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“There is a book called White Rage, by Carol Anderson, about a history that most Americans don’t know: the history of oppression that African-Americans have faced from the Civil War to the present day. If every American read it, maybe we could really begin to have a real conversation about race in America as opposed to the nationwide internet comment section we currently have.”

This quote was written by Senator Al Franken, who is not anyone’s favorite person right now, but his reflection so accurately portrays what Anderson brings to the table in her book White Rage. In this beautifully written page-turner, she explores the cause and effects of over half a century of political, legal and social disenfranchisement of blacks imposed through systematic racial division and oppression. All of this taking place, post civil war, in the wake of a country seeking to “atone” for its original sin. With precision and conviction she lays the hammer of judgement on a political system that often tries to dress itself in benevolence and altruism.

From the great migration to the election of our first black president, Anderson, dives deeply into the systems and networks of powerful white leadership, national and statewide, that refused to release, or even loosen, its chokehold on black Americans. From the black codes to current voting rights discrimination and everything in between, the demand and devices used to suppress black advancement have been revised and adapted to ensure that a group brought to America in chains would never truly break free.

The book begins examining the reconstruction era, during a time when four million newly emancipated people watched as the dream of freedom still dangled far beyond their reach. As Lincoln scrambled to rebuild the Union and ensure that the confederate rebels did not assume power, he determined it best to “go easy on the rebel leaders” in a desperate hope to reunite these United States. Requiring “only that the secessionist states adopt the 13th Amendment and have 10 percent of eligible voters swear loyalty to the US (yes, JUST 10%) for the state to be admitted to the Union. You could imagine what this meant for blacks in America, but if you read the book, you don’t have to. Anderson takes you through the hell of it all. And a side note: anyone who studied black history knows that Abraham Lincoln was not the standard of morale that we were taught in our history books. But if you had any doubt, Anderson’s research decisively dispels this myth and exposes the detrimental stance of Lincoln, and perhaps even more damaging of his successor Andrew Johnson, on true freedom and racial equality.

“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races” - The Great Abraham Lincoln.

Anderson then takes us through the Great Migration, in the middle of World War I, when immigration was down and the industrial workforce was looking to tap into a large population of worker who had originally been left out of this equation. As blacks literally risked everything to venture North they came against the most brutal opposition both politically and physically, with the 13th Amendment’s holding little weight in a government hell bent on suppressing black progress. Lynchings, riots, rape, and the general mutilation of black bodies ran rampant both above and below the Mason-Dixon Line. And of course, all this transpiring with no legal repercussion for white offenders. This highlighted white rage in its most overate and conspicuous form. But soon that rage would be tailored and crafted into its more sophisticated successors, housing discrimination, education inequality, and so much more. Anderson explores the “burning of Brown vs. Wade to the ground", by a system of never ending loop holes that ensured that policies and laws were vulnerable enough to be devalued and invalidated on a state by state basis.

Post-Civil Rights, white rage continued to mature, acclimating to a changing culture. As blacks came off a generally gainful decade in the 70s (the number of blacks enrolled in college had doubled), one of America’s most praised Presidents “oversaw the rollback of many of the gains African American had achieved through the Civil Rights Movement.” During a time of national financial strain, Reagan’s budget proposal cut back on programs where black were overrepresented, in the sectors of public education, housing and healthcare. But perhaps one of the most notable and equally disgusting sophistries of the Reagan Administration was the “war on drugs”. The same drugs that were brought into this country in mass by the Black Eagle operation forced by President Reagan and enforced by President George Bush, then Head of CIA, to fund a war in Nicaragua that the American public was pretty much clueless about. I won’t go deeper on this for fear of disrupting the perfect documentation Anderson displays in her writing.

She briefly touches on the Obama years - the vilification and demonization of the first black president - who, despite the administration he succeeded, achieved quantifiable success during his eight years in office. Anderson closes with an earnest call for people.

“This is the moment now when all of us - black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American - must step out of the shadows of white rage, deny its power, understand its unseemly goals, and refuse to be seduced by its buzzwords, dog whistles and sophistry.” - Carol Anderson.

We all need to read this book. We all need to be painfully aware of the facts, of the truths that were systematically omitted from every history textbook. We can’t expected to have real, meaningful dialogue about race, racism, equality and blackness if we willingly choose ignorance instead of knowledge and awareness. This comes from reading, watching, engaging, acting, protesting, voting, listening, thinking, learning and strategizing. This takes time, dedication and effort, beyond just expressing thoughts and feelings formulated from our own individual experiences. Although, everyone’s personal experience and feelings are valid and they matter, without an understanding of the systems put in place to create and perpetuate those experiences, we aren’t able to channel that energy in the most positive, practical and effective ways.

This is not a YOU thing, this is a WE thing, an US thing. This is an opportunity to teach our children, so they can teach their children, so we can change our world, one generation at a time.

In the words of King T’Challa, “In times of crises the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”  





Brittany Barnes