The Tommy Curry Situation
The Chronicle of Higher Education writes about the fallout from a controversy that started on this blog, when I started paying attention to racially charged public rhetoric employed by Texas A&M philosophy professor Tommy Curry. The first blog entry I posted was on May 8, following an anonymous reader tip saying that they (the reader) found it unfair that the university denounced white nationalist Richard Spencer’s appearance on campus, but allows Dr. Curry to get away with blatantly anti-white rhetoric.
I did a Google search, and came upon a 2012 podcast interview he gave, in which he discussed black violence against whites from a historical context. Here’s a portion of it. He’s talking about the days of slavery and Jim Crow:
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.
“In order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people might have to die,” he said. And he was right about that, in a sense. That’s why we had a Civil War, in which 620,000 Americans on both Union and Confederate sides gave their lives to defeat slavery.
Anyway, I have no argument at all with black people, or any other people, facing vigilantism, murder, and illicit state violence (because the state has a right to deploy violence under certain conditions) using lethal force to defend themselves. And I believe in the Second Amendment right to bear arms; it applies to all Americans, regardless of their color. The problem here is the idea that today, in 2017, we are in a world “very much like” the days of slavery or even the Jim Crow South. And, in turn, that talk about black people killing white people — including police officers — for the sake of equality is a conversation to be encouraged.
If this were a one-off with Dr. Curry, that would be one thing. But he indulges in racially charged rhetoric all the time. More from that post:
In this interview with a blogcast called Context Of White Supremacy (slogan: “White People Are The Problem”), Curry argues that whites cannot be ignorant of racism (their own or anyone else’s) and that black people who assume that whites are educable on racism are fools. He puts down different black theorists, including Martin Luther King, for actually thinking that white people can be regarded as reasonable. It’s a remarkable thing: a philosophy professor who denies that a people are capable of rational thought because of their race.
In this talk, Curry denounces the “integrationist” model of race relations, and describes the black-white relationship as one of power. “White people don’t want to question their physical life and certainly not their own racial existence,” he says. “Because that means they would have to accept that death could come for them at any moment, the same way non-white people have to accept that. And they don’t want to question their existence, they’re not willing to give up their existence. They’ll hold on to their white life just as much as a [unclear] will hold on to a crack pipe. They are fundamentally addicted to the purity of what they see whiteness to be.”
What does any of this racist bilge mean? To prove his own human worth to Tommy Curry, a white person has to despise himself? Good luck with that, Tommy Curry.
What if a white professor gave an interview to a podcast that advertised its belief that “Black People Are The Problem”? That professor would never work in academia again. We all know that.
I think the Chronicle report is generally fair, but you don’t get this context at all. And it’s really important. From a second blog post of mine
You can find all kinds of talks online from Tommy Curry trashing white people and black people who are insufficiently radical (e.g., “Stop Absolving White Folks”). In that talk, Curry condemns progressive white academics who criticize whites for the way they have treated Native Americans.
“Contemporary white feminists pretend that they can simply converse [sic] these ideas without consequence,” Curry says. In other words, shut up, white woman, because your skin color makes you guilty. Curry goes on to say that white feminists allow the “academic-industrial complex” to “pimp out oppression,” and that “white people and whiteness” are “responsible for the genocide” against Native Americans, “and continue to enforce today as a slavetocracy [sic] against African descended people.”
Tommy Curry believes that black Americans today live under a “slavetocracy.” He said so. And he thinks black Americans ought to be thinking about the historic example of armed black people who were prepared to use lethal force to protect themselves in a time when white people were allowed to terrorize them with impunity.
What if a white philosophy professor talked in an interview about how white Gentiles live under the boot of the Zionist Occupation Government (a common anti-Semitic trope), talked about how the use of lethal violence to overthrow all manifestations of that oppressive order was justified, and said we ought to be talking about this stuff? How well do you think that would go over? How long do you think that professor would have a job?
