White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
By Carol Anderson
Review by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun
In clinical academic fashion, this author tells the story of "the America that white racist rage has built." It is an un-pretty cross-generational picture, but a story that finally had to be told: a narrative that goes down the palette hard because the truth of every word will scratch your throat. The facts of the author's truths are so contrary to the force-fed conventional wisdom about race in America that we devour daily, that the book is difficult to believe? But clearly every well-documented ugly word is true.
It is the story of a sordid world of cowardly people who throughout American history, both North and South, have seen themselves as exceptional, but have only managed to live on moral credit, backed up by the one-drop law of skin color, and have used them both to squander all of our democratic ideals on the altar of white supremacy. They have misused the very language of freedom, justice and the US constitution (all of which they profess to so cherish), as mere rhetorical fodder and top cover to normalize and then to cover up crimes that (to quote Frederick Douglass) "would discuss a nation of savages."
The backside of the white American mind, filled with cross-generational racist rage, is on full display here. It is filled with the brutality of slavery, lynching, pogroms and ethnic cleansing of African Americans, and the extermination of native Americans, reversals of laws intended to make America a more perfect Union, white flight from the cities, fomenting of the drug war to increase incarceration of blacks, and repeated defiance of the laws of the land enacted to foster racial harmony and equality.
This rage has only one consistency: the almost existential desire and need on the part of whites, both North and South, to maintain the racist caste system in a steady state forever -- and to do so by any and all dishonorable means necessary.
And here we see clearly that the most dishonorable of all dishonorable means, is to twist American institutions into a systemic racist battering ram that automatically does all the dirty work in the background: giving everyone permission to hate based on race, and training Americans of all races to turn their heads away from the truth, and in the process, defeating at every turn, the aims of the very democracy, fairness, justice and equality that are held up to be the highest values of the republic.
White American racist rage, is a dastardly basis upon which to construct a nation, but that is what this book shows consistently has been done in these United States of white America.
Just as in the case of the JFK assassination, somewhere in the back of our collective national mind, we knew that the racist chickens would have to come home to roost: that the full truth would eventually have to trickle out, and that the two and half centuries of societal duplicity and denial would eventually boomerang back on its perpetrators.
Now that the truth is out of the bag, that the whole of their scary existence (and ours) is tied together with bale wire, to the discredited lie of white supremacy, there is nowhere for them to hide? Their humanity is counterfeit! So, to avoid a psychological break with the deeply held but empty lie of white supremacy, filled with rage, whites have no choice now but to try to continue the lie in perpetuity.
Well, here told in its fullest glory, by a scholar who has arrived on the scene to earn her bona fides and a seat at the table, is the truth of how white racist angst (now sadly expressed in the form of one Donald Trump) has finally turned in on itself.
Told chapter and verse and backed up with rich citations every step of the way, this is a tour de force that reads like a travelogue through a special kind of anti-democratic hell.
As fearless as I am about the true meaning of our much fractured "American style democracy," I too preferred to keep my own head sunk deep in the comfortable sands of American style racist denial. But seeing this author's brave exposition, and her trail of incontrovertible facts laid out end-to-end across the canvas of American history, even I can no longer believe my own lying eyes.
Can it be true, as this narrative suggests, that white Americans would slit their own democratic throats, erase their own sacred code of democratic honor, commit racist Hari-kari just to maintain in perpetuity an immoral criminal anti-Christian racist way of life?
Anyone who reads this book can no longer turn his gaze away from what seems like an obvious answer of yes. For no matter what direction you look, or what time period in American history you probe, the truth just stares back at you and follows you around the room, like Jesus' eyes do in that picture on the dinning room wall. Fifty stars
Editor's note: This review was written by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.