defense.”
Part of the reason I made the transcription was because an earlier one, published by what seems to be a local newspaper, was so spectacularly awful.
The Eagle transcript uses an IT feature of Youtube. If anyone wishes to be reassured that computers / artificial intelligence are still some way off from replacing human beings, have a look at it. Re-doing the transcription myself only strengthens my respect for court reporters. (I occasionally look at the Old Bailey Online.)Report
And for what it’s worth, the paper Curry is discussing is by Robert Cottrol and Raymond Diamond.
Thanks for the transcript!Report
I just want to add that Dreher’s misrepresentation of Tommy Curry’s position comes as no surprise to me. For some time, before moving on, he was the editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News, for whom he regularly ran opinion pieces. These revealed that he is a religious, political and cultural fundamentalist, who often resorted to distortion, outright misrepresentation and a variety of “baiting” tactics in his attacks on views with which he disagreed, as well as often playing the “we are the ones who are, and have been, persecuted” card. Indeed, I cancelled my subscription to the paper largely because of his being the editorial director. Reasoned, fair but pointed criticism is one thing, but what Dreher charcteristically does is something else entirely. Tommy, you are not the first nor, sadly, are you likely to be the last.Report
Baiting may be an annoying trait, and I don’t support Dreher’s overreaction here at all, but let’s be honest: Curry’s statements themselves were an instance of baiting. He could have said everything of substance that he said without framing it as “let’s talk about killing white people”.Report
You’re a perfect example of the people who misrepresent what Curry actually said. Tommy Curry did not say “let’s talk about killing white people.” What he actually said was, “let’s talk about killing white people IN CONTEXT.” And this is literally what Curry proceeded to do.
Your misrepresentation is all the more ironic, because the first comment on this article is written by someone who actually took the time to transcribe what Curry said verbatim. The words are literally right there in front of your face, and not only do you misquote and misrepresent what Curry said, you then proceed to use that misrepresentation to falsely accuse him of baiting.Report
I wasn’t attempting to quote Curry; I was talking about the way he framed the discussion. This frame was deliberately provocative. I don’t say that as a criticism, just as a statement of fact. Being deliberately provocative is often defensible. But if Dreher is wrong and Curry is right, it’s not because one of them was being provocative and the other wasn’t. (They both were). It must be because of the substance of their statements.Report
First, it’s not at all clear that you weren’t attempting to quote Curry, because you used quotation marks. Furthermore, if you weren’t attempting to quote Curry, it’s quite a coincidence because you actually did quote him, except, as I showed, you did so erroneously.
Second, while you may have been talking about the way Curry framed the discussion, you misrepresented the way Curry actually framed the discussion. As I stated, Curry didn’t frame the discussion as “let’s talk about killing white people,” rather, he framed it as, “let’s talk about killing white people in context.”
Third, you claim that you weren’t attempting to criticize Curry, yet you wrote, “Baiting may be an annoying trait, and I don’t support Dreher’s overreaction here at all, but let’s be honest: Curry’s statements themselves were an instance of baiting.” The implication seems to be that baiting is an annoying trait, Curry was baiting, therefore, his bating was annoying. Perhaps you didn’t mean this, but it certainly seems that way.
Fourth, you claim that both Curry and Dreher were being provocative. No, they weren’t. Curry was perhaps being provocative but Dreher was lying. Dreher was deliberately quoting Curry out of context and, therefore, attempting to attribute beliefs to Curry, which Curry ostensibly does not possess.Report
(1) I put in quotation marks “Let’s talk about killing white people”. Curry had said, “I want to talk about killing white people in context”. I don’t see it was at all obvious that I was attempting to quote Curry. I was not.
(2) It is true that he framed the conversation as being ABOUT killing white people. That is clear throughout the entire discussion. I agree that he was trying to put it all in context, but talking about X in context is a form of talking about X. If I were to propose talking about killing Jews “in context”, I would still clearly be talking about killing Jews.
(3) Saying that a trait is annoying is not making a moral judgment. Sometimes we ought to be annoying.
(4) Dreher was being uncharitable. Whether he was lying depends on his knowledge and intentions, which we are not privy to.Report
It should be noted that while the language of the statement may suggest that it is intended for signatories drawn only from the Texas A&M community, Tommy Curry welcomes all expressions of support.Report
The disparateness of response to this grave threat to Tommy Curry and to academic freedom and the response to the Tuval affair is absurd. This is not to say anything about the Tuval affair and the many comments some extremely moving and impressive and some not. It is rather to say that when philosophers can gossip about their profession and engage in high horsing that makes a polo match on Jupiter seem minor league, all in. But when there is a grave external threat well… that’s not so much fun.
Sign this petition. Do you really think Fred Hampton shouldn’t have been able to defend himself. Seriously? I see that Google has pushed up alternative fact websites that characterize Curry’s beliefs — which you can read above — as “white genocide”. After Pizzagate there should be worry for Professor Curry and horror at Dreher’s statement. I assume this also involved pressure on Dreher from rich donors who are influenced by the alternate facts. And obviously this is a tactic to stop everyone’s speech that disagrees with the lunatics.Report
From the Texas A&M Department of Philosophy:
Note that we didn’t sign the letter as a department because we didn’t have a chance to call a meeting and weren’t sure about the legal technicalities involved with an official branch of the university speaking in a public forum. We circulated the letter via email to all members of the department but with basically a 24 hour time frame to be sure it got into the weekend edition of the local paper, and with graduation going on, several of our colleagues didn’t get a chance to reply. We would have liked to wait to get all our colleagues on the list, but we didn’t have time.Report
“Today I want to talk about killing communists in context.”
“Today I want to talk about killing black people in context.”
“Today I want to talk about killing Jews in context.”
“Today I want to talk about killing homosexuals in context.”
“Today I want to talk about killing Muslims in context.”
“Today I want to talk about killing atheists in context.”
“Today I want to talk about killing philosophy professors in context.”
If I wrote an article or gave a YouTube talk starting with any of these quotes, you people would throw fits. Set aside, for the moment, the debate about the proper scope of academic freedom. Prof. Curry’s comments were disgusting. Shame on anyone with the nerve to pretend not to understand why someone would find Prof. Curry’s comments alarming.
(I don’t find them alarming because I’m used to the usual philosophy department political nonsense. But I’m always grateful to see the reaction from normal people who get a look inside our bubble.)Report
But, all your counter examples focus on victims who were, indeed victimized. Curry was speaking about enslaved and oppressed people ‘fighting back.’ So, “Today I want to talk about killing Nazis in context” would be more a more accurate comparison.Report
Yes, I know that’s the party line. “X are the oppressed and Y the oppressors, so we may say/do Z to Y and not to X.” But why ought we to believe it; or, at any rate, why the instances of it that you and yours assert? In these discussions many such instances are sacred presumptions, rarely questioned, and virtually never the conclusion of a rigorous argument.
For example, it’s highly non-trivial to establish which people belong to X and Y, respectively. Consider your suggestion that communists were victims rather than oppressors. There are some kulaks who would disagree with you; but wait, they can’t because they were murdered. And there are several other issues apparent to anyone thinking through these debates in good faith.Report
White people benefit from privilege, for the most part. That does not make them oppressors. The Nazi comparison is totally out of line.Report
“Research probing the causes of the racial wealth gap has traced its origins to historic injustices, from slavery to segregation to redlining…. The outcomes of past injustice are carried forward as wealth is handed down across generations and are reinforced by ostensibly ‘color-blind’ practices and policies in effect today.”