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06/17/2015

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Komarine

Wow. Thank you, Tommy and Shelley, for a fascinating interview. I'm going to add your work, Tommy, and the other references you give here, to my list of things to read.

Tommy J. Curry

Thanks for the comment Komarine. It is an area with lots of empirical findings but little theoretical account. Just the data on Black male self-definition and attitudes of masculinity could be a class.

Leamon L. Bazil, Ph. D

Dr. Curry's work and uncompromising disposition towards injustice is truly inspirational. Time and time again he explodes ideology with empirical data and enriches the field of critical race theory in the process . Whether it's contesting the notion of black male privilege or bringing little known facts about slavery and Jim Crow to the forefront, Dr. Curry is always on point. Thanks for making my job as a black Ph.D in philosophy just a little bit easier.

Tommy J. Curry

I appreciate the comment Dr. Bazil. One of the major problems we have in philosophy is that Black males are understood mythologically where anxieties and fears about Black militancy are used to ontologically ground ideas of Black masculinity. Largely due to our numerical inferiority in the university, there has just not been a vibrant theorization of Black male disadvantage, or any attempt to seriously study Black male sexuality outside of claimed identities. Philosophy still has not dealt with the homoeroticism towards Black males during slavery and Jim Crow, and the political activity of white women during Jim Crow.

Women Klan organizations, white women's advocacy of lynching, and their murdering of Black men was not random or rare. We find lots of pictures, and accounts of white women in racial terror organizations, and these facts need to be theorized in how we think of the overall projects and histories of white supremacy and gender in this country. We find more of this in history and American Studies, but none in philosophy.

I hope my book will remedy much of this, but given the strength of ideology I am skeptical.

Thanks so much for the comment.

Melinda Hall

Thank you for doing this deep and intriguing interview. I was curious about any connections you might see between the exclusion of so-called vulnerable groups from clinical research and the withholding of medical information and medication from Black men. Are Black men often considered members of a vulnerable group, and therefore left out of clinical trials, or are they often included? Since to be a Black man and disabled or in pain is treated as a contradiction, how have you seen this impact the process of identifying who counts as "vulnerable" in these contexts?

Thank you, again! I'm looking forward to reading your work.

Bryce Huebner

Tommy, I just want to thank you for doing this interview! I feel like it's going to take me a while to digest all of these ideas. But I wonder if you might be willing to say a bit more about one thing. I've been thinking a lot about the socially situated nature of agency lately, and you make a remark that I think is really powerful in this regard. You note the dissonance that's generated by being told that you'll never run, while simultaneously being categorized as threat or predator by White people. I think I understand the psychological effect that you're talking about. But I bet that the intersection of disabling, gendering, and racializing forces in this case is also likely to impose interesting constraints on (and perhaps open up interesting possibilities for) practical action. So I was wondering if you might have something more to say about the role of this intersection of forces on your sense of agency, and on your sense of what kinds of actions are opened up and closed off by these intersecting forces. And again, thanks for the super interesting interview!

Tommy J. Curry

Melinda,

Thanks so much for this. There are several issues that I think effect this designation, and part of it, at least in the bioethical literature, is our under-theorization of the Belmont Report's emphasis on (social) justice. As you know, much of the literature on clinical trials revolves around informed consent. There is very little work done to justify the use of experimental treatments for minority populations largely because the "experimental" nature of new/innovative technologies can't fully meet informed consent. Patricia A. King's work has advocated that clinical trials should consider "justice" as a criterion over "informed consent" in order to bring medical innovation to poor racial groups, but for the most part these groups are overlooked.

Most of my research is specific to orthopedic and regenerative medicine, and of the several clinical trails I know of they have not targeted poor people generally, and Black or Brown males specifically.

I think it is consistent with the literature on pain management to conclude that Black males are rarely seen or acknowledged to suffer from pain in clinical settings with physicians, and as such are rarely identified as a population in need medical technology,but there is the historical remnants of Tuskegee which overdetermine Black males as vulnerable. This creates a double edged sword: Black men because they are "thought" to be in need of protection against human experimentation (which is certainly historically legitimate), they simultaneously are denied cutting edge treatments because of this historical risk. So the "protection" against human experimentation, ends up denying and perpetuating the social gaps in treatment.

