The Targeting of Philosopher Tommy J. Curry
Mr. Dreher’s post sent [Professor Curry’s] words racing across a network that was primed for racial outrage—like New York City’s black-radio scene circa 2001, but much more powerful. The internet’s right-wing news belt had expanded under President Obama. Websites like Infowars and Breitbart, once on the fringe, had found a champion in President Trump, who seemed passionate about defending white America’s borders and voting rolls from usurpers like Muslim refugees, undocumented Latinos, and poor blacks.
One of the first online hubs to notice Mr. Dreher’s article about Mr. Curry was r/The_Donald, a Reddit forum devoted to the lionization of President Trump. “‘When Is It OK To Kill Whites?’” somebody wrote there, posting a link to The American Conservative. “THE HELL?!?! This guy teaches at Texas A&M!! Liberalism at Universities as gotten completely out of hand!!”Infowars was next. On May 10, Paul Joseph Watson, a commentator writing for the site, posted his own take on Mr. Dreher’s discovery. “Presumably,” he wrote, “the university thinks that advocating for the death of an entire group of people based on their skin color is something that correlates with their values.”
Mr. Watson’s article opened a line to another audience: neo-Nazis. That evening somebody posted a link on Stormfront, a forum for white racists. Some of the people who responded seemed to welcome the thought of a race war. They liked their chances.
Cristina Laila, a writer for The Gateway Pundit, a blog devoted to exposing “the wickedness of the left,” also saw Mr. Dreher’s post about Mr. Curry. “This is more proof that rasicsm [sic] is ok,” she wrote, “as long as the attacks are against whites.”
That’s an excerpt from an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education that tells the story of how Tommy J. Curry, a professor of philosophy at Texas A&M, recently found himself on the receiving end of death threats for remarks he made years earlier concerning race and violence.
The article also tells the story of how the story got around, tracing it though several right-wing publications and groups, as well as other sites, and is accompanied by a an interactive timeline showing the travel of the story over the internet:
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This piece from the Chronicles was terrible, and read more like a political hit piece against conservatism which completely misses Curry’s point about self-defense. The Chronicles conveniently skips over the fact that there has not only been a silencing and backlash among conservatives to notion of radical self-defense, but the liberal/progressive camp has been silencing and backlashing against the idea of black people having the right to self-defense as well. This liberal/progressive silencing and backlash becomes apparent any time you turn on the television to listen to black pundits or take a Race, Class, and Gender course because everyone believes the exact same thing. They pretty much always support non-violence, they don’t talk about things like reparations, they never give a comprehensive analysis of the violence that white people have enacted across the globe, and they throw out these strange ambiguous statements like “oh… we just need to heal”; and it’s not a coincidence that this is the popular discourse in liberal/progressive spaces. As Curry and many others have pointed out that there is a reward system for this kind of non-threatening scholarship about race and racism. Instead of taking a self-reflective tone and actually take in what Curry was actually saying, the Chronicles decided to dump all the blame on conservatives and turn the real life suffering of a man who is a victim of white retaliation and aggression into a political point to antagonize conservatives instead of realizing that Curry was talking conservatives and liberals and how they both attempt to de-radicalize black political thought. This is another incident of pseudo-outrage by white people where they are going to sensationalize a topic about race so that liberals can clutch their proverbial pearls and gasp at the insensitivity of those conservative trolls and throw out some more ambiguous statements like “oh….we just need to heal” while a real person is living in fear because of the copyright that conservatives and liberals have put on black intellectual thought. Again……this is pseudo-outrage! No one is going to be held accountable for Curry’s breach of personal security, no one is going to hire more black people in academia, and no one is going to push universities to provide more resources and finanical support specifically for black students and faculty. The best we are going to get is some white people clutching their pearls and talking about “oh….we need to heal”.Report
Very plausibly there’s a great Chronicle story to write about radical vs liberal tendencies in black intellectual thought and the way the mainstream political process deals with them. Very plausibly there’s a great Chronicle story to write about whether and how universities should be targeting resources and financial support at black students and faculty.
But that’s not this story. This is a free-speech and academic-freedom story. It’s about how the spread of ideas to toxic corners of the internet allows harsh but legitimate criticism to turn into online harassment and then metastasize into threats of violence. It’s about the difficult questions that arise for public figures as to how to handle the consequences of free speech in the internet era. It’s about the failure of university officials to take a principled stand in support of academic freedom and of their faculty even when they strongly disagree in a personal capacity with the thoughts being expressed, and even when there are financial (i.e. fundraising) consequences. And it’s important as a case study in the suppression of academic freedom, as well as in itself.
*That* story doesn’t need detailed engagement with the academic substance of Professor Curry’s work, or with any issues that arise from his race. Indeed, arguably it’s strengthened by *not* so engaging, because the whole point of academic freedom is that it’s content neutral and applies to everyone in an academic role. On cursory examination I have virtually zero sympathy for the substantive theses that Professor Curry is advancing. But I am outraged at his treatment. So should anyone else be who cares about academic freedom, no matter what their substantive political views might be. It is an outrage when it happens to Steven Salaita; it is an outrage when it happens to Charles Murray; it is an outrage when it happens to Lisa Durden; it is an outrage when it happens to Peter Singer; it is an outrage when it happens to Tommy Curry.Report
This isn’t just some case study about academic freedom. This is a real life person whose safety and family’s safety is being threatened by white retaliation and aggression for believeing that the second amendment is applicable to black people and their struggles which white people have historically tried to suppress through violence and intimidation. Charles Murray isn’t a comparable example!Report
Murray was physically attacked and a professor with him had to go to the hospital due to injuries she sustained. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to draw a parallel to a philosopher who was physically threatened and harassed for his offensive views.Report
Where is a source claiming that Murray was physically attacked because from what I read the most that had happened was a professor accompanying him got their hair pulled, but comparing an overt white supremacist, knowing the history of how white people respond to these kinds of dog whistles concerning black inferiority, criminality, and etc., to a person advocating that black people should use the Second Amendment in order to defend themselves against white vigilantes and the police is intellectually dishonest.Report
“Where is a source claiming that Murray was physically attacked because from what I read the most that had happened was a professor accompanying him got their hair pulled”
“comparing an overt white supremacist, knowing the history of how white people respond to these kinds of dog whistles concerning black inferiority, criminality, and etc., to a person advocating that black people should use the Second Amendment in order to defend themselves against white vigilantes and the police is intellectually dishonest.”
Since the entire content of my comment, and the associated list of examples, was that violence and threats of violence against an academic for exercising their academic freedom are outrageous completely independent of that academic’s views and background, and that there is an active advantage in not engaging with or defending those *views* when defending their *rights*, I have absolutely no idea where “intellectually dishonest” comes from. (But if, as it appears from your comment, you think someone being a white supremacist* would justify restricting their academic freedom through violence, I doubt we have a productive conversation ahead of us in any case.)
* I have absolutely no idea whether it’s fair, or a calumny, to describe Murray this way. It doesn’t matter. White supremacists are also entitled to academic freedom.Report
This is a ridiculous objection because free speech isn’t in and of itself worth protecting. I think the problem with your comment is that it assumes a level of good will and charity on behalf of individuals expressing their particular viewpoints which is historically naive in concerning the ways in which rhetoric has been used to propagate false ideas that hurt REAL people and to rationalize abhorrent behavior toward others. So, when we are talking about freedom of speech, we also have to consider what is the purpose of this type of rhetoric. before we claim that this kind of speech should be protected.Report
Once we start considering the purposes behind a person’s speech, we have reached the level of prosecuting thought-crimes. Address the speech. If it is concretely hateful — if it is pure vitriol — take action against it. That is defending the innocent. But if the only hate you can find is (allegedly) in the mind of the speaker, the use of force against such speech is worse than hate; it is totalitarianism.Report
As compared with the others you mentioned, Curry’s works are not narrative or twists of quantitative statistics (Murray). Curry’s entire thesis is based in fact and seeks to equalize the false narrative notions of Black and Black males’ genetic or intellectual inferiority; pathologies (that, like all classic cases of transference, are, in fact reflections or those who propagated and maintain Western Culture and the comparative notion of “White innocence” or “White man’s burden”).
Due to Curry’s exposition of the depth of racism and the intellectual disingenuousness of people like Murray and his ilk, you an yours howl to the winds, claiming CURRY is a racist. It is interesting that you do this while averring that you “virtually zero sympathy for the substantive theses that Professor Curry is advancing” – the wholly racist notion that Curry’s work requires “sympathy” from whites to be legitimized… and you blurt out your racist notions through disingenuous cover of “academic freedom.” (FYI, tricks of this sort are for children.)Report