Tommy Curry seems to believe that he can “converse these ideas without consequence.” The thing is, he actually wants to provoke whites. Here’s what his graduate adviser — an admirer of Curry’s — told the Chronicle:
“He would say at times that he liked nothing more than pissing white people off,” says Mr. Stikkers. “I think he did get a certain thrill from that.”
Well, sure he did — because the more provocative his rhetoric, the more valuable he was academically. The Chronicle story talks about Curry appearing before an A&M panel after the “Killing Whites” controversy blew up:
That morning, the dean of Texas A&M’s liberal-arts college asked Mr. Curry to meet with administrators. The professor agreed but told them he wanted another person of color in the meeting. He didn’t want to feel surrounded by people who didn’t get it.
At the meeting, Mr. Curry says, he got the impression that university officials wanted to draw a distinction between his radio commentary and his work for Texas A&M.
Mr. Curry stood his ground. He told the university officials there was no difference. Earlier in the year, a panel of judges from the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy honored Mr. Curry’s radio work by giving him an award for public philosophy. (“Our committee was impressed,” wrote the chair of the panel, “by how seamlessly Dr. Curry is able to fuse his work as a professional academic philosopher with a very public and intellectually rigorous engagement with lay audiences across a variety of platforms.”)
His radio commentary wasn’t some offbeat rant, the professor told his bosses. This is part of what you hired me to do.
To be honest, I think he’s probably right that this is what they hired him to do. Curry has never tried to hide what he believes. One of the first papers on his Academia.edu page is this one (screen shot from the paper):
“Violence Against Whiteness”? There is no such thing as violence against an abstraction called “whiteness”. There is violence against white people.
Despite the international community’s criticisms of U.S. racism and the denial of self-determination to people of African descent, there have not been any political sanctions or international reprimands for these human rights violations. As such, African people in the United States must start to speak of and act on political alternatives that are not rooted in the eventuation of white sympathy for the “human condition” of Blacks; instead, our political theories must deal with the reality of white imperialism and the apathy of the international community to the concretization of Black self-determinacy.
Emphasis mine. Here, near the paper’s beginning, he is saying that he intends for black people not just to talk about this stuff, but to do something about it. More:
In an attempt to move Black political theory in this direction, this essay explores the use of violence as a solution to the permanent institutionalization and white cultural reiﬁcation of anti-Black racism. In African American political thought, integration and the hopes of non-violent progress has become the unquestioned foundation of Black political and legal theory. This author believes that the dogmatic allegiance to non-violence is a price that African descended people in America can no longer afford to pay. Historically, the use of violence has been a serious option in the liberation of African people from the cultural tyranny of whiteness, and should again be investigated as a plausible and in some sense necessary political option.
Again, emphases mine. Curry goes on to write in the paper that black theorists in the past have thought about these questions in universalist terms, to appeal to the reason of whites, but that he, Tommy Curry, does not care what white people think. His paper, he writes, “is not swayed by the qualitative difference of white opinions or white perceptions of anti-Black racism.” More:
In section I, I argue that Hurricane Katrina provides insight into the white racial framing of the race problem in America in such a way that exposes both the permanent racist context of the United States political system and the refusal of the white population to constructively engage the race question. Given the epistemological frame of white racial identity, I am trying to question if it is the case that the only way to end racism is to challenge the existence of those whose breaths of life sustain the racist structure.
Emphases mine. So, Curry begins with the premiss that America is irredeemably racist, and whites don’t want to talk about it. The paper wants to know if killing whites, or threatening to kill whites (given their alleged refusal to “constructively engage”), is the only way to end racism.
Curry asserts as a fact that the US is engaged in “the systemic genocidal elimination of our people” — a hysterical claim, I would say, but an important one to his case. Would not the Jews of Germany and Poland have been justified in taking up arms against Germans in an attempt to derail the trains to Auschwitz? Most people (including me) would say yes, I’d wager. Curry doesn’t explain why, exactly, black Americans are living in conditions like Jews under Nazi authority; he just asserts it as if it were an obvious fact. If it is true, then of course violence as self-protection and self-deliverance has to be on the table. But if it is not the case that there is an ongoing anti-black genocide in America, then to speak of it as if it were a fact is extremely irresponsible. It is the equivalent of white racists telling poor white people that all their problems are because Jews and blacks are trying to eliminate them.
