Recently, Rod Dreher severely distorted the work of Dr. Tommy Curry at the right wing website, www.theamericanconservative.com. His initial article, “When is it OK to Kill Whites?” claimed that Dr. Curry thinks black liberation movements ought to consider violent action against white people as a live option. Dreher’s article led to a condemnation of Curry’s work (though he was not explicitly named in that condemnation) by Texas A&M President, Michael K. Young. Additionally, Curry reported that he was receiving death threats to himself and his family. When it was discovered that Dreher took quotations from an interview with Curry out of context, Dreher followed up by scolding those who were sending threats, but he stood his ground on his interpretation of Curry’s work. That is, his retraction was not a retraction, it was a doubling down on the original argument, with a smattering of a call for sympathy because he suffered “racist” threats from others, too.
In the original article, Dreher says that Curry discusses, in the interview, when killing white people is appropriate. This is one among many of the pieces of misinformation that leads to a reprehensible representation of Curry’s thought. This article is dedicated to illustrating where and why Dreher is wrong in some of ways he is wrong in his second article. To be honest, there are many more things to be said, and none of them are supportive of Dreher, regarding his arguments, but I wanted to lay out the most important points and make them digestible in a relatively short article. What follows is a comparison of what Dreher reports Curry as saying along with relevant snippets from the actual Curry interview. These comparisons are followed by commentary illustrating how Dreher goes astray.*
Before we move into the main section of this article, two things should be addressed. First, it should be noted that, at certain points, Dreher is more intellectually honest and claims that Curry calls for conversations about the conditions in which violence could be beneficial to black liberation movements. At other times, he uses stronger language, indicating that Curry advocates such violence. As we shall see, the former is true, while the latter is outright fabrication. Second, the context in which the interview with Curry occurs is a piece where Curry is discussing the violence present in the movie, Django Unchained and illustrating that the violence in the movie is taken to be entertainment rather than acting as a catalyst for real conversations about the possibility of benefits that might come about as a result of strategic violence against whites. Before you can appreciate what this means, you need to read the whole article.
Dreher says, “He begins by condemning Barack Obama and Martin Luther King for being peaceable in talking about race and racial reconciliation.” This is one of those alternative facts that has become so popular of late.
Dr. Curry said that “the symbols of King and peaceful white progressives have become the hallmark of the black civil rights struggle” (0:44). A “hallmark” is a stamp of legitimization that determines something as authentic, or, more appropriately here, as legitimate. Nowhere in this interview does Dr. Curry condemn “peaceable talk about race and racial reconciliation.” What he does say is that these “peaceable” methods of liberation have been the only ones to be academically, historically, and culturally (at least as far as most white folks and many black persons are concerned) considered as viable (i.e., legitimate). The legitimization of only these “peaceable” methods of civil rights movements results in an academic and cultural environment in which only such methods can be discussed and other methods of the pursuit of justice are considered, as Curry later notes, evil, non-productive, or nationalistic. The condemnation of discussions about revolution, violence, and armed self-defense occurs regardless of the fact that such methods of protest and liberation have, in certain contexts, strategically advanced the cause of the liberation of black persons.
Dreher also errs in claiming that King was a peaceable activist. He was an advocate for nonviolence. There is a significant difference between peaceable talk or activism and nonviolent protest. While nonviolent activism does not exclude the possibility of peaceful talk between those who seek liberation and those who resist those who seek it, nonviolent activists recognize that violence is inevitable in liberation movements. The advocates for nonviolent resistance choose to allow the brunt of the inevitable violence to be directed toward them. There is an elaborate reason for this strategy that we don’t have time to explore here. Needless to say, it takes strength of courage and conviction of morals to stand on the high ground against the bigoted and ignorant who refuse to acknowledge the full personhood of those they stand against, especially when those who are ignorant are more than willing (read often enthusiastic) to commit violence against those they deem less than human.
Dreher writes, “At around the two minute mark, Curry condemns black and white liberals who try to dissuade discussion of blacks killing whites as a form of achieving justice.” So, at least we have a half-truth here rather than a downright fabrication. Curry says:
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 radical self-defense by black people historically. (2:00)
Dreher’s quotation here illustrates not only that he is blind to his own privilege, he’s also disregarding the richer context out of which this statement was made. Regarding his ignorance, Dreher does not acknowledge that the horrors that blacks might imagine and discuss visiting against white people have actually happened to black people. Let me be clear about what I’m saying here: the kinds of atrocities black persons have actually experienced (historically) are very much like those acts of violence committed against white people in Django Unchained. While such ignorant attitudes regarding violence against blacks are common among conservatives like Dreher, this kind of blindness is still reprehensible. It illustrates a dire lack of concern for the full truth of the matter and a bias against the inclusion of actual historical events.
Dreher also makes the mistake of pretending to understand what the academic world is like. His BA from LSU does not provide him with a basis for even the slightest bit of nuanced appreciation for the extant pressures in the halls of the academy. Dr. Curry has received plenty of harsh criticism from within the institutions of higher learning. Dreher says that Curry condemns those who would dissuade others from discussing blacks killing whites. The word, “dissuade,” is a very soft term within the context of Curry’s academic life. Curry has been continually attacked by intellectuals for his work. His life has been no easy one in the academy. However, his scholarship is remarkable and his intellect sharper than many in the academy. Curry does not condemn those who are opposed to having conversations about blacks killing whites (more on this in a moment), he rebukes them for condemning (not merely dissuading) his reasonable claim that violence sometimes does produce positive outcomes in the search for liberation by black people.
Mr. Dreher would lead us to believe that discussions about the criteria for justified violence against white folks by black persons would lead to indiscriminate killing of whites by blacks. Why do I say this? Because, along with his willingness to ignore the long and brutal history of white violence against blacks, Dreher ignores the actual conversations that have been had in black communities where violence was considered and discussed. If the actual problem that leads to Dreher’s mistreatment of Curry’s argument is just ignorance, reading a good comprehensive historical account about people like Robert Williams and movements like the Black Panthers would do Dreher some good. For some reason, though, I suspect that it is not sheer ignorance that drives Dreher’s mistreatment of the history.
The other reason I think that Dreher either imagines a policy of indiscriminate violence or wants to promote such an idea in the imagination of others is that Dreher does not take the time to address the idea that black people are generally rational and moral beings (probably even more so than whites on this issue); beings who have a desire for real justice and, as such is the case, would not advocate the killing (or enslaving) of people based simply upon the color of their skin. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of black people would not advocate mass indiscriminate violence against anyone (including white people), even though they have a long history of being treated in just this fashion.
Mr. Dreher, show me where blacks have accepted indiscriminate violence against white people as a valuable tool for liberation and I will drop my complaints. Before you go cherry picking, I am not saying that no black person has ever advocated the position in question (and, given actual historical events, I cannot say that I would blame them for entertaining the idea), so showing me one or a few black persons who advocate such a method is not sufficient to prove what it is that you would imagine (or have others imagine for you). In fact, for every one black person that advocates a position of indiscriminate violence against whites, I’ll bet you I can find five white folks that have (implicitly or explicitly) advocated indiscriminate violence against blacks. What I’m saying is that you need to illustrate a serious and popular movement with the greater black community (if there is such a thing as a greater black community) that advocates indiscriminate violence against whites. You won’t find it. You know why? Because it never existed.
If this weren’t enough, Dreher later says:
He [Curry] goes on to lament that so few black intellectuals today consider ‘how relevant and how solidified this kind of tradition [of violent resistance] is’ it is to today, when, he says, police are killing black children. He says openly that we should be talking about black people taking up arms to protect themselves from the police.
After you read what Dreher wrote and compare it with the following transcription of what Curry actually said, you ought to wonder why it is that Dreher cannot accurately take account of what Curry said. Are we dealing with someone who is an incompetent listener, someone who cannot comprehend the spoken word, someone who is incapable of transcribing speech to writing, or unable to paraphrase correctly the words of others? Or, we might wonder, is there some darker or more ignorant motivation for such an egregious misrepresentation of the facts?
Curry actually says:
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 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 itself from police officers,” we don’t have that conversation at all (3:25).
