A few days ago, Rod Dreher wrote a piece in The American Conservative about a 4 year old interview of Tommy Curry, a professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University. (I would like to add that, although I’m going to criticize Dreher’s article, I think The American Conservative is actually a pretty good publication. In particular, on foreign policy, it’s one of the few publications in the US where sanity has not totally disappeared.) In that article, among other things, Dreher quotes Curry as saying that “in order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people might have to die”. Since Dreher wrote about this, not only did Prof. Curry apparently receive a lot of racist threats, but the president of Texas A&M University decided to issue a statement in which, although he does not name him, he is clearly attacking Prof. Curry for what he said in that interview. Curry’s statement in that interview, as reported by Dreher, sounds pretty bad, but if you listen to the interview, you will soon realize that, although Dreher didn’t exactly misquote him, his presentation is extremely misleading by omitting crucial aspects of the context. A commenter on Daily Nous wrote a transcript of the whole interview which makes that clear:
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.
With the context, it’s clear that, in the statement quoted by Dreher, Curry wasn’t necessarily expressing his own view, but lamenting what he takes to be the erasure of the fact that, throughout American history, many black leaders have taken seriously the possibility of resorting to violence in order to protect themselves. (I actually think he is right about that, but that’s a pretty common phenomenon. Once a political/cultural figure becomes coopted by the establishment, he is turned into a consensual figure, even though he used to be quite controversial. This happened to Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but also to Charles De Gaulle and Winston Churchill, so despite what Curry seems to think I doubt it has much to do with race.) It’s true that, a bit earlier in the interview, after he pointed out that several black leaders have advocated and/or used violence in the past, he notes 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 can be taken to suggest that he thinks such calls to violence against white people might still be justified, but 1) he doesn’t actually say that and 2) depending on the circumstances in which he thinks violence against white people might still be justified, this may be a reasonable view.
Now, it’s true that what he says in that interview also promotes the narrative that black people are constantly under physical threat from white people, which is false. Indeed, as anyone who has ever had even a cursory look at the data from the NCVS knows, white people are significantly more likely to be victimized by black people than the other way around. (As Robert O’Brien showed in a paper from 1987, this remains true even when you control for the fact that white people constitute a much larger share of the US population than black people, which means that they have more opportunity to victimize white people. As I mentioned before, O’Brien commits a fallacy in that article which I think is pretty interesting, but I’ll talk about this at length when I have more time.) I have skimmed a paper that Curry wrote after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson and it confirmed that he is promoting that false narrative. But this is not a reason to defame him by misrepresenting his statements and, in doing so, unleashing the dregs of the Internet on him. If you think that Curry is saying a lot of nonsense, which indeed seems to be the case, then you should just write a response to him in which you debunk it, but you should stick to what he actually said. Unfortunately, Dreher did not do that and, clearly, the president of Texas A&M University either didn’t bother to check whether his account was accurate or he caved to external pressure by threwing Curry under the bus even though he knew that his statements had been misrepresented.
Although he deserves censure for misrepresenting Curry’s interview, there is one thing Dreher says which strikes me as correct. Indeed, even if you don’t misrepresent what Curry said, it’s clear that any white person saying even half of it would immediately become the object of universal vilification and be cast out of polite society. Indeed, it’s striking how bigoted and, let’s say it, racist and/or sexist language has become on the left, which is apparently okay as long as no minority is targeted. For instance, among educated progressives (as they like to call themselves for a reason that remains a mystery to me), the expression “white man” or, if you want to be up to date, “heterosexual cisgendered man” (it’s hard to keep up with this stuff) is effectively used in a derogatory way. I know many people with a PhD who seem to think that someone’s being a white man somehow disqualifies anything they might have to say about certain topics. (I often wonder what they would say about white midgets who were born with male genitals, but unfortunately I have not been able to figure out the answer to that existential question.) Of course, they would deny that it’s racist, but that’s only because they are under the delusion that somehow they have the power to change the meaning of words. So, when he denounces a double standard, Dreher is clearly right. The correct reaction, however, is not to treat people like Curry in the same way as liberals treat anyone who violates their hypertrophied sense of propriety, but to insist that people should be able to say anything short of incitement without fear of being the victim of a witch hunt.