White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson. (Bloomsbury, New York, 2016.) 284 pages. Reviewed by B. Kent Harrison.

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African- American Studies at Emory University. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of many books and articles about racism and human rights. White Rage is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

This book is about conditions in black America since the Civil War. Its thesis is that African Americans have been systematically and severely mistreated since Emancipation, and that even after Emancipation, they have continued to be regarded as an inferior race. Having classified them as an inferior race, members of the white community could be justified in continuing to mistreat them with overwork, persecution, whippings, lynchings, and rapes. And when despite all this mistreatment, blacks nevertheless found a way to advance, many whites were angry. The name of the book, White Rage, comes from this idea: that whites were angry about the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which freed blacks and gave them citizenship and the right to vote. Some whites refused to honor these amendments and did everything in their power to eviscerate the rights of those amendments. After the Civil War, leaders in some Southern states—using a legal construct called the “Black Codes”— threw blacks off their land with army troops and systematically denied them the vote. They were supported in this by President Andrew Johnson.

World War I provided work opportunities for African Americans in the North, although they were often prevented from taking advantage of them by being taken off the trains. Things were no better in the North: blacks lived in slums, and corrupt court officials and newspapers all conspired to deny them their possessions and rights.

In the mid-twentieth century, after Brown v. Board of Education, school and state authorities’ efforts to integrate schools were “glacial.” The reaction to the civil rights victories caused a reaction that weakened Brown and the Voting Rights Act. It “closed off access to higher education, poured crack cocaine into the inner cities, and locked up more black men proportionally than even apartheid-era South Africa.” The election of a black man as president of the United States was seen as the ultimate advancement and thus also as the ultimate affront. The Office of the President was publicly disrespected by other government officials. The message was that black lives don’t matter.

White rage has “undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically…” It has caused the United States to be viewed with contempt by other nations.

The book has a prologue, entitled Kindling, five chapters, an afterword, notes, and an index. The remarks above are taken from the prologue, which briefly summarizes the entire book.

Chapter One: Reconstructing Reconstruction

Atonement for slavery, the nation’s “original sin,” in James Madison’s words, consisted of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the three amendments discussed above, and the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was designed to provide land and education for free blacks by allowing them to lease forty acres of land taken from the southern plantations.

The country was reeling from the devastation of war. In the face of this, could it accommodate the sudden freedom of millions of former slaves? It would appear so, given the passage of these crucial amendments and the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau. But that hope was not to last.

The author describes Lincoln’s actions towards blacks as racist and condescending. He encouraged them to be removed from the U.S. and instead inhabit new homes in Panama or Africa, saying that it was their duty, given what their race had done to the United States, ignoring the reason why they were here in the first place. This is selective history. It is important to realize that Lincoln’s attitude toward blacks evolved over time. Brought up in a culture that treated them as inferior, it was natural for him to have the same view. But his abhorrence of slavery contributed to his change of view, and he eventually began to regard blacks as equals, or at least to have rights equal to those of whites. This is illustrated by his insistence to Congress, even to using the pressure of his office, that the Thirteenth Amendment be approved. And eventually it was approved, barely reaching the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution. It was later ratified by the states, albeit too late for Lincoln to appreciate it.

By contrast, Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, seemed to have no sympathy for blacks. He tried in every way to undo the successes of the three amendments and pardoned many of the southern Confederate leaders. Even though Johnson had been in favor of the Homestead Act, it seems he only wanted land provided to white men. He authorized the army to throw blacks off the land they had acquired from the Freedmen’s Bureau. One observer describes what was clearly a reign of terror and atrocities against blacks in the South. Hundreds of them were lynched.

In 1865, Mississippi passed a series of laws targeted toward African Americans that became known as the “Black Codes.” They required that blacks sign annual labor contracts with their employers. They were underpaid and forbidden to seek work elsewhere. They could not fish or hunt for sustenance. The penalty for insubordination was a whipping. This was simply a reinstitution of slavery under another name. Nine other Confederate states followed suit.

Congress attempted to stop the backward slide. It had passed three crucial amendments, the Freedmen’s Bureau bill, and the 1866 Civil Rights Acts. But seven of the Southern states refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment; in fact, Mississippi did not ratify it until 2013. Congress also passed the 1867 Reconstruction Acts, which tried to enforce antidiscrimination with federal troops, and the Enforcement Acts.

