White Rage by Carol Anderson
Best for: All white people in the U.S. right now.
In a nutshell: Dr. Anderson shares a concise history of all the shit black people have gone through because of the anger white people feel when black people start to make even a little bit of progress.
Line that sticks with me: All of them. Seriously, I underlined, circled, or commented on all but maybe three pages in this book.
Okay, fine, here’s one: “Somehow many have convinced themselves that the man who pulled the Unites States back into some semblance of financial health, reduced unemployment to its lowest level in decades, secured health insurance for millions of citizens, ended one of our recent, all-too-intractable wars in the Middle East, reduced the staggering deficit he inherited from George W. Bush, and masterminded the takedown of Osama bin Laden actually hates America.” (p 157)
Why I chose it: Because after the tiki-torch white supremacist violent rally and the subsequent murder of a counter-protester and beating of a black man by these racist assholes, I needed to read something. So I went to my happy place, our local independent bookstore, and wandered around until I found this.
Review: This book is phenomenal. It is poetic and yet extremely straightforward. Dr. Anderson exercises an economy of language that I envy, as she is able to tell a compelling and undeniable history of racism against black people in the U.S. in just over 160 pages. But I thought it was much longer when I bought it, because Dr. Anderson includes OVER 60 PAGES of notes at the end. She isn’t just telling a story, she’s backing up each statement with a source.
Dr. Anderson divides the book into just five elegant chapters, plus a brief prologue and epilogue. Each chapter takes on a section of U.S. history: reconstruction, great migration, education segregation, backlash to civil rights, and the continued destruction of voting rights. The premise is that white people have such an inability to handle black people making any strides forward that they react with new and creative ways to work the system to try to push them back down.
The detail in each chapter is phenomenal. Dr. Anderson shows how horribly white people have treated black people in the this country every time there is a hint that they may be making some progress away from the discriminatory systems put in place by those same white people. How southern states passed laws to not just punish black people laboring within their state, but to prevent them from ever leaving to pursue better work elsewhere. How one school district closed its doors to all students for FIVE YEARS rather than integrate. How fuckers like Scott Walker (I originally wrote Wallace instead, probably since he seems to be the spiritual son of George Wallace) did everything they could to disenfranchise thousands of people in his state.
In the epilogue, Dr. Anderson mentions Republican candidate Donald Trump’s promise to “take our country back.” I hope that there is a paperback update in the works, and that she is able to add a section of what has happened in these past few years. I did, however, hear her on a podcast this week discussing Charlottesville. You can hear her in the August 16, 2017 episode here: http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510312/codeswitch
Reading this book with the current events in the background caused my jaw to tighten and my pulse to race. I’m not naive. I know that the history of white people in the country is horrific. I know that that history didn’t end with the Civil War, or the Civil Rights movement. I was not surprised by what happened in Charlottesville, nor was I surprised by the President* coming down firmly on the side of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. But this book brings some of that history home. It gives me something to point to if I encounter a white person who is ignorant of how what is going on today is not that different from what white people have been doing to black people since the Emancipation Proclamation, but has a genuine desire to learn more. It gives me specific examples to point to when the asshole white people I encounter act like this shit hasn’t been going on forever.
As I said up top, I think all white people in the U.S. need to read this book. Share it with people and keep it in mind as you take to the streets to stand up against white supremacists. But also keep it in mind when you’re at work and someone starts to complain about affirmative action, or you’re out with friends and someone tries to suggest that there’s no problem with voter ID laws, or your state legislature thinks its fine to continue using neighborhood property taxes to disparately fund schools. Because while we should all obviously be letting the Nazi cosplayers know their hate isn’t acceptable, we also need to know that not all racism comes in the form of a white hood or white polo shirt and khakis. It’s systemic and will take all of us working to change it.