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White Rage Book Review (2016)

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

Book Author: Dr. Carol Anderson

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The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has consistently punished black resilience, black resolve. (Anderson, 2016, p.11).

Have you ever heard or said the comment, “why can’t Blacks just work hard instead of looking for a handout from the government?” If so, you need to understand that this comment originated in 1865 by President Andrew Johnson, who did not want to help Black people who were newly freed after being enslaved for 245 years. Today, most people who say those things are typically looking through the foggy lens of the 21st century, which gives the distorted image of equality due to the notoriety of a few Black people they may know or what they see depicted via media outlets and television shows. Nonetheless, national data tells a much different story.

To truly understand the depth and width of this quote one needs to first learn about the full history of America. Dr. Carol Anderson takes great care to walk us through the Jim Crow Era (1865-1968) all the way to the present day in order to see how “White rage [toward the progress of Blacks] has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully undereducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated. All this havoc has been wreaked simply because African Americans wanted to work, get an education, live in decent communities, raise their families, and vote. Because they were unwilling to take no for an answer” (p.13).

This book was by far the deepest and most extensive piece of American History that I have ever read in regards to the Jim Crow Era and the decades that followed. I cannot cover the full essence of Dr. Anderson’s book in this book review. Nonetheless, I will focus on a few key points to merely spark an ember of fire in you in order to take the time to read or listen to this book. Some of the themes that I highlighted in this book review are:

  • Andrew Johnson’s role in the oppression of Blacks during Jim Crow

  • The Freedmen’s Bureau 

  • Black Codes 

  • Civil Rights Rollbacks in 19th Century 

  • Understanding Sharecropping 

  • The Denial of Public Education for Black Children 

  • Blacks Leaving the South (The Great Migration)

  • The Reaction to Brown vs. Board of Education 

  • How Government Officials Attacked the NAACP 

  • The Rolling Back of Civil Rights 

  • The Role Richard Nixon Played in the Rolling Back of Civil Rights

  • The Role Ronald Reagan Played in the Rolling Back of Civil Rights

  • How to Unelect a Black President 

  • The Hate for a Black President

While all of these themes above provide extraordinary context and depth into the understanding of why we are where we are today in America, I’d like to specifically focus on how Dr. Anderson laid out how our country could have looked much different if lawmakers would have given Black children the opportunity to get the same education as White children. Dr. Anderson explains that after all the torture, death, and constant denial of access to resources, Black people still continue to press on and push forward to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling made it illegal for schools to be segregated. It is important to note that this was viewed as an extremely unpopular decision from local and state governments all the way up to the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. One county official in Virginia was quoted as saying he would, “rather his children be baked in the oven” than go to an integrated school. He was not alone in his hatred for Black ambition.

White federal legislators, from southern states, fought hard to make sure that integration would not happen in their state. Dr. Anderson specifically highlighted that White southern state government officials in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia for decades explicitly defied federal orders to integrate (See Info Here). This, in addition to other state officials who more implicitly crafted laws to disenfranchise Black children destroyed the education system for those children, which is still having long-lasting effects today. The most critical time frame in America’s history that could have shifted the plight of Black folk was the 1950s. Dr. Anderson explained that because of the denial of educational rights for their parents and grandparents, children clamored to go to school, fought for it, even. She gives two examples here:

“A teenage Barbara Johns, rallied her classmates in 1951 to take a stand against the horrible conditions at Moton High in Prince Edward County. Yet, for fighting to be educated, she had to be spirited out of the state by her parents to go live with her uncle, the Reverend Vernon Johns, in Alabama” (p.99).

“Black adults, too, put their lives on the line for the children. Reverend Joseph DeLaine, who sued Clarendon County, South Carolina, for gross unequal education and became one of the cases bundled in Brown, faced the unbridled wrath of local whites: “They fired him 
 they fired his wife and two of his sisters and a niece 
 And they sued him on trumped-up charges and convicted him in a kangaroo court and left him with a judgment that denied him credit from any bank. And they burned his house to the ground while the fire department stood around watching the flames consume the night“ (p.99)

Overall, Dr. Anderson makes the case with historical facts and data that although America had passed federal legislation that freed enslaved Black bodies, declared civil rights, voting rights and fair housing practices, White state legislators and government officials, in every state in the Deep South, did everything they could to weaponize the state’s power to defy federal laws and mandates. The same southern states that fought so hard to defy integration, today all fall in the bottom quartile of state rankings for educational attainment, per capita income, and quality of health. Dr. Anderson concluded by stating, “Imagine the educational prowess our population might now boast had Brown actually been implemented. What a very different nation we would be if all the enormous legal and political efforts that went into subverting and undermining the right to education had actually been used to uphold and ensure that right. If all those hundreds upon hundreds of millions of federal dollars poured into science education had actually rained down on those hungry for education, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income. Think about what a different national conversation we might be having” (p.176).

I would definitely recommend this book to any and all peoples. Even in 2020, we have state legislators using their position and power to push the idea that we should not be teaching the full history of America in our schools as it is too divisive. Again, as Dr. Anderson stated, this is the same tactic that has been used since the end of slavery. I believe that this book and other historical accounts of minoritized peoples should be taught in our schools so that all of our children and all of our grandchildren grow up understanding the evils that have existed in our society and so that they can work to not repeat these acts while dismantling the systems that continue to perpetuate oppression of any kind.

To learn more about Dr. Carol Anderson's book White Rage view this talk she gave at The Univesity of Chicago on YouTube:


Notable Quotes in the Book

"Hailed as one of the most popular and even greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan oversaw the rollback of many of the gains African Americans had achieved through the Civil Rights Movement. Between 1981 and 1988, conditions regressed to levels reminiscent of the early 1960s."

"Southern whites’ belief that education spoiled the slave remained virtually unchanged well into the twentieth century."

"When 500,000 [Blacks] moved above the Mason-Dixon Line between 1917 and 1918, the South became alarmed. As more and more fled, the Georgia Bankers Association, citing a figure of more than twenty-seven million dollars in losses, described “the exodus as comparable only to Sherman’s march to the sea in its damage to agriculture in the state."

"Despite all the economic and social pressures they confront, blacks have shown an amazing resilience in the face of drugs; indeed, they are among the least likely drug users of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. And despite all the stereotypes, they are among the least likely to sell drugs too. As a major study out of the University of Washington revealed, even when confronted with irrefutable evidence of whites’ engagement with the illegal-drug trade, law enforcement has continued to focus its efforts on the black population."


Reference - APA Citing

Anderson, C. (2016). White Rage. New York, Bloomsbury.

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