“White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. — Excerpt from “White Rage”
Dr. Carol Anderson, author of “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” will bring her insightful message and historical perspective to the Levine Museum of the New South on Sept. 26.
In the fact-packed, but readable book, Anderson traces white backlash against African American progress from Reconstruction, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Movement to the election of America’s first black president in 2008.
Black progress ratchets up white resentment and triggers new policies, such as voter ID laws, which undermine democracy, weaken the nation’s economic competitiveness, leaves segments of the population uneducated or undereducated and is detrimental to more than just black folks, says Anderson. “As much as folks want to try to contain this to just knocking down black folks, you can’t contain evil. What I do in my talks is also show how whites get hurt by white rage.”
A professor of African American history at Emory University, Anderson is a human and civil rights advocate and expert in 20th-century politics. She expounded the notion of “white rage” in a Washington Post op-ed, which she wrote following the events in Ferguson, Mo.
A New York Times review called Anderson’s book “an extraordinarily timely and urgent call to confront the legacy of structural racism bequeathed by white anger and resentment, and to show its continuing threat to the promise of American democracy.”
On Sept. 26, just days after the anniversary of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and the protests that followed, Anderson will speak in Charlotte. Her visit is part of the museum’s K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace exhibition and author talks, which bring diverse audiences together to explore issues related to police-involved killings and their aftermath.
Qcitymetro spoke with Anderson about her book. Portions of that interview are edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. In the book, you say “The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement.” Talk about that.
In American society, we have this consistent narrative of black pathology. All the stuff that black folks don’t do right: “If black people would just value education like everybody else, they would be fine. If black people would just get out and vote. If black people would just stop being criminals and doing drugs.” I mean we’ve heard these narratives so many times that many of us have come to believe it ourselves.
But when you look at what the pattern is showing, that when black people value education, they are punished for that. Schools are shut down because black children want to learn.
Surveys have shown that whites and blacks use and sell drugs at almost the same rate. Blacks, a small fraction of the U.S. population, account for 14 percent of drug users, but they make up 34 percent of people arrested for drug offenses and 45 percent of those jailed on drug charges. (Anderson cited a 2011 Washington Post report.)
Black people voted in droves and it helped put a black man in the White House. The punishment for participating in democracy is voter suppression. North Carolina, as you know, targeted black folks with nearly surgical precision because they had the audacity to vote.
African Americans exercising their citizenship rights, African Americans demanding equal access to the resources of this nation and refusing to give up has led to a wave of policies designed to try to put black people back in their so-called place.
Q. How do the new immigration laws from Trump administration play into this narrative?
I see “white rage” as operating against people who refuse to accept their place.
Immigrants were establishing themselves as American citizens and as a political force. And they were articulating their voting rights, their right to employment, their right to a living wage, the right to education. The next thing we know, it’s almost like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse coming in with ICE raids, disrupting those communities, ripping families apart. They say they’re going after the criminals, but this is to terrorize so that folks will sit down, shut up, and work for whatever wages they’re able to get. White rage, in fact, moves across different peoples in this society.
And yes, it goes against women, too. It’s when you see the EEOC under Clarence Thomas saying that women can’t be discriminated against. “They’re popping in and out of the workforce all the time, having babies. They don’t take their careers seriously. Why should they be paid the same as a man?” So there was no need, in the EEOC’s vision, for there to be a class-action lawsuit dealing with discrimination against women in employment.
Q. Is this an America only phenomenon or do you see this in other countries?
I can’t answer that. I do know that this rise of white nationalism that we’re seeing is global. Europe, coming out of the Second World War, was beginning to develop a sense that the government had a responsibility to provide a strong safety net for the people. Once massive immigration started, that sense of a contract between the people and the government began to fray significantly and you started having questions about the validity of that model once the people coming in were no longer white.
And that is the story of America. Ira Katznelson wrote this beautiful book, “When Affirmative Action Was White,” and he talks about all of the government policies such as Social Security, the FHA, the GI Bill that really helped create and sustain a large, white, thriving middle class. But the moment that those government policies started opening up to non-whites, there’s this backlash against big government.
Q. Is racism just a Southern problem?
It’s really hard for those in the North, not in the South, to understand how entrenched racism is in their cities. So I ask, “Who are in your good schools? Who are in your bad schools? Where are your bad neighborhoods? Who lives there?” Now let’s talk about how that got to be a bad neighborhood. And let’s start walking through the policies of divestment, toxic waste dumps, zoning laws. It’s easy to think of (racism) as a burning cross. It’s not so easy to think of it as the school board sitting there working out a freedom of choice plan so that white parents can sleep. That doesn’t look like racism, but it is.
One of the major reasons I wrote “White Rage” is because we have been so focused on obvious visual displays of racism, of white supremacy — lynching, the burning cross, the beatings in the Birmingham bus station — that we have ignored the way that policies have done the bulk of the damage.
In Prince Edward County schools, when they shut down (in 1959 to 1964 rather than comply with Brown ruling), there were almost 3,000 black children left without education. Think about that: You’re in the fifth grade and your school shuts down until you’re in the 10th grade. And then think about the kind of endemic poverty that leads to. We’ve got 3,000 black children who have had no education just as the economy is beginning to turn. That’s why “White Rage;” that’s why the focus on policy.