Where does Curry lament that it is black intellectuals that have not addressed this problem? Arguably, there is a case to be made that Curry is speaking specifically about black intellectuals, as he does talk about them prior to this point in the interview and he returns to them later. However, he also chastises white liberals for condemning these conversations, too. This may sound like a pedantic issue, but it is not. What you see here, in Dreher, is a subtle othering of Curry. Where he hears Curry say “we’ve had no one address like how relevant and how solidified this kind of tradition is for black people,” he does not conceive of the possibility that the “we” in that statement could include people other than blacks in the academy. Dr. Curry is asking for conversations to be had about actual historical facts regarding liberation movements that seriously consider and discuss the efficacy of all of the methods of those movements. Why would Dreher complain about this? If we were addressing the American Revolution or the war on terrorism, I wager that Dreher would be on board with talking about violence and when it is efficacious.
To make this last point clearer, let’s reframe Dreher’s claim again, replacing black persons with whites and see what happens. There are many serious conversations about when violence is justified against others inside and outside of the academy. Now, take a step back and attend to who has those conversations. It does not take too much work to recognize that these conversations are primarily had by white people (at least in the West). If you cannot find the space in which such a fact seem apparent to you, check out how many white faculty members there are in political science departments (one of the departments where justified violence is a mainstay of discussion). Further, if you add to that the historical fact that much (if not most) of the violence committed against others (starting with imperialism) has been enacted by white people against non-whites, the subtext of these conversations becomes clearer. Whether we speak of violence against whites, Indians, Native Americans, Africans, African-Americans, Chinese, Chinese-Americans, etc., the trends of violence are clear. When these facts are embedded in conversations about justified violence, we discover that one of the primary themes regarding justifiable violence is racial at the very heart of it, despite the pretenses of those who would claim otherwise. The difference is that these conversations appear to be universalized (i.e., non-discriminatory) because they abstract out the concrete facts of our history. Curry is asking for conversations to be had that do not ignore those facts. That includes being aware of whom violence has been perpetrated against and why it happens. There is, after all, a difference between violence enacted against others for the sake of stealing their stuff or enslaving them and violence enacted against others as a method of demanding recognition of one’s own inherent value as a person. Such “small” details would seem to make a difference in our conversations about violence, but Curry is being admonished for asking that such details be accounted for.
Dreher writes, “Curry says in Context that this was a serious thing, and that people like Obama and King and other black intellectuals in that tradition are wrong to downplay the threat of deadly violence as a means of black liberation. In context of the entire piece, it seems pretty clear to me that Curry is saying that this ought to be a live option for black Americans today.” This is, in my estimation, the closest Dreher comes to an accurate depiction of Curry’s position. The primary problem here is that he emphasizes the act of violence as the live option rather than the discussion of the possibility of violence. Curry has not called for the act. He has called for, even demanded, a discussion, for sure. But there is a significant difference between demanding a discussion and demanding violent action. Even if Curry believed that violent action against white people would be beneficial, he has not called for such action anywhere that I know of. Has he considered that, under certain conditions, violence against whites might be beneficial to black liberation? I would assume so. But that’s a far cry from Dreher’s imagined fantasy world where Curry advocates that actual, indiscriminate violent movements rise up against white persons. It would seem, in the end, that Dreher is afraid that black people might behave like whites actually have.
My concluding remarks are directed to the moral reprehensibility of Dreher’s intellectually inadequate and dishonest works and others like his. It seems that a common tactic these days, especially among those on the right, is to spread misinformation and misrepresent the positions of those on the left and, then, when the produced content is scrutinized and the fabrications are brought into the light, a retraction of some form is made. This is not acceptable. The damage has already been done. This tactic has been used by the right for some time. I am not saying that the left is completely innocent in the way information is shared, but the difference between the two sides, when compared, suggests that there is something insidious about the way the right presents its information and arguments. This article, already long enough, will not provide a detailed analysis of such problems. Rather, my point is that, when there are issues that are contentious on the table (and make no mistake, Curry’s position is contentious), honesty and clarity about opposing positions is of the utmost importance. Dr. Curry started receiving death threats after Dreher’s article was published. While Dreher may not have called for his audience to act in that way, through misrepresenting Curry in the way he did, he certainly did not take any of the steps that might have averted such things. I’m pretty sure his intellectual dishonesty, in part, led to those death threats. It’s as though he called people to act. Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch.
*In order to not misrepresent Professor Tommy Curry's work, Mr. August has communicated its content with him personally.
** The photograph is a sample of Diane Allford's work displayed in the online version of Crisis, the NAACP newsletter and magazine. For more information about her work, follow this link.