Unfortunately for African Americans, the US Supreme Court sided with President Johnson. In a series of decisions from the 1870s until Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and after, they were systematically excluded from voting, largely through poll taxes. The “colored” race was deemed inferior by the court. The long-term effect of this is illustrated, for example, by the fact that in 1942 only 3% of the total electorate in the seven poll tax states cast ballots. A historian summed it up by saying that “The slave law of the South may have been dead, but it ruled us from the grave.”

Chapter Two: Derailing the Great Migration

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, as has been noted above, white plantation owners and other employers in the South systematically exploited blacks by paying them low wages, requiring that they buy goods from their employers, and punishing them mercilessly—all the way up to lynching and other atrocities. By 1920, there had been over a thousand lynchings per decade.

During the Great War (World War I), the North was desperate for labor. Blacks, hearing about the possibility of jobs up north, migrated north as soon as they could. The Chicago Defender, the leading black newspaper, published hundreds of requests for laborers— job opportunities with good wages. But as blacks left the South—500,000 in 1917–18—their owners realized this would jeopardize their own livelihood. They reacted swiftly and violently, setting up all kinds of barriers to the northern migration of blacks. They could not conceive that blacks wanted to leave the South. Consequently, they blamed agents who had come from the North to search for labor and put impossible restrictions upon them, such as exorbitant prices for a license. They also blamed the Chicago Defender and sought to suppress it wherever possible, even though it printed the truth about persecution of blacks. Papers were confiscated from dealers in Meridian, Mississippi. Other states followed suit.

One way of stopping the migration north was to interfere with the blacks’ leaving by train. Trains were sidetracked; officials in Mississippi threatened to rig pending court decisions if the railroads did not quit handing out passes to blacks, who were also physically abused at stations, charged with vagrancy, and forced into “peonage” on plantations. Southerners could not believe that black prosperity, success, and intelligence were possible. This contributed to the practice of denying blacks a proper education.

Of course, blacks did not have it easy in the North. There was persecution there as well as in the South. In Chicago and Detroit, for example, housing areas were closed, and blacks could not find any place to live. Whites who defended blacks were harassed.

The author details the case of Ossian Sweet, a doctor who moved into a white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925. Whites started throwing rocks at the house. As the mob increased (to as much as 5000), Sweet and his family fired guns at them, killing a white man. The police arrested the Sweets and Henry Sweet, Ossian’s brother, was charged with murder. The mayor blamed the Sweets for having the temerity to move into a white neighborhood. The NAACP, sensing a crisis, pulled together a defense legal team which included famed attorney Clarence Darrow. The trial resulted in a hung jury. In a second trial Henry Sweet was found not guilty.

It was, unfortunately, a Pyrrhic victory. Gladys, Ossian’s wife, contracted tuberculosis from being in jail. Their daughter and Henry also contracted it. All died. Ossian faced foreclosure, had to sell his house and move to an apartment, where he later shot himself.

Chapter Three: Burning Brown to the Ground

“Jim Crow dominated the lives of black people in America from 1890 well into the twentieth century,” notes the author. It touched every part of their lives.

The NAACP in the 1930s attacked the states’ interpretation of the “separate but equal” phrase in the 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, arguing that facilities accorded blacks were anything but equal—from telephone booths to cemeteries. The initial thrust was to force states to equalize educational opportunities. Southern leaders had failed miserably at this. The white community not only opposed public funding for black education, but private funding as well. Even by the mid-twentieth century, educational facilities for blacks were shameful, as illustrated in case after case by the author. She observes that “… the U.S. educational system … had deliberately produced a sprawling, uneducated population that would bedevil the nation well into the twenty-first century.”

So, starting in 1950, the NAACP’s lawyers, led by Thurgood Marshall, amassed cases from several states and combined them into one landmark case: Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. This case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that racial segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth.

Of course, the white South reacted vigorously. Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP remarked wryly, “By any fair calculation, governors and school boards had had nearly twenty years to see the train coming down the track. It didn’t just roll up to them overnight.” Southerners proposed various schemes to achieve apparent equality, including constitutional amendments. Nothing worked. The Supreme Court sided with the NAACP and ruled for Brown. Black leaders were delighted.