He goes on:
This sustained aversion against Blacks justiﬁes violence. The need for whites toprotect the conditions that sustain “whiteness” constructs the encounter with “aBlack” as a danger. Violence against “the Black” is justiﬁed on the basis of thisexclusion. It is the African descended person in America that suffers from theorder attained through the legal mob violence against Black communities in thiscountry. Democracy is believed to work at an affordable price in this country, atthe price of African descended people’s lives, which is rationalized by whites as nothing more than the necessary elimination of the dangers Blacks pose to white communities.
The commitment that whites have shown to the preservation of their oppressive historical legacy of civilization and the protection of the ideals that sustain the racist American society demonstrates the fundamental aversion whites have to African descended people.
Read that closely. Curry is saying that our political order is upheld at the expense of black suffering — as if the United States in 2007 (when the paper was written) is no different than the Confederacy, circa 1861. And he says that white people cannot change — presumably because we are white, and that fact makes us immune to reason or empathy.
The question placed before the African thinker in the United States is the same question posed to our ancestors, “what are African people to do given the unrelenting assault on our lives in America?”
He will not let up on the evilness of whites:
White socialization reproduces white ways of life, white values, and an ideology of white superiority engrained in the narratives and history of American society. Even causal analyses of racial events in American society are framed in ways that uphold white sensibilities of justice and fairness, especially when those events would imply racism as the cause. Empirically, whites will not lend Blacks their ear.
This is extraordinary stuff. What, exactly, are “white ways of life” and “white values”? Am I reading a white nationalist tract? It is not empirically true that no whites will sympathize with and ally with blacks. But Curry needs to believe this to justify violence against whites. In fact, he declares himself to be an advocate of “racial realism” — seriously, it’s on page 145 of the paper! And you thought it was just white people enamored of HBD who believed that reality can only be understood through the lens of race.
I’m sorry to be quoting large swatches of this paper, but you get very little of this in the Chronicle story. Here’s more:
According to Paul Butler, “the issue is not whether people will suffer and die.African Americans suffer and die now, because of race based punishment. The issues, then, are whether or how that discrimination should end, and whether it matters if others die, in the service to end discrimination.” However, the issue is precisely over who dies. Butler claims that violence needs to be proportionate to the kind of discrimination committed and should not harm innocent people or what he refers to as “noncombatants,” but how can we decide how much oppression is tolerable and who is innocent under a colonial system? What is the threshold for dehumanization, what is the normal amount of genocide allowable? Butler assumes that discrimination can be weighed as abnormal variations in the American landscape, despite its perpetual reoccurrence. While this argument seems compelling it ignores the fundamental truth of the American colonial context, namely that the murder of Blacks appears normal, and as such does not constitute a premise for rejecting the system or punishing those whites responsible for the death of Blacks. Fanon tells us that there are no innocents in the colonial situation. “Colonialism is not a type of individual relation but the conquest of a national territory and the oppression of a people: that is all.”
The colonial context justifies itself to whites in the persecution and criminalization of Blacks, and in this way it knows that it is legitimate and permanent. Every white that participates in the colonial context, as if the tyranny against Blacks is the norm, and acceptable, in so far as it requires no individual action or culpability, is guilty of colonization, and as such is neither innocent nor absolved for being the particular manifestation of the colonial matrix. The possession of a white racial identity is a very real danger for African people insofar as that identity is embraced as the badge of white superiority.In this sense, every white is a concrete threat to the life of an African descended person, either as their executioner or the enforcer of white supremacy. Insofar as “whiteness” is the expectation of privilege, whiteness is also the expectation of those who cannot enjoy those privileges and the maintenance of their deprivation. Violence against whites is a revolt against both the colonial structures of the American context, as well as the rebellion against the individual whites who choose to claim the legacy of that oppression in a white racial identity.
