An Open Letter: Statement of Support for Dr. Tommy Curry
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Statement of Support for Dr. Tommy 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.
The four-and-a-half-year old interview was dredged up on 8 May 2017 by the website The American Conservative, which framed Dr. Curry’s statements with sensational language that Curry himself did not use. These statements occurred in the context of an analysis of the controversy surrounding the 2012 film Django Unchained and were taken out of context to fuel a politically and racially-motivated character assassination of Dr. Curry.
The key quote taken up by the far-right white supremacists was: “In order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people might have to die.” The article on The American Conservative ignored that, in this quote, Dr. Curry was paraphrasing what other Black intellectuals have said over the years in response to slavery and lynchings. The article’s headline, “When Is It OK to Kill Whites?”, characterized the conversation as being about the legitimization of racial warfare, not as it really was: a discussion of the contemporary ignorance of historical calls for violent uprising against racism, slavery, and violence against Black people in the United States.
In the actual interview, Dr. Curry, responding in his capacity as a public intellectual, stated: “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…” Dr. Curry was not personally calling for violence against white people. He was paraphrasing other Black intellectuals. President Young’s response perpetuated this ideologically charged attack on a faculty member, calling into question the administration’s political neutrality and commitment to its faculty’s academic freedom.
President Young’s statement and his willingness to even merit a response of this magnitude makes us question whether he really extends those Aggie Core Values to all Aggies or if he is only willing to raise a robust response when white Aggies feel their feelings and privilege threatened. His response made this a campus-wide issue, which is steadily gaining national attention due to web coverage by The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Daily Nous, thereby exposing Dr. Curry to racist harassment and threats of violence. This was incredibly irresponsible given that there are active white supremacist groups on Texas A&M’s College Station campus, as evidenced by the many reports this spring to police and administrators of groups posting pro-European, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic posters in and around campus buildings, including the building where Dr. Curry works.
Because of this, we question the university administration’s ability to protect the lives of Aggies and Aggies of color on this campus from the growing violence of white supremacy.
We join others in raising our voices in support of Dr. Tommy Curry.
We call on the Department of Philosophy, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Texas A&M University Administration to embody the principles they have espoused in their various climate and inclusion campaigns and to support Dr. Curry’s right to engage in public scholarship on issues of racial justice.
We call on administration and faculty to support Dr. Curry’s academic freedom, which is a concern to the entire university community.
We support current action by those in the administration working to ensure Dr. Curry and his family’s safety given that he has been receiving death threats and hate speech since President Young’s email was sent out.
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