Except, as Roy Wilkins admitted about himself, they were “a bit naïve.” The Deep South quickly organized a ferocious resistance. There was overt violence: the killing of a black teenager named Emmett Till; angry housewives surrounding Elizabeth Eckford as she walked to Central High in Little Rock; National Guardsmen protecting six-year old Ruby Bridges on her way to school in New Orleans. This was all condoned by respected white society: governors, legislators, U.S. senators and congressmen, and the U.S. president.

Resistance to Brown took many forms. In the North, Milwaukee instituted “intact bussing” that carried black children to white schools but kept them isolated. In the South, policies were instituted that effectively ensured blacks could not vote, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and understanding clauses. In the background was the threat of racial terrorism and outright murder. As late as 1960, “more than 98% of Mississippi’s black adults were not registered to vote.” Similar statistics applied to surrounding states like Alabama.

The Supreme Court continued to defend Brown; therefore, the South retaliated by asserting that the state could put itself between the federal law and U.S. citizens. Georgia passed a resolution to repeal the three offending U.S. Constitution amendments (13, 14, and 15) and to impeach the members of the Supreme Court. It adopted a new flag prominently featuring the confederate battle flag. White Citizens’ Councils sprang up everywhere.

The “Southern Manifesto,” proposed in Congress, asserted that the Supreme Court had violated states’ rights, abused judicial authority, and undercut separation of powers. There were 101 members of Congress who voted for it; only a few, like Lyndon Johnson, held out against it. Southern leaders passed laws they knew to be unconstitutional, knowing that processes to overturn them would be costly. So, year after year Brown was kept at bay.

Another Supreme Court ruling, Cooper v. Aaron, reinforced Brown; however, Southerners continued to defy the North. Arkansas governor Orval Faubus declared that it was the state’s governor, not the Supreme Court, who had the right and power to determine the law of the land. Little Rock closed public schools and white parents sent their children to state-funded private schools, while black children had no school at all. In Virginia’s Prince Edward County Governor James Lindsay Almond closed “every school threatened with desegregation.” In doing so he shut out nearly 13,000 white children, but he placed the blame on “NAACP agitators.” The county schools remained closed for five years. State money was diverted to white private schools. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court forced Prince Edward County to open its schools, officials managed to continue segregation. By 1969, county schools were 98% black and were still impoverished. A judge had warned that even a gap of six months in a child’s education would give her or him a serious handicap. But it was too late. Black parents tried to help their children, but it was inadequate. One black teenager described himself as “very dumb.” Legions of African American children simply dropped out of school. The mid-twentieth century knowledge-based economy was geared to white children and the black children had no skills for employment. The brutal tactics of stall and defy, which went on for at least four decades, left the U.S. with millions of uneducated children at a time when it needed to be competitive in a global technology-driven economy, placing the nation at enormous economic risk.

White officials and parents saw themselves as heroes—as defenders of the Constitution—and placed the blame on black parents and the NAACP. States passed laws aimed at crippling the NAACP. Some tried to cast the organization’s legal team simply as “ambulance chasers.” Others sought membership rolls so that individual members could be harassed. In five states, members were forbidden to hold public employment. Noncompliance led to court-imposed injunctions and fines, which crippled the association below the Mason-Dixon Line. The association was linked to the Communist Party and it was darkly suggested that it planned to hand the nation into the hands of international Communism.

The advent of Sputnik in October 1957 threw the nation into a panic. President Eisenhower commissioned the Ford Foundation’s Rowan Gauthier to form a panel to investigate the nation’s military preparedness. It detailed America’s descent into a second-class power and said it was in the gravest danger in its history. People concluded that this was largely the result of the nation’s inadequate education for its children. In response, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act. The Congressional leader in its passage was Alabama congressman Jim Elliott, who knew very well that the deficiency in education was a direct result of Jim Crow. Despite this, Elliott and his allies continued to seek ways of making sure that Jim Crow continued. As a promoter of states’ rights, President Eisenhower supported this.

All of this opposition bore bitter fruit. In 2004, fifty years after Brown, not a single African American had earned a Ph.D. in astronomy or astrophysics, nor in any of the natural sciences. The author notes the alarming fact that while at one point the U.S. had about 40% of the world’s scientists and engineers, by the year 2012, this percentage had shrunk to 15%.

Black children fighting to be educated faced implacable opposition. In 1951, Barbara Johns rallied her classmates to take a stand against the horrible conditions they faced in their high school in Prince Edward County; she had to be spirited out of state to live with her uncle in Alabama. The Reverend Joseph DeLaine sued his county in South Carolina for grossly unequal education and became part of the Brown package. For his pains he was fired from his job. His wife, two sisters, and a niece were also fired. He was denied credit from his bank, and his home was burned to the ground while the fire department stood and watched.

Education is transformative; it strengthens a people. Black people knew this and fought for it. White resistance became passive with pupil placement laws, residential segregation, token integration, and “neighborhood schools.” “Stall and defy” was replaced by “stall and undermine,” clogging courts for more than forty years. The insistence on destroying Brown resulted in the “economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.”

Chapter Four: Rolling Back Civil Rights

The Civil Rights movement was a collection of events: Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama; the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” on the National Mall in front of 250,000 people; shining the lights of the press on the inequities in employment, accommodations, and the right to vote. Using nonviolence, the media exposed the horrors of Jim Crow to the world. For example: images of snarling dogs lunging at unarmed demonstrators in Birmingham; school teachers being yanked onto the concrete for trying to vote in Selma; the murder of four little girls in Birmingham; the murder of three Northern white civil rights workers in Mississippi; “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when marchers in Selma were tear-gassed, beaten, and trampled by horses. (One leader of that march, John Lewis, recently died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2020. He received great acclaim as the first black lawmaker to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.) The Civil Rights Acts that had been passed in 1957 and 1960 were ineffectual. But the events cited above led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both had the backing of President Lyndon Johnson, but Presidents Nixon and Reagan acted to roll back the promises of those acts, aided by the Burger and Rehnquist Supreme Courts. Nixon asserted in 1965 that almost every roadblock to equality of opportunity in education and voting had been removed, conveniently ignoring the trillions of dollars that African Americans had suffered in lost wages, stolen land, educational impoverishment, and housing inequalities. Patrick Buchanan disingenuously remarked, “America has been the best country on earth for black folks.”

Johnson’s “Great Society” and affirmative action were characterized as reverse discrimination against hard-working whites and a “government handout” for lazy blacks. Southerners cleverly redefined “racism” as simply the actions of the Ku Klux Klan; that was conscience soothing, and it also allowed more subtle forms of racism to exist. A picture of a “colorblind” equal opportunity society was painted; the doors were now wide open if only blacks would take the initiative and walk through them. Ronald Reagan told anecdotes about blacks taking unfair advantage of Johnson’s Great Society. Other ethnic groups complained that they had had to work hard for their living while blacks were given free rides.

During his 1968 presidential bid, Alabama governor George Wallace tried to block the enrollment of a black student at the university in Tuscaloosa. He received over 100,000 congratulatory telegrams, half from Northerners. That was an epiphany: “They all hate black people …They’re all Southern!” He built that into his presidential campaign, stoking whites’ fears of blacks intruding into their schools, streets, and neighborhoods, to huge rallies across the nation. On the other side, the nonviolent policies of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were challenged by the rise of the Black Panther Party. In response to police brutality, race riots arose in Newark, Detroit, California, and Cleveland.

Richard Nixon used this in planning his 1968 campaign strategy. It was designed to pull whites from the North and South into his camp, while implying that the Democrats were the party of the African Americans. H. R. Haldeman, one of Nixon’s aides, said that Nixon emphasized that “you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” Nixon characterized America’s issues as “excesses caused by … bleeding heart liberalism.” The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) had raised unrealistic expectations in the black community. One should not make promises that cannot be fulfilled. The point was to puncture black expectations.

The downward thrust would come through the iron fist of “law and order.” Crime and blackness would become synonymous. After his inauguration, Nixon targeted Brown and the VRA. He would have to be careful; outright opposition could backfire. So, the strategy was to weaken the enforcement of the VRA. The South diluted black electoral strength by rigging precinct boundaries, requiring at-large elections, and requiring hand-written ballots.