Shorter Tommy Curry: There are no individuals, only groups. There are no innocent whites. All whites are tyrants. Extremism — including violence — in offense against whites is no vice.
And, this quote from the piece: “Violence is anger realized as liberation.”
Here is the paper’s conclusion:
Do we (African descended people) advocate the death, murder, poverty, and oppression of our people at the hands of whites, or do we advocate the end of racism, even if the means to do so is war? The dissenters to such a view will no doubt support the basis of violence against whites as theoretically, and politically justified, but reject the proposal on the basis of practicality or morality.
Here the criticisms that violence against whites will increase white racism, that violence against whites will inevitably harm more Blacks than our current oppression, that violence is simply not a promising political alternative for Black, or that violence against whites would make oppressed Blacks no better than the white oppressor are largely ideological co-signers to the
maintenance of the status quo. These criticisms only maintain the current conditions of Blacks now. Blacks are dying daily from poverty, police brutality and incarceration. Where are the objections to these realities? Is there an ontological difference between the deaths of Blacks that appear normal, and the deaths that appear abominable because they occurred in the midst of revolt? Does our willingness to be moral agents that seek to educate whites and live together peacefully arrest the murder of Black people? The reality of Blacks, especially Black men in American society, is that death is always imminent. Ultimately, the death of Blacks, be it at the hands of white supremacy, or in rebellion against colonialism, should advocate the unrealized possibility of their living, namely the end of racism.
How can anyone read that paper — see the whole thing here — and conclude that Tommy Curry is not advocating anti-white violence, but simply talking about it as a philosophical hypothetical?
Now, let’s get back to the Chronicle story, where they’re talking about this very paper:
The paper was published in Radical Philosophy Today, and Mr. Curry put it on his curriculum vitae. Two years later, he earned his doctorate from Southern Illinois, and Texas A&M brought him on as a “diversity hire,” he says. The university’s philosophy department, like philosophy departments everywhere, was all white. “They sold it to me based on the idea that they were trying to change,” he says.
Black philosophers are rare in academe. In 2013 a group of researchers counted 141 black professors, instructors, and graduate students working at U.S. colleges, accounting for about 1 percent of the field. At Texas A&M, Mr. Curry turned heads almost immediately. In 2010 he taught a course that used hip-hop as a lens into philosophical ideas. The rapper 50 Cent was on the syllabus alongside Thomas Hobbes.
Texas A&M hired Curry to teach philosophy, knowing that he believes these things. Even Curry says he was hired because of his race, and what his racialist perspective would add to the philosophy department. In that paper, by the way, Curry denounces European philosophy as thoroughly racist. Why would the Texas A&M philosophy department hire a professor who openly states that he believes the thing to which most of them have given their life’s work is intrinsically evil? That’s a question that the Chronicle of Higher Education does not ask.
Here’s the Chronicle‘s account of Curry’s recording the 2012 podcast with his friend Rob Redding:
Once again, conjuring visions of black-on-white violence would be risky. The audience this time was not subscribers to Radical Philosophy Today. It was the public airwaves and the internet. “He knew that saying that, on its face, would be controversial,” says Mr. Redding. They decided the professor should focus on self-defense.
When it came time to record the segment, Mr. Curry spoke without a script.
“When we have this conversation about violence or killing white people, it has to be looked at in the kind of these historical terms,” he said.
“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.”
White conservatives speak reverently of gun rights, said Mr. Curry. “But when we turn the conversation back and say, ‘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 himself from police officers?’ We don’t have that conversation at all.”
The segment aired, and nothing happened. Mr. Redding posted Mr. Curry’s piece on YouTube in December 2012 with the title “Dr. Tommy Curry on killing whites,” then forgot about it.
Again, consider a white professor at TAMU giving an interview to a podcaster, in which it was (accurately) billed as “Dr. [name] on killing blacks”. What kind of reaction would that receive? What should people think of it? What should students? Administrators? Texas taxpayers, who fund this public university?
