Friday, June 19, 2020

Review of Carol Anderson's White Rage

Carol Anderson's White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide is a clear, concise history of the never-ending anti-Black structures erected after the Civil War.  White elites built a system specifically designed to harm African Americans. It was obviously anti-democratic, but it was anti-capitalist as well, not to mention pro-terrorist. Capitalism entails workers moving freely and finding the jobs/wages they deem optimal, which African Americans were not allowed to do. White landowners wanted laborers, but refused to allow those laborers to work their own land. The important point, though, is that the system wasn't just discriminatory. Discrimination was the conscious design, with the prison system as the ultimate slavery replacement.

The white establishment spoke asked constantly why African Americans couldn't become self-reliant while ensuring that the effort was impossible. Further, the very second that slavery ended, that same establishment decided that African Americans were getting "special treatment" as they simply tried to receive equal treatment under the law, a message that remains very loud today, including on college campuses. Meanwhile, African Americans were systematically excluded from education in the South for decades, to the great delight of segregationists, which set back generations of people and caused damage to the entire country.

Even worse, they were (and are) blamed for the poverty that inevitably flowed from systematic exclusion. Built-in disparities were suddenly indicative of poor character. Wanting equality was suddenly wanting more than everyone else. And when overt racism and segregation became a PR problem, Ronald Reagan came in and blocked desegregation through busing while cutting financial aid, student nutrition, and other services that were essential for helping Blacks receive a good education (the administration has a lot to answer for with drugs, though the argument that Reagan is solely responsible for the cocaine trade as a way to help the Contras is not convincing).

Mass incarceration specifically targeted the Black community, and not long afterward so did voter-ID laws. You may remember that all the many accusations of voter fraud never actually yield evidence or lead to convictions. It is entirely a mirage intended to limit Black voting, especially after Barack Obama won the presidency. It is now common to hear "voter fraud" as an excuse to limit voting by mail, early voting, or anything else intended to make voting more accessible to African Americans while purging voters as much as possible. "Election integrity" is a dog whistle.

The book is an historical avalanche. There is, of course, a lot on the South but institutional anti-Blackness was entrenched everywhere, and often emanated from the White House and/or Supreme Court. Again, it was systematic and specifically aimed at African Americans, to prevent them from living, working, traveling, going to school, etc. As Anderson points out, George Wallace drew crowds all over the country with his message of resentment.

My wife and I both grew up in California, and when we moved to Charlotte as newlyweds, we got all kinds of snide comments about the South based on an assumption of moral superiority. But you don't have to dig much to find deeply rooted racism all over the United States, and California has a history of discrimination through laws against African Americans. From historian Shirley Ann Wilson Moore:
Although lawmakers had failed in their attempts to ban black entry to the state, California's legislators at­tempted to deter people of color by erecting a bulwark of laws that deprived them of civil rights and left them vulnerable to exploitation. Denied citizenship, they could not legally homestead public land; they were forbidden from voting, holding public office, giving court testimony against whites, serving on juries, sending their children to public schools, and using public transportation.
This is a national history, not just a southern history. As Anderson points out, the Voting Rights Act has been applied all over because of discrimination, and without its protection, many previous gains are lost.

Millions of Americans fear the Black vote, and fear Black success. Anderson ends with more discussion of voter suppression, because it's so critical. Fair voting practices would have a significant political impact at all levels of government. White rage will do anything to stop it.


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