What happened in Charlottesville was horrendous. But you saw all of this angst about white supremacy because you had white folks with torches shouting epithets. As a nation we go, “Ooh, that’s repulsive.” But at the same time, Georgia wiped over half a million people off the voter rolls because they hadn’t voted in a few years. Voting rights don’t have an expiration date.
Q. You say images of the KKK were transformed by white authority into the sole definition of racism. Is that happening now with the Confederate monuments?
We can’t just be about, “okay we took the statue down, we took the (Confederate) flag down” and continue on with business as usual. That’s why I juxtaposed what was happening in Charlottesville to Georgia purging over 500,000 people’s names off the voter rolls. We are so focused on the flames that we miss the kindling — the policies of voter suppression, the policies of educational disparities, the policies of an unequal criminal justice system. All of those are still in full force. Taking down Robert E. Lee is important, but taking down Robert E. Lee is not going to stop that.
(Racism) is much more subtle than that. It is much more vicious, pernicious, and widespread than that. We see Charlottesville, but we can’t get beyond that to talk about (policies). You hear these little blips every now and then about immigration policy, about policing policy, about voter suppression, but nothing on the scale that has gripped this nation the way the visual violence of white supremacy has.
Q. You say NC has some of the most aggressive voter suppression efforts. Why is that?
Gerrymandered districts have created a kind of space where the politicians do not have to be responsive. If you drew (districts) where you had multiple constituencies that had varied viewpoints, (lawmakers) would have to be responsive and listening. When you can target a certain viewpoint, and if you do your voter suppression right, those will be the bulk of the people who can get to the polls while everybody else has to stay home.
That’s why our democracy is in peril. What they’re really trying to do is to replicate the system pre-Voting Rights Act, where you had a combination of literacy tests and poll tax, where, in those states in the early 1940s, the voter turnout rate was about 3 percent in a midterm election and 14 percent to 18 percent in a national election. That’s what they’re trying to recreate. For them, those are the good old days. When they say make America great again, that’s what they mean. Democracy scares them.
Q. How does the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and protests in Charlotte fit into the narrative?
Something blows up, there’s a commission. And the first thing they do is take the things that they know need to be done off the table. When you take viable, high-quality schools regardless of where you live off the table, when you take living wage jobs off the table, when you take access to affordable quality healthcare off the table — we’re talking about human rights here — so when you take human rights off the table and then you somehow expect to deal with the ills, you’re playing at it. There are entrenched interests in keeping the status quo.
One of the things I talk about in “White Rage” is that so many people see rights as “if I get it, it can only be at your expense.” So if poor black folks get quality schools, it could only be at rich white people’s expense, or more importantly, at middle-class whites’ expense. It’s really not the case. Because when you have a viable school system throughout, then your city begins to thrive in whole. Those kinds of ills begin to destabilize and dissipate. But as long as you’re seeing it as “if that school gets it, it is going to be at my kid’s expense,” then we’re done. And so a lot of the work has to be that work. This is not a zero-sum game. But if folks don’t deal with that, then we can’t move forward.
Q. Do you see hope in the marches, the lawsuits, the boycotts?
One of the things that I have been absolutely heartened by has been the outstanding protests from regular American citizens who are filling the town halls with their congressional representatives, asking tough questions that these representatives weren’t expecting, the marches throughout the country. Many people are seeing how fragile our system is. So people are actually fighting for democracy, they’re fighting for a nation and a vision that is not rooted in the elements that brought Donald Trump to power.
And I’m hopeful, because, one, there are so many of us working in universities as well as the public sphere right now to help folks see these patterns. We lost a level of our vigilance. It’s “Rosa sat down once, then we had a dream that we all overcame,” and now that’s not true. There were always those who were working, watching, but the level of astuteness and vigilance wasn’t as widespread as it had been during the movement. This isn’t just a South thing; Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania helped put (Trump) in the White House.
Civil society is just amazing right now. The (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund, Let America Vote, VoteRiders, Indivisible, Rev. Barber’s Moral Mondays, ACLU for the most part — they blew it in Charlottesville, but they said, “oops, we’re not doing that again” — have been absolutely attentive. They’re calling these states into court for voter suppression. They are organizing and mobilizing folks.
I think with the right kind of ongoing conversations, the op-ed pieces, radio interviews, talks, sitting around the kitchen table, we can begin to move where we need to move.
Q. What’s your take on Trump’s presidency so far?
He has preyed and played on that white resentment. “They’re taking your jobs, they’re taking your place in college. They’re making your communities unsafe. All of these criminals.” On one hand, his regime is the Keystone cops rumbling, mumbling, stumbling, right?
But on the other, where he has worked with vicious efficiency is in the subjugation of black and brown people. The ICE raids, the deportations, the Muslim travel band, Jeff Sessions and the DOJ rolling back the federal government’s support of voting rights.
And so what Trump’s regime has done is to be very methodical and clear about providing to that base of white resentment. And it’s clear that Trump is not going to change. Truly, I personally believe he is incapable.
Want to Go?
Before Carol Anderson speaks, the museum will host a reception, starting at 5:30 p.m. Attendees also may view the exhibit, which explores the impact of police-involved killings in Charlotte and communities across the country.
When: 6:30 p.m., Sept. 26
Where: McGlohon Theater, Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.
Cost: $15 ($8 per student). Get tickets.