The VRA came up for renewal in 1970. William McCullough, Republican co-chair of the House Judiciary committee, favored its renewal. Attorney General John Mitchell opposed it, suggesting that it was not about the law but was about “social engineering.” Several states had been targeted by name in the VRA, but the continued violence against blacks and their advocates in those states and others served notice that a death sentence awaited those people who believed that the Fifteenth Amendment applied to African Americans.

Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina fought against the VRA extension by trying to minimize the abuses that blacks had experienced. Of course, his state had tried in many ways to disenfranchise blacks. His remarks were countered by the NAACP’s Clarence Mitchell. Also, the Supreme Court had dismantled South Carolina’s arguments in South Carolina v. Katzenbach. Despite this, Congress approved a five-year extension of the VRA.

Brown was also vulnerable. Mississippi, for example, had refused to desegregate its schools fifteen years later. Despite a 1969 federal court ruling that the state must integrate, Nixon’s attorney general and secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare convinced the court to delay its ruling. Nixon’s four new appointees to the Supreme Court “eviscerated” black children’s right to an education. In a Texas case involving property taxes—despite a district court’s opinion that blacks were being discriminated against—the U.S. Supreme Court found for the state. Justice Lewis Powell declared that there was “no discriminatory policy at all.” “The Equal Protection clause [of Brown] does not require absolute equality or precisely equal advantages.” An apoplectic, dumbfounded Justice Thurgood Marshall was incredulous, commenting that black children would not stand a chance for proper education.

In another case involving Detroit, the Supreme Court ensured that whites would not have to attend school with African Americans, ignoring the role the law had played in perpetuating segregation in housing and in education. Five justices held that there “was no evidence whatsoever that the outlying school districts had discriminated against blacks …” The justices emphasized the importance of “local” control of schools and said that Brown did not require “any particular racial balance in each school, grade, or classroom.” Thurgood Marshall’s dissent “was a roaring eulogy to a once-promising landmark decision.” He warned that the court’s decision was “a course … our people [of the U.S.] would ultimately regret.”

President Ronald Reagan oversaw the rollback of many of the black Civil Rights gains. The author remarks that during his tenure, conditions regressed to those of the early 1960s. Reagan despised the Great Society and viewed it as a giveaway program for blacks. He cut money for education, housing, and employment. Nationwide black enrollment in colleges plummeted from 34 to 26 percent. The administration also placed roadblocks to quality public schools for black children. The author cites case after case of discrimination against blacks in the Reagan administration, during a time when black youth living below the poverty line had increased to almost 43%. During the early 1980s the overall black unemployment rate was 15.5%, while that of black youth was 45.7%. Reagan gutted federal aid to cities from 22% of a city’s budget to 6%. Some cities dismantled their police and fire departments.

The author then describes the “manufactured” drug war and its connection to the civil disturbances in Nicaragua. The unintended consequence of all this was the saturation of the U.S. with crack cocaine, which ultimately had unfortunate consequences for blacks. They were blamed for the drug explosion. Crime rates in black communities soared; between 1981 and 1994 the homicide rate for black teenagers more than doubled and for blacks in their twenties almost as much. The author does not make clear whether this was nationwide or was characteristic of particular localities. Black life expectancy declined. Things got even worse when Congress passed harsh anti-drug acts.

Chapter Five: How to Unelect a Black President

The 2008 election of Barack Obama, the first black to hold the office of the U.S. President, seemed to signal a new era of hope for blacks and other minorities. It was hailed around the world as a signal that the United States had new respect for democratic values.

But Republicans were horrified. The percentages of votes for Obama among various groups were as follows: Hispanics, 66; Asians, 62; women, 56; voters under thirty, 66; African Americans, 95. Black turnout rate (not total numbers) nearly equaled the white rate. The largest percentage of eligible voters in 40 years had cast a ballot in the 2008 election. The number of white voters was roughly the same as in the 2004 election, but the number of African American, Hispanic, and Asian voters was 4.5 million more in 2008 than in 2004. New young voters favored a greater role for government in making education affordable and accessible.

The author observes that these results should have signaled to the Republican Party that it needed to reexamine its platform, the conservative notions that had moved it from centrist right to right-wing. It did not. Instead it looked for ways to change the vote. And it inevitably looked at disenfranchisement, particularly of blacks, under the guise of “protecting the integrity of the ballot box.” Voter ID schemes popped up in a variety of states, like Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Democrats were tied to corruption and election fraud, and these were tied to blacks.

