When media across the country collectively referred to the Ferguson, MO riots of 2014 as “black rage,” historian and Emory professor Carol Anderson put her thoughts into an editorial for the Washington Post. “It’s not about black rage against cops,” she said, “it’s white rage against progress.” Reader response to this op-ed inspired her groundbreaking new book “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.”Anderson will discuss her book on Sept. 3 at 1:45 p.m. in the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary.
What drove you to write the book?
The policies that created the conditions in Ferguson did not end once the news cameras left. I wrote the book to reveal the underlying rationale for policies and their effects, to provide historical perspective on what seemed like just random contemporary issues. And I wanted to make clear this is not a “black” issue. Refusing to educate America’s children, denying the vote to millions of citizens, and spending inordinate sums on mass incarceration and then gutting programs for nutrition, education, mental health, and student financial aid, is not only wasteful but disastrous for the viability of this nation.
Who is your intended audience?
‘White Rage’ is for those who sense or know something isn’t quite right in our society and want more than the sound bites and polemics that pass for answers. My readers are those who crave historically documented facts to give context to the issues and turmoil that are so rancorous in this nation.
You write that Black Codes were the South’s way to reinstitute slavery after the end of the Civil War. What were Black Codes?
Those were the laws passed in the states of the old Confederacy in 1865, after the end of the Civil War, which were only applicable to black people. The Black Codes: 1) limited and defined where African Americans could work; 2) listed the only types of jobs blacks could hold, such as picking cotton, sugar cane, or tobacco; 3) required annual labor contracts where blacks were tied to an employer, regardless of how brutal, and could not seek a better job or improved wages; 4) charged African Americans with vagrancy if they could not prove they were employed, then auctioned them off to plantation owners to pay back their fines; 5) prescribed what few rights if any they had in a court of law; for example, they could not testify against a white person, etc.; 6) inscribed in law that they could not be reunited with their children who had been sold into slavery but rather the plantation owner had the right to that child’s labor until the age of 21; 7) listed punishments such as whipping for being disrespectful; 8) barred African Americans from owning weapons; and 9) made it illegal for blacks to hunt or fish (so that if they tried to circumvent the law and not work on the plantation, starvation would compel them to do so).
Another outcome of the Civil Rights Movement was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Talk about current voter suppression laws and the recent appeals court decisions declaring them unconstitutional.
These decisions mean that voter suppression laws, which arose en masse after Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, were as racist, targeted, and unconstitutional as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the U.S. Department of Justice warned when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, decided to gut the “most successful legislation ever passed by Congress,” the Voting Rights Act. Almost immediately, Republican governors and legislatures, who, since 2008 had raised the specter of (virtually non-existent) voter fraud to cover their real intent, systematically analyzed the voting patterns of African Americans and other minorities, then passed laws targeted to restrict access to the ballot box. African Americans’ achievement and accessing their citizenship rights (voting in record numbers and being central to electing a black man to the presidency) was met with cool, clinical, methodical policies and laws worked out by governors and legislatures, and sanctioned by the courts to undercut that achievement and access. The disenfranchisement numbers are in the millions and this was done without the burning of a cross or hurling of the n-word.
How did you weigh the consequences of writing ‘White Rage?’
There was no real weighing. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” I could not remain silent.
Janet Metzger narrates audiobooks and teaches courtroom persuasion at Emory School.