White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
Reviewed by: Toni Rahman
Book Review – White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson offers the fuller history that was not taught in my history classes in the public school I attended, but bears itself out to be sadly true, not only as evidenced by the current disproportionate representation of African Americans locked up in our prison systems but closer to home, in the memories I have of the hushed conversations of my Missouri-born parents when I was a child. This book contains an important story that must not remain unspoken. This history lesson includes how our success as a nation is still threatened because of the legacy of chattel slavery and how we are still clearly reeling from its effects. Though slavery might have been made illegal by the 13th Amendment, this piece of legislation and virtually any legislation designed to protect the rights of African Americans has been overtly and covertly challenged as much today as it was when the Confederate Army put away their bayonets and cannons. The rage – which so many justified during the war and still today as nothing more than a desire for states’ rights – was and still is acted out on the African American people as they did what they could to gather their dignity and forge a new destiny for themselves, their families and their communities after it was no longer legal for other people to own them and control every aspect of their lives.
The extreme rage of the benefactors of chattel slavery remains today, within the living memory of our parents and grandparents. This book describes how after the Union technically won the Civil War (150 years ago), the people in political power in the south remained in power, laws originally intended to help African Americans integrate into society were not instituted or enforced, and African Americans, finally “free,” continued to be slaughtered and terrorized by the thousands. With the Emancipation Proclamation, the African American people moved from being owned as chattel, to becoming the target of the white rage of the antebellum south. The Confederate South continues to this day to carry this rage, which is passed down through the generations, manifesting as defiance of federal laws and smug pride for the ability to sidestep what is considered to be “too politically correct.” Colorblind ideologues (liberal and conservative) continue to miss the boat until the full story of this attempt at genocide is revealed and accepted as part of US history and amends are made.
Political discourse in the news today echoes the terror of the privileged white man that the advancement of blacks is a threat to their superiority. White Rage offers meat to the bones of our cursory, sanitized knowledge; it tells the story so we can see the truth of our abysmal failure to protect the most basic of human rights of our citizens. It summarizes the trail of legislation that documents the attempts of African Americans and their allies to integrate and to live as equals in a land that would prefer to continue benefitting from their exploitation. It tracks the backlash of laws like Plessy vs Ferguson to Brown vs Board of Education, and shows how vulnerable blacks were and continue to be despite their legal rights, and how any legal progress they made was preceded and followed by profound loss in terms of carnage, terrorism and impunity. Each step forward, toward justice and equality, has been met by resistance in the form of violent mobs, socially perpetuated prejudice and the legislative power of politicians, south and north.
It has only been in my lifetime that school desegregation has become at least somewhat of a reality. I find it beyond tragic to think of the wasted resources that have been invested by south and north alike into, as just one example, preventing the educational advancement of so many colored people in the years following emancipation. Though it is easy enough, as a white person, to see how people of privilege might be fearful about what it would mean to take on the challenge of desegregation, and shoulder some of the costs of the institution of slavery, the course we have taken instead does not seem to be leading us anywhere nearer restitution or correction of our errors. What black people and their families experienced by contrast from day to day for the past 150 years has been a living hell in this land of the free and home of the “brave.” In our white fragility we have not proven ourselves to be as compassionate and just as we are cowardly and passive aggressive.
This book helps me find my voice, to talk about the frustration I feel toward my motherland. Common attitudes in my hometown, St. Louis MO, continue to include ones of blind self-interest that perpetuate the disparity and non-advancement of African Americans. Families of color in Missouri and Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi have been thwarted long enough from advancing educationally, economically, politically. The fear that white supremacists had during my lifetime (overt or covert) that a black family would move next to them, causing the value of their property to plummet was just one example. The impact on black lives has been real and profound, lasting for generation after generation. Carol Anderson explains the phenomenon of white rage in a way that we can relate, at a personal level, with the very real and still present consequences of racism. This book shows us how African Americans continued fearlessly to fight for their right to receive a decent public education. And how so many have been successful despite the odds.
The fear that Anderson talks about was and still is so prominent even among folks who have no idea that they are racist. The denial of our violent track record as a nation keeps us blind to our continued racism, and it hurts all of us. White Rage is a carefully researched account of our own history that gives us a glimpse of what our African American brothers and sisters have experienced and what our white ancestors have done to thwart their aspirations for liberty and opportunity.
I remember dinnertime conversations about “bussing” children to schools so that desegregation could be accomplished. The thought of it terrified my parents so much that they made decisions that would exempt them from having to participate. For this reason and countless more, integration of black students into our public school system is still not achieved. That a black student is allowed to learn among white students has only been made a physical possibility within the scope of my lifetime. My parents went to white schools in communities where blacks had been run out by ad hock laws about vagrancy and lynch mobs that didn’t want to have to deal with the people who were different from them despite the fact that they had, for centuries, been the backbone of their region’s economic and domestic infrastructure.
Institutional Racism is blatantly obvious if we are not invested in denying it – the people we come into contact with every single day are affected by racism and the effects of slavery and to deny this is just to keep our heads in the sand. Any thinking person, north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line with a desire to truly make this nation great would be well advised to read this book. White Rage articulates what so desperately needs to be included in the conversation around Black Lives Matter and the deplorable and unacceptable state of institutional racism that exists in the United States today.
5 years ago — Karl HomannI wish to add a couple of YouTube interviews, which Carol Anderson gave after the publication of her book "White Rage." Both are fairly short, but to the point. Emory Professor Carol Anderson on "White Rage: The ... - YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDHJmOIiFho http://democracynow.org - We are broadcasting from Atlanta, Georgia, home to Emory University, and we speak ... C-Span2 Carol Anderson, "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide" Talk at the University of Dayton https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNb1CYyr2Ck