In my work I have expressed this as Belmont being over-determined by the respect for persons (individuality) of medical engagement than the justice (social) component of medical practice. The practice of medicine in my view must address the social stratifications that perpetuate health inequalities. We see Helsinki specifically offer language to include healing and social awareness in the practice of medicine.

Thanks so much for this question.

Thomas Nadelhoffer

What a rich and illuminating interview. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to share this with the readers of the blog!

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for the contributions thus far! I wanted to let everyone know that Tommy's response(s) will be delayed because he has been in the airport, going through security, etc. He will join the conversation again as soon as he can.

Rico

Tommy, thanks for shining an autobiographical, philosophical, and scientific light on the social, political, and emotional life of Black men and boys. Being a Black man and a first-generation student as well as having earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, I find that your story resonates well with my own.

Your commitment to fighting anti-Black racism through Africana philosophy and Critical Race Theory is commendable and encouraging. You have provided a fresh model for what serious scholarly work in this area should look like. Your numerous scholarly references reflect a unique and exceptionally rich research profile that other philosophers should take seriously.

Your “On Derelict and Method: The Methodological Crisis of African American Philosophy's Study of African-Descended Peoples under an Integrationist Milieu” (2011), “The Derelictical Crisis of African American Philosophy: How African American Philosophy Fails to Contribute to the Study of African-Descended People” (2010), and, given my own interest in William R. Jones's work, “Beyond the Heuristic Posit: William R. Jones and the ‘Legitimate and Necessity of Black Philosophy’ Reconsidered towards a More Radical End” (2013) are a few of my favorites. Taken together, they point to the pitfalls of contemporary Africana philosophy and the potential of future philosophical work that prioritizes the Black experience in all of its socio-juridical, economic, and political manifestations.

Similar to these essays, much of your work brings your preferred philosophical method, culturalogic, into dialogue with your philosophical predecessors, colleagues, and emerging scholars from various disciplines. For instance, your culturalogic approach addresses the lived experience of African-descended peoples through the work of African-descended peoples of Black African descent that comprise the Black radical tradition in contrast to analytic methods (e.g., naturalized epistemology, philosophical intuitions, thought experiments), hybrid Continental methods (e.g., hermeneutics, Black Marxism, Black existentialism), and even hybrid Africana methods (e.g., the Racial Contract, critical philosophy of race, applied philosophy of race).

Chae's “Do experiences of racial discrimination predict cardiovascular disease among African American Men? The moderating role of internalized negative racial group attitudes” (2010) and his “Discrimination, Racial Bias, and Telomere Length in African-American Men” (2014) speak to and support your claim that the apathy and racism Black men experience require special attention. Indeed, the failure of philosophy, as you argue, to tether itself to history and the social sciences is hurting the field's ability to think beyond knee-jerk reactions to quite complex topics, the purview of certain blogs, sensational news headlines, and other distractions. As a consequence, the white supremacist structural and cultural forces that Black people suffer from generally but Black men and boys suffer from specifically go unnoticed.

N.B.: For those who enjoyed this interview, I would recommend listening to Tommy's interviews on the C.O.W.S. (Context of White Supremacy) radio show on iTunes podcast (Oct. 15, 2013, Feb. 25, 2014; Aug. 27, 2014; Dec. 25, 2014; and May 5, 2015), his debate with Dr. David Ikard on Black Male Feminism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au2ZPy2sdcU on Janice Graham’s underappreciated Our Common Ground radio show, and his many appearances on The Rob Redding News Review which can easily be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5oZaVayoAw.