Here’s the Chronicle‘s account of Curry explaining himself before a TAMU panel:
The professor wrote in the third person, assuming that his bosses would adopt his voice as their own.
“The inflammatory phrase ‘When is it OK to Kill white people,’ ” he wrote, referring to Mr. Dreher’s headline, “deliberately misconstrues Dr. Curry’s distinction between revolutionary violence and self-defense.”
The professor continued: “Dr. Curry, drawing from the Second Amendment tradition, suggests that the law’s failure to protect the lives of Black, Latino, and Muslim Americans requires new conversations which may require self-defense and more radical options than protest. In no way does his work promote or incite violence toward whites or any other racial group.”
Nonsense. The headline was entirely accurate. The point of Curry’s discourse, as in his 2007 paper, is precisely to answer that question. What is inflammatory is not the headline, but Curry’s thesis. Curry is bringing in Latinos and Muslims, whom he had not mentioned earlier, in an apparently effort to draw intersectional allies to his cause. If Curry’s paper does not promote or incite violence towards whites, then what does it do? He says at the beginning that he wants to raise the question of when violence against whites in the cause of black “liberation” is justified, and then answers it clearly: under the conditions blacks are living in America right now.
Here, also from the Chronicle, is an interesting passage:
Perhaps the most scathing rebuke to the [TAMU] president came in a letter signed by every faculty member in the Africana-studies department, where Mr. Curry also holds a faculty appointment. The history of black thought, they said, includes more than Martin Luther King Jr.’s crossover hits. By dismissing Mr. Curry’s comments on violent resistance as “personal views,” they said, Mr. Young had delegitimized the professor’s expertise and dismissed centuries of history.
“Blacks in the United States live with the daily fear that a traffic stop, or a trip to the store or the park, could be the end of their lives,” wrote the professors. “Yet we cannot talk about black resistance? Historically or contemporaneously? Are you aware that Dr. Curry’s work falls within a longstanding epistemological tradition in black diaspora and colonial studies?”
There is nothing at all wrong with studying and theorizing about the use of violence in racist or colonialist societies. I agree that violence can be justified under certain conditions. That’s not what I criticized. What I criticized is Curry’s argument saying that it ought to be deployed in the United States now (“African people in the United States must start to speak of and act on”) — because there is a black “genocide” going on, and whites cannot be reasoned with.
What’s so interesting to me about the academics’ reaction is the assumption that really radical, even racist, statements can and should be made by professors, and that there should be no angry reaction to them — provided that the professor making the statement is a member of one of the favored victim classes. Here is a philosophy professor at a public university making public statements, both in published writing and on Internet broadcasts, in which he advocates for lethal violence against white people on the basis of their guilt for being white. How the hell did he expect white people to react? Like a bunch of liberal academics who see no enemies on the Left? Like the jelly-spined college administrators who have been collapsing in the face of radical student demands?
This is what it means when they call the academy an ivory tower. They are so cut off from the world around them — the very world that, in the case of public universities, they depend on for their existence. Earlier this month, Pew published research showing a massive decline in conservative support for universities as institutions. Look:
Notice that this started only in 2015, when suddenly newspapers were filled with stories of college administrators capitulating to student radicals. People aren’t wrong to wonder what’s wrong with colleges that, for example, hire philosophy professors who denounce all European philosophy as racist (because white people came up with it), and who lay down the theoretical justification for anti-white violence.
I wish the Chronicle of Higher Education had asked these questions as part of the overall story.
A couple of minor things. The Chronicle story says
Mr. Dreher didn’t see Django Unchained, he said, because revenge fantasies were corrupting.
That’s partly true. I don’t watch graphically violent films as a rule. I hate graphic violence. The revenge fantasy thing is true as well. I came to that conclusion after being undone by my own abiding anger over the Catholic abuse scandal, furious over what happened, and over the fact that justice was not being done, and would not be done in most cases. I actually wrote something on NRO in which I justified an abuse victim shooting and wounding a Catholic priest who was allegedly his abuser. I was wrong to have done that. It scared me to see how powerful my anger was — not only in that case, but looking back on the way I dealt with (or failed to deal with) my rage at the injustice to victims of abusive priests and the bishops who enabled them. Revenge-fantasy movies can be a kind of pornography to me, and I need to avoid them.
