Continuing Education for White People — and Others

A Review of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson (Bloomsbury 2016).

As a teenager growing up in Southern California, I vaguely remember hearing about the Allan Bakke case on the news. Bakke was a white applicant to medical school at UC Davis, and he went to court — eventually to the Supreme Court in 1978 — arguing that he was denied admission to medical school while less qualified students of color were admitted, due to the UC Davis affirmative action quota of requiring at least 16 minority students to be part of each 100-person class. I remember one white adult I knew saying something to the effect of “I think black applicants should be judged the same way as white applicants, and no bias should be given either way.” This passed for progressive racial thinking by a white person at that time. The Supreme Court gave a mixed response, affirming that supporting racial diversity was a legitimate goal, but that specific numerical quotas were unacceptable. Bakke was admitted.

Since then, I have seen many studies which should educate all of us about the racial history of our country and its bearing on what is appropriate current policy. For instance, my eyes were really opened by a series of essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates, published in The Atlantic and available online. The first that I read was “The Case for Reparations” (June 2014), which discusses the logic by which America would consider making compensation to descendants of slaves or black people generally for how they were exploited and disadvantaged by slavery, Jim Crow, and even later discrimination. This essay greatly increased my knowledge of the extensive history of housing discrimination, loan redlining and etc., that was federally supported and seriously disadvantaged black families’ ability to build wealth and secure access to good schools. There followed “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” (October 2015), about how black families have been unequally attacked by our system of justice — also the subject of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness (2010) and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014) by Bryan Stevenson. And Coates also wrote “The First White President” (October 2017), provocatively and controversially suggesting that Donald Trump was the first president elected exclusively because of his whiteness, as opposed to any actual qualifications for office.

I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant (2017), which details the extraordinary white backlash against Reconstruction and equal rights for blacks in the South. And I read Chuck Collins’s Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good (2016), a book by a man who was born into wealth. Collins explains how structural advantages including the passing on of intergenerational wealth create a huge and unfair advantage for well-to-do people, and how creating a more equitable society with opportunity for those at the lower end is vital to the wellbeing of everyone in the society. All these writings deal with social justice and structural inequality in society, and for Christians who are seeking to follow the prominent biblical mandates to seek social justice, it can be very eye-opening and valuable to read up on the best contemporary writers in this area.

So where does White Rage fit into this landscape?

Anderson’s basic thesis is that while black rage is often discussed and framed as looting, rioting, or other forms of visible violent protest, “white rage” manifests itself differently, less obviously but more devastatingly, “through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies” (3). “The trigger for white rage,” she continues, “inevitably is black advancement” (3). In the conclusion to her introduction, Anderson itemizes the damage she attributes to white rage: “white rage has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully uneducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated” (6). This is a heavy charge indeed, and in the rest of the book, Anderson lays out the evidence for her charge, in showing Southern white rebellion against reconstruction; how whites in the South caused and tried to prevent the great migration of Blacks from the South; how the white-dominated legal system did many things to undermine the implementation of Brown vs. Board of Education’s decision against the legality of racially segregated schools (and by extension, other public facilities); how whites fought tooth and nail against civil rights; and, finally, how whites — not all whites, but a significant number — tried to undermine the Obama presidency and responded to it by electing a president widely considered to be a racist who would roll back the Obama presidency. Over 80 pages of notes give sources for Anderson’s evidence in each of these cases.

My impression, as a white person reading this book, was that I was being buried under an avalanche of white misdeeds. But I must quickly add that this was happening to me psychologically, while for black Americans the suffering was and is literal. It is not Anderson’s purpose to give a balanced presentation in the sense of showing white allies risking their lives to help with the underground railroad or nobly marching alongside at Selma. Her focus is on white misdeeds, “white rage,” and what makes her indictment so powerful is that these misdeeds cannot be attributed to rogue actors, but rather to the entrenched executive, judicial, and legislative branches of federal and state governments.

I used to be somewhat sympathetic to the white plea “but I never enslaved anyone. I never denied someone the right to attend my school. I never threatened anyone for dating someone of another race. So why blame me?” The way I would answer this question now, after the reading I have done and after many interracial experiences in working with students, faculty, and administrators at Andrews University over the past 30 years, is that white people as a class have grown up with many intergenerational structural advantages over black people. Yes, there will be individual cases in which some black persons or families are better off financially or have better educations than white families. But as a whole, the social structures of this country have been designed to promote white advantage, and although the laws of the land have definitely moved in the direction of greater equality, whites are still unfairly benefitting from the system. Read the evidence and see what you think.

The next question is what to do about it. The actions Anderson suggests are not particularly surprising, but it’s amazing how hard it can be to implement them: providing access to good schools, including doing away with property taxes as the basis for local school funding, which inevitably perpetuates class and race division (175-176); bringing equity to the legal system, including cutting out racial profiling and reforming the criminal justice system (176); putting a higher investment priority on education, housing, and health care, and less investment on, for example, “the war on drugs” (177); taking measures to make voting more easily accessible to every citizen. White people will never, so far as I can see, be able to repay the debt they owe to black people for the way they have exploited and mistreated them in this country. But at least we can energetically join with our black brothers and sisters in working to create a more just society that especially looks out for the disadvantaged, and seeks to give them a good opportunity for the pursuit of a meaningful, dignified life. White Rage is an important educational resource to further this goal.

Scott Moncrieff is a professor of English at Andrews University.

Book cover image courtesy of Bloomsbury USA.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9872
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Thank for reviewing a book on such an important topic. It is not enough for white people to just be non-racist, we need to be anti-racist. This means educating ourselves about what the black experience in our country actually is and the reality of white privilege. Then, as this book urges, we need to all work at remedying the structural racism still deeply embedded in our political, judicial, educational, social, and economic systems. I read this book some time ago and highly recommend it.

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Bryan,
Are you going to write a review of the review? … :rofl::rofl::rofl: At least you already read the book… @Cliff would be jealous… LOL

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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:18995”]
putting a higher investment priority on education, housing, and health care, and less investment on, for example, “the war on drugs” (177)

The first suggestion I support 100%
The second is the stupidest suggestion I have ever heard

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I think the suggestions above are all great. The racial equality of opportunity is largely locked into compartmentalