December 7, 2017 – Policies that create barriers to black achievement are often the result of “white rage,” award-winning author and scholar Carol Anderson said as she kicked off the first talk in Georgetown’s Mellon Lecture Series last week.
The Mellon Lecture Series, which will continue into the spring semester, is made possible by a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help Georgetown carry out its commitment to produce scholarship to better understand and address the nation’s legacies of slavery, racism and discrimination.
Anderson, author of the critically acclaimed White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and chair of African American Studies at Emory University, spoke Nov. 30 at Georgetown.
She defines white rage as the reaction many white Americans have had historically to African American advances, dating back to the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and continuing to the present day.
“White rage works cool, methodically, systematically through courts, through the legislature, through school boards, through the White House,” said Anderson, whose New York Times bestseller won the National Book Critics Circle Award. “It comes through zoning boards. Those policies pile one on top of the other.”
Anderson said she not only wanted to show the corrosive power of white rage, but also to, “blow graphite on that fingerprint” and trace it historically.
The book traces white rage from the Civil War to the present.
The Department of African American Studies co-sponsored the lecture with the Office of the Provost.
“It was important to have someone who is not only an award-winning author, but a preeminent scholar on these issues of history, race and racism,” said department chair Robert Patterson, who introduced Anderson at the event. “She is someone whose work energetically thinks about ways that we have gotten to this moment of white rage and provides a path of how we may move forward through it.”
Anderson said she felt compelled to write her book after seeing Ferguson, Missouri, “on fire” once protests erupted after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American 18-year-old, by police in 2014.
“What I’m seeing is white rage,” she recalled. “I have lived in Missouri for 13 years. I saw how systematically African American citizenship rights were undermined and eroded in that state. We’re so focused on the flames that we have missed the kindling.”
Ferguson and New York
Anderson, who taught at the University of Missouri before the shooting in Ferguson, recalled the poor funding and resources for schools in black communities, the disenfranchisement of black voters and the heavy policing and profiling of African Americans.
Her interest in white rage began nearly two decades ago when plainclothes police officers in New York shot and killed unarmed 22-year-old Amadou Diallo.
The four police officers, who shot at Diallo 41 times, were later acquitted of the West African immigrant’s death.
Anderson recalled then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s response to the shooting.
“ ‘My policies have made New York City safer. My policies are working. My policies have brought crime down,’ ” she said, recalling Giuliani’s responses to media.
She said the hyper-policing and profiling by New York police had serious consequences.
“If you didn’t use your turn signal, all of a sudden the cops are on you,” she said. “If you dropped a piece of trash on the street, the cops are on you. If you’re walking, the cops are on you.”
Anderson also challenged narratives created over time about pathologies in the African American community, such as black children not wanting education and that black people don’t go to the voting polls.
She said such narratives leave out the poll taxes charged to black people wanting to cast their ballots or when states institute voter ID laws today and then move the Department of Motor Vehicles offices out of predominately black communities, making access to government-issued IDs less attainable.
She pointed to the disparities in funding in predominately white school districts versus funding in predominately black and Latino school districts, as well as the historical barriers to education instituted by lawmakers.
“In defiance of Brown [vs. Board of Education], federal law, Southern lawmakers fought to continue whites-only admissions policies at colleges and universities,” she explained. “By maintaining whites-only policies, … black children who had been fighting for an education, access to the universities, to the resources, to the labs, to the professors [were denied].”
She said white rage is mostly triggered by a pervasive fear.
“It was black people who aspired,” she said. “It was black people who achieved, black people who refused to accept their subjugation, black people who demanded their rights. That’s the trigger for white rage.”