I want to share with you some broader context of my exchanges with the Chronicle reporter, Steve Kolowich. Our interviews were done entirely by e-mail. I prefer that, because that way I have a solid record of what was said by both sides. From a June 22 e-mail I sent to him, in which I’m talking about the initial complaint from the anonymous Texas A&M reader who tipped me off to Tommy Curry’s statements:
I get these kinds of things all the time. The reader was irked in part over a perceived double standard regarding the white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was banned from campus or something like it, versus Curry, who was saying many of the same racial things, but as a black man. I have a special interest in that kind of thing because I’ve been writing for a long time now that the left has no idea what kind of demons it is calling up by valorizing racialist rhetoric from a non-white point of view. It is only natural that whites will eventually resent the hell out of the double standard, and come to believe that what people like Spencer say is valid. For some reason, the campus left (students and professors) cannot grasp this point.
I have received more than a few letters from readers over the past couple of years — grad students mostly, but also professors — saying that they are completely sick of the progressive bullying, and that they are finding themselves wishing to get the hell out of academia. They see no future for themselves there. Some of them, though, are starting to become more sympathetic to the alt-right’s arguments.
Kolowich responded by telling me in detail about some of the extreme rhetoric used by fringe fanatics who had read my Tommy Curry post, and reacted in vile, disgusting ways. On June 23, I responded:
Most of this is news to me. I had no idea that fringe sites had picked up the story. Of course I hate that anything I write would be used for hateful purposes by anybody, and I denounce in the strongest possible terms threats of violence against Curry. But all journalists — and for that matter, anyone who writes on the Internet — run the risk that some villain or nut will take the information they publish and use it maliciously.
In that same e-mail, I wrote:
Steve, I hope when and if you write about it, you will follow up with Curry and ask him if these audio clips below are true, and if so, what was he thinking when he said those things.
R. (read on)
New Recordings Released of Texas A&M Professor Telling Students Violence Against White People Necessary for Progress, Likes to See Such Violence on TV
Support Aggies released Monday an audio recording of comments made by Texas A&M University Professor Tommy Curry during a campus lecture. At the lecture, Curry told students to tell others to “kill white people… I’m very serious,” and that he has “conversations like this all the time.”
Two audio recordings released over the weekend captured Curry telling students, “You cannot have progress here without violence and upheaval” and that he “turns on the news just to see” “white people being beaten with batons… I’m serious.”
Support Aggies started an online petition at SupportAggies.com, calling for Professor Curry and Texas A&M President Michael Young to be fired. The petition, which will be sent to the Texas A&M System Chancellor and Regents, reads in part: “Academic freedom should never be extended to faculty that intentionally incite violence, especially racially-motivated violence, regardless of the race targeted. While such views may and often should be studied, they should never be promoted by faculty and staff. Any university employee who promotes such a view should be fired. And any university leader who allows such a view to be promoted should likewise be fired.”
Last week, a video surfaced of Curry appearing on a podcast from 2012 where he said, “In order to be liberated, some white people may have to die.” President Young responded by saying, “the interview features disturbing comments.” Young declined to take any action against Curry.
According to The Eagle, Texas A&M communications officer Amy Smith said that “Texas A&M has a policy against faculty or staff expressing inflammatory views while in a university-affiliated context.”
Curry told The Eagle on Friday, “At no point did I advocate violence of any kind. I have a major problem with the way my remarks have been framed. This wasn’t…me expressing my personal opinion…. It was part of a scholarly analysis. That’s an important distinction. I was making a historical point.”
