White Rage Summary

Carol Anderson

White Rage

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White Rage Summary

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White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson was recognized as a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, A New York Times Notable Nonfiction Book of the Year, and was listed among the best books of 2016 by The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and the Chicago Review of Books. White Rage tells of the forces opposed to black progress in America. The text has its roots in an editorial author and historian Carol Anderson wrote in The Washington Post after the racially charged events of Ferguson, Missouri in August of 2014.

In White Rage, Carol Anderson, a professor of African American history at Emory University, reviews centuries of the efforts white Americans have made in attempts to sidetrack the progress being made by African Americans. She talks of the negative reactions to the election of Barack Obama to the presidency and numerous flare-ups that have taken place in response to African American triumphs from as far back as the Civil War and the era of emancipation. She presents a chain of historical events representing white rebellion that begins with anti-emancipation protests and reaches from the post-Reconstruction period of America to the establishment of Black Codes to the efforts, both legal and illegal, to stop African Americans from trying to avoid repression during the Great Migration. She further cites the unbalanced criminal charges against blacks as compared to whites and their difficulties in obtaining voting rights. Anderson believes that a pattern of backsliding following periods of advancement has virtually eliminated any progress that African Americans have made since the Emancipation Proclamation.

She gives various examples where fights for the gains of African Americans have been stifled, from 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, through specific and deliberate actions against them. One example is when, in 2008, the turnout rate of black voters was almost the same as that of white voters for the first time in history and the turnout of low-income voters came close to doubling. Anderson points out that this shift in percentages demographically led to a widespread increase in the previously rare claims of voter fraud. Many states, she explains, began requiring voters to present documents such as bank statements and W-2 tax forms which African Americans, as well as Latinos, and other low-income populations, are less likely to possess. Later, the Supreme Court voted to eliminate a significant part of the Voting Rights Act, which had for many years protected African Americans from disfranchisement. The author points to white resistance at the time of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which she sees as still keeping African American children trapped in unequal educational facilities decades later.

Other evidence presented by Anderson includes statistics that show black unemployment dropping significantly during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s and the racial gap between the number of whites and blacks in college drawing closer. During the Reagan administration, however, major cuts in federal jobs and programs negated those gains with black unemployment reaching its highest level since the Great Depression. Anderson goes on to give additional support to show that the economic and social gains of African Americans have consistently been reversed throughout history. She shows a clear pattern of backsliding after making progress. She paints a picture in which the perseverance of African Americans over enslavement and intolerance has time and time again been attacked by the facets of a democracy that should have been upholding those efforts.

In assessing White Rage, The New York Times asks a question, “Why has white rage been such a feature of American life? Anderson doesn’t offer an answer; her book is a historical catalog of white backlash—not a theory about its origins. In a move that seems at once tactful and tactical, she sidesteps the wearying debate among progressives over the competing priorities of class and identity politics, preferring to highlight the danger posed by a force that erupts at moments of progress to thwart the advance of democracy and racial equality. Anderson’s epilogue brings her account to the bloody steps of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the rising star of Donald Trump. In her closing lines, she calls on us to ‘choose a different future.’ As the rough beast slouches towards November, one prays that we still can.” Kirkus Review, meanwhile, adds, “Yet the book builds to an emotional climax that justifies its title, as the election of the nation’s first black president brought such intensity to the nation’s fissures: ‘the vitriol heaped on Obama was simply unprecedented,’ and the ‘hatred started early.’ By the epilogue, Anderson’s analysis seems prescient. ‘Not even a full month after Dylann Roof gunned down nine African Americans,’ she writes, ‘Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, fired up his ‘silent majority’…with a macabre promise: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take our country back.’ A book that provides necessary perspective on the racial conflagrations in the U.S.”