So, Obama’s victory was supposedly not the result of a brilliant strategy or a great candidate, but instead the outcome of a brazenly stolen election. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which had launched extensive voter registration drives, was charged by John McCain with “perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history …” A majority of GOP voters thought that ACORN had stolen the election for Obama. The author remarks that ACORN really did not have the machinery to do such a thing. In fact, during the George W. Bush administration it had already been investigated for fraud and none was found.

There were various schemes devised for black disenfranchisement, including one by William Rehnquist, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Some voter IDs required government-issued photos, very difficult to get. That would eliminate more than six million African American and nearly three million Latino votes. Georgia required proof of citizenship for such a photo, putting it out of reach for many, who do not have a birth certificate or a passport. The state also required documentation of Social Security numbers and proof of residence. Wisconsin required government-issued IDs, but then closed the offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Democratic areas while keeping them open in Republican ones. Alabama and Pennsylvania had similar strategies. Early voting in Florida was curtailed, and the state used Rehnquist’s strategy to identify black voters and then purge them from the rolls.

The Voting Rights Acts came under renewed attack. In fact, in a case involving Shelby County, Alabama, Chief Justice John Roberts (in a 2013 opinion) asserted that the VRA had worked so well in the past that it wasn’t needed so much anymore, and the justices kept Section 5 but declared Section 4 unconstitutional, which “provides the conditions under which the Department of Justice may place a jurisdiction under the oversight stipulated by the statute.” He said that it placed burdens of jurisdictions that could not now be justified; however, according to the act such burdens were to be borne only by those that had a continued history of discrimination for many years, including attempts to circumvent the VRA.

Following the ruling, nine states immediately passed voter suppression laws. Thirteen others did so the following year, right before the 2014 election. Texas had passed a voter ID law that a district judge ruled unconstitutional because it discriminated against Hispanics and African-Americans. Ultimately, however, the law was upheld by the US Supreme Court despite a stinging dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The Republican Congress shut down the government at a cost of $24 billion and then blamed the president. They did not seem to care even about their own reputations; one survey found that “Congress is less popular than hemorrhoids, jury duty and toenail fungus.” Congressional approval dropped to single digits.

All of this took place against a venomous hatred of Obama. Vitriol was heaped upon him. He had an 85.7% disapproval rating among Republicans. The hatred started early. When Obama was a candidate, the threats to his life led to Secret Service protection. In his first year in office, there was a 400% increase in death threats as compared to George W. Bush, who was himself one of the least popular presidents in U.S. history. During the 2008 campaign, John McCain’s strategists demonized Obama as a “Muslim, black nationalist, socialist, foreign, Arab, Kenyan, un-American immigrant monstrosity…” He was said to be a chimpanzee, unable to hold a job for four years. A photograph of a black tribal gathering was labelled, “Michelle Obama’s high school reunion.”

The author says, “Somehow many have convinced themselves that the man who pulled the United 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 the country’s 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.” Further quotes, by various public figures, depict the lack of faith in his ability to govern.

The author remarks that, “Sadly, the ascent of a black man to the presidency of the United States did not, despite all the talk of hope and a post-racial society, signal progress. Instead, it has led to a situation, not so unlike the era of Jim Crow, where a sense of physical vulnerability is shared across classes in the black community.” She closes with a myriad of horrifying instances in which blacks were killed, maimed, or insulted with impunity.

The last example is of South Carolinian Dylann Roof, an American white supremacist and unemployed high school dropout, who made it his mission to “take the country back.” Researching America’s history on the Internet, he came across the Council of Concerned Citizens, a successor to the earlier White Citizens’ Council of the 1950s. He drank in the poison of its message, got into his car, and drove to Charleston where he attended a black church. In a Bible study group were a group of respectable African Americans. He prayed with them, read the Bible with them, thought they were nice, and then shot all but one of them dead, leaving just one woman alive so that she could tell the world what he had done and why.