Support Aggies released the following statement:
“The audio recordings released by Support Aggies completely contradict Professor Curry’s claim that he merely makes scholarly analyses of the violent viewpoints of historical figures. It’s clear from the recordings that Curry personally and seriously agrees that violence against whites is necessary for black progress and would enjoy seeing such violence on television. If any professor were promoting violence against blacks as blatantly as Curry does against whites, Texas A&M would rightly fire him in a heartbeat. It should be no different for Curry.”
I don’t know if Kolowich asked Curry if those recorded remarks were his, and if so, how he justified them. There’s nothing in the Chronicle story about them. The voice on the recordings sounds like Curry’s. Did a Texas A&M philosophy professor say these things — that he watches the news hoping to see whites being beaten, and that racial progress today requires violence — or did he not? Isn’t that significant? The A&M-affiliated person who first contacted me about Curry said in one of those earlier e-mails that some white students in his classes feel racially intimidated by these kinds of remarks. Gee, you think?
Also, on June 23, I wrote:
One more thing, Steve.
If you go through Curry’s Academia.edu page, you’ll see that he’s murder on black liberals. Considers them weak, sellouts. It seems to me that Curry, who is clearly a very angry man, loves to play the role of a tough-talking race radical — and that at least some of his colleagues are pleased to have him play that role, for whatever reason. But when others hear or read him, and start taking his rhetoric seriously, suddenly he’s shocked and offended, and colleagues close ranks to defend him. So I wonder: how seriously does Tommy Curry take his own racial rhetoric? How seriously do his colleagues? Or is he simply enjoying the privilege of a philosophy post at Texas A&M to spout off racialist rhetoric and be applauded for it by his professional culture? And is the philosophy faculty enjoying the outré pleasures of having a black radical on faculty at a university that is pretty conservative, but by no means taking that radical’s words seriously? Do both parties think this is some kind of game?
I’m not entirely faulting the reporter here. You can’t include everything in your story. Kolowich tried to follow up with me by phone last week, but I wrestled over whether to take the chance to do a phone interview. Finally it was too late. But he did try to reach out. Still, I want readers to know that there is this context that didn’t make it into the Chronicle story, which is broadly sympathetic to Curry.
Finally, the story’s concluding section talks about horrible things Curry and his family have had to deal with after racist and other crackpot websites learned about his work through my blogs. I didn’t know all that had happened, and it makes me sick. If he’s going to work at Texas A&M, and he is under threat, the university owes him a security detail as surely as Middlebury owed real and effective security to Charles Murray when he came to that campus to deliver a guest lecture. Back in 2008 or thereabouts, an anonymous gay man began to terrorize my house in Dallas, to protest my columns and blog posts defending traditional marriage. The things he did were so scary, and deemed such a clear and present danger to me and my family that my employer, The Dallas Morning News, generously hired off-duty Dallas police officers to stay outside my home 24-7 for several days, guarding it.
The fact that one gay sicko repeatedly threatened me and my family like that does not in any way taint the criticism of those columns voiced online and elsewhere by readers of the News, both gay and straight, who disagreed with my point of view. There were plenty of people who disagreed strongly, but only a few who did so in truly abusive or threatening terms — and only one who actually made good on his threats. I said nothing in those blogs that was untrue about what Professor Curry wrote or said — and I provided links to the original broadcasts and documents so readers could judge for themselves.
Are conservatives supposed to refrain from criticizing the public words of academic radicals because somewhere, there might be disgusting people who would learn about the radical’s words through the criticism, and threaten the radical? This is what we call a “heckler’s veto” — the idea that something ought not to be said because it might trigger someone into acting inappropriately. It is horrible what has happened to Tommy Curry. No radical black professor, no radical white nationalist (Richard Spencer), no one at all, deserves to be physically attacked, intimidated, or threatened for stating their opinions, no matter how objectionable. But neither do they have the right to expect no criticism.