Tommy J. Curry

Bryce,

Thats a great question. The confluence of race, sexuality, body/disability operate very differently on Black males than most other bodies precisely because of the level of anxiety and phobia caused by the mythologies surround Black men and boys (the super-predator, the thug, the rapist, the murderer, etc.). In philosophy, I experience this as the level of violence allowed upon my body, versus what is construed as anger or aggression on other not Black male bodies. For example, I can think of several incidents where I was verbally assaulted and one case at a SAAP meeting where I was physically pet like a child by a white woman philosopher. Any response from me is interpreted as worse than the original offense prompting the response.

In cases of verbal assaults, it is usually white men or women yelling or insulting me for something they disagreed with. In these scenarios, my reading of a paper is considered "offensive" and "aggressive" to many whites. So the agency I have as a tenured professor is constrained by what the discipline believes is justifiably allowed upon Black males in philosophy. In this way, Black male philosophers (not all but some) are advised to decrease their level of threat. Their agency is exercised by disarming the white populace, not saying or writing on subjects white find offensive. In my case, the history of white women's political movements and feminism from the 1850's to 1930's, for others it may racism, masculinity, etc.

In this sense, agency is geared not towards a self-actualized will (my intentions or attempts to resist) but rather self-avoidance (how to not reify the caricature whites have of Black men) in my professional life. There is also a fear generated in professional activity as well, since you know that any disagreement with a white philosopher male or female allows whites to coalesce around a shared phobia. In this way, concepts attacking racism or white supremacy, or as is usually the case simply presenting historical facts, become epidermalized--bad or illegitimate because I (a dangerous Black male) has said it.

The introduction to my book, The Man-Not, focuses on the experience of being Black male and silent which is, as I argue, the only option for Black males who wish to survive professionally without condemnation or sexual caricature. Agency is certainly exercised, but woefully constrained and distorted by these external, and internal, pressures/demands.


I hope this addresses your question.

Alison Jaggar

This is a wonderful interview with lots of rich material. I am glad I had a chance to read it. Thanks to both of you, Tommy for speaking so thoughtfully and openly and Shelley for creating the opportunity. Alison Jaggar.

Bryce Huebner

Very interesting, and lots more to think about! Thanks for the reply. I look forward to checking out the introduction to your book!

Tommy J. Curry

Alison,

Thanks so much for the comment.

Tommy J. Curry

Bryce,

Thanks. I guess I struggle with this question as well, given that we know how stereotypes will be used regardless.

When I hear colleagues or conversations about Black males in philosophy, very rarely do I hear about their work. The first thing in every case is the reaction people have to their personality. Literally, I have heard 50-60+ year old men described as (nice, sweetheart, adorable, or arrogant, pretentious, angry, needs to calm down.)

These depictions determine Black males to be little more than the perceptions others have of them. I ask myself, "what sort of agency," is possible given these constructions.

Tommy J. Curry

Rico,

Thanks for the comment. I suppose I have always found it strange that many of the claims my work makes are testable, so its simply a question of looking them up.

If one doubts the claims I make about Black males one could simply look at CDC, DOE, or DOJ data. If they are into analyzing numbers they can run it themselves and see if my claims are true. Yet such scholarship in philosophy is non-existent.

The philosophical move is not whether or not the historical or sociological fact is true, but why would you be interested in discovering such facts at all. Its the normative register, "you should not be interested in the study of Black males," hence the work pointing out the inversion of gender during Jim Crow, or the recapitulation of race/sex the century prior, all these questions are illegitimate, and by effect so are the conclusions.

Bryce

Tommy, you might already be aware of his work, but even if you are some other people reading this thread probably won't be. So I want to flag it here. Olufemi O. Taiwo, who is currently a graduate student at UCLA, has a really nice paper that he's working on, where he shows that Black people are not really 'agents' according to the kinds of rationalists views that dominate much Anglo-American philosophy. He makes use of DuBois's notion of double-consciousness, and I think that he has laid out a really powerful criticism of that kind of rationalism. It was his work that got me thinking more seriously about these kinds of issues, and I think that any attempt to make sense of what agency really amounts to needs to start from exactly the kind of phenomena that both you and Femi are calling attention to.

Thanks again for the really interesting engagement on this issue!

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