Afterword: After the Election: Imagining

This epilogue discusses the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. presidency. For the purposes of this review, I note simply that African Americans strongly opposed Trump because of his long record of discrimination in housing and employment, his birther-movement attacks on President Obama, and other evidences of his disregard for blacks. The author remarks that Trump’s advisors opposed any public help for African Americans: “They weren’t deserving and weren’t really Americans.”

The author details how voting restrictions in various states affected Trump’s election. The most egregious cases were Florida, with its long history of discrimination, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Kansas. Those restrictions helped Trump carry those states. She remarks that the possibility of Trump’s election went from “comical to actual” and notes the alarm this caused Republican leaders because of his unseemly ties to Vladimir Putin. But they kept it secret because of its danger to his election.

Incredibly, 20% of Trump supporters believed the Emancipation Proclamation had been bad public policy and that the slaves never should have been freed. Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again (MAGA), “boldly conjured up the white-washed images—pre-Brown, pre-Civil Rights Movement, pre-Voting Right Act—of the 1950s.” Trump dangled a vision before the voters "… where the vast resources of the nation would flow to whites, who in a few years would be a numerical minority, but whose comfortable lifestyle would be supported by a large but virtually rightless body of workers, cowed by threats of deportation and virtually unchecked police power in black and brown neighborhoods.” The author says that congressional leaders, in their anxiety to elect Trump, conveniently ignored his collusion with the Kremlin and attempted to set up a neo-apartheid world, despite the cost and disruption that would entail.

The author provides a quote from the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom: “Whiteness defends itself. Against change, against progress, against hope, against black dignity, against black lives, against reason, against truth, against facts, against native claims, and against its own laws and customs.” I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s book The March of Folly, folly being defined as acting against one’s own self-interest. The author says, “Having ridden a wave of racial resentment into the White House, Donald Trump now threatens to imperil the institutions upon which the United States have been built. The unbridled anger at Obama for having the audacity to become president … cracked the firewall that would have kept the most suspect and unpopular incoming president in recorded history from gaining access to the nuclear codes.”

But there is good news: Most Americans are repulsed by Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. The Women’s March the day after the inauguration was the largest civil rights protest in the nation’s history. Immigration lawyers provided counsel to Muslims attempting to enter the US. The ACLU received $24 million in one weekend to fight Trump’s racism and Islamophobia. Congressional representatives’ constituents demanded accountability and decency.

Americans are asked to “imagine” what kind of future they wish for our country. The author suggests trying to imagine what would have been different had Reconstruction actually honored the citizenship of the newly freed people; had Brown actually been implemented; had the Civil Rights Movement actually resulted in Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community”; had the United States been able to harness the awe-inspiring symbolism of our first black president.

Of course, this is alternate history. But the author says that we should not have to imagine. Full voting rights for American citizens are well within our grasp. “This is the moment when all of us … must step out of the shadow of white rage …This is when we choose a different future.”

Reviewer’s Final Remarks

The author clearly proves her thesis. The actions taken against African Americans in hundreds of years of American history have been horrifying. The facts are indisputable.

One must, of course, realize that the author’s political bias is toward the Democratic agenda; however, one need not be racist in order to be concerned about deficit spending or the excessive national debt. Despite racist attitudes held by presidents like Eisenhower and Reagan, there are many good things that they accomplished. They definitely had elements of greatness.

In the year 2020, this book is especially relevant. We are faced with national crises in a pandemic that shows no sign of abating soon and in racial unrest in the face of police brutality. This has resulted in alarming calls for “defunding police” and in reactions against any of our national leaders who held slaves or who had any sort of racial feeling, including Latter-day Saint leaders. We are faced with a national election with a weakened Donald Trump and an unpredictable Joe Biden. Amid all these worries and uncertainty, in the author’s words, “it is time to rethink America.” Those of us who revere America’s founding ideals must look forward with hope that things can, and indeed will be, better. This book is worth reading; in my own case, it has heightened my awareness, it has educated me about episodes of history about which I was previously fairly ignorant, and it has influenced my communications with others. Perhaps readers of this review would feel the same if they would read this book, and I hope they will.

Full Citation for this Article: Harrison, B. Kent (2020) "Book Review: White Rage by Carol Anderson," SquareTwo, Vol. 13 No. 2 (Summer 2020), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHarrisonReviewWhiteRage.html, accessed <give access date>.

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