Social peace is not the norm in human society. It’s a hard-won thing. It seems to me that the kind of thing that both Curry and I have experienced from fringe haters is part of a dissolution of norms in our culture. More and more, it seems, people believe that as a matter of protecting their own identity, and of standing up for justice, anything they do to silence those who have offended them is justified. In the pro-life movement, there is a tiny fringe that believes violence against abortion providers is justified to save the lives of unborn children. You can see the logic. But the mainstream pro-life organizations and leaders have strongly objected to this. When a pro-life Massachusetts man back in the 1990s shot abortion clinic workers, New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, who was fiercely pro-life, publicly invited any pro-life would-be assassins to shoot him instead of abortion clinic workers. Cardinal O’Connor knew that entertaining the idea of violence to advance a political goal was incredibly dangerous.
“War is the continuation of politics by other means,” said Clausewitz. Tommy Curry seems to understand that; after all, he asked in that 2007 paper, of his fellow African-Americans, “do we advocate the end of racism, even if the means to do so is war?” What he doesn’t understand, but the late Cardinal O’Connor did, is that we have to be extremely careful when talking about the use of violence for present political goals. The hothouse of the academy may well be so insular that it is accustomed to treating this kind of spiteful discourse as normative when it comes from racial or sexual minorities. But that is not the real world. Unlike many white academics, there are fewer whites outside colleges and universities who believe that non-whites calling for their violent suppression, even murder, for the sake of settling historic racial accounts, is to be welcomed.
I have said for a long time that the academic left has no idea the kinds of demons it is calling up by trafficking in this rhetoric. I took down one long post I worked on about Curry back when this controversy first arose, not because I had said anything I regretted, but because I heard that things were getting really hot on campus, and I wanted to take the temperature down a notch. But if he’s talking to the Chronicle, then we can and should talk about the situation again.
I’ll leave this long post with this link to a recent blog post by Freddie de Boer, an academic who is a bona fide leftist. Not a liberal, a real leftist. But he has consistently spoken out about the culture of left-wing censorship on campus. He writes that his fellow academic leftists simply will not deal with the fact that leftists routinely drive mainstream conservative opinions off of campus. He offers a number of examples. And then he says:
The obsession with Milo and Richard Spencer makes this conversation impossible in left circles. Those people are discussed endlessly because leftists believe that doing so makes it easy to argue – “what, you want Milo to be free to harass POC on campus?!?” But in fact because most conservatives on campus will simply be mainstream Republicans, this side conversation will be almost entirely pointless. What really matters is the way that perfectly mainstream positions are being run out of campus on a regular basis. And of course with a list like this we can be sure that there are many, many more cases that went unnoticed and unreported in the wider world.
You would think it would be easy for progressives and leftists simply to say “I support many actions that campus protesters take, but these censorship efforts are counterproductive and wrong.” But that almost never happens. That’s because in contemporary life, politics has almost nothing to do with principle, or even with political tactics. Instead it has to do with aligning yourself with the right broad social circles. To criticize specific actions of campus activists sounds to too many leftists like being “the wrong kind of person,” so they refuse to criticize students even when their actions are minimally helpful and maximally counterproductive. That in turn ensures that there’s no opportunity for the students to reflect, learn, and evolve.
I have no idea where de Boer stands on the Tommy Curry situation. I don’t think Tommy Curry should be fired — or if he should be fired, it’s not because he says obnoxious things, but because he’s a bad teacher (if he is in fact a bad teacher, I mean). But the expectation that campus leftists have that left-wing professors and activists ought not be criticized for what they say and do because to do that would mark you as the wrong kind of person — this is completely untenable. Does any leftist or liberal on TAMU’s campus believe that his stated views and rhetoric is helpful and productive to the mission of the university? Does anybody believe that his blunt racialism offers students the opportunity to reflect, learn, and evolve? What does it say to the taxpayers of Texas, who are funding the university, about the university’s priorities?
Or: Could this be entirely about Tommy Curry getting a thrill from pissing off white people, as his graduate adviser said he does, and advancing his career in a professional culture that huffs radical chic like a 14-year-old suburban metalhead huffs glue?
The distance between the academy and the society in which it is embedded is significant. This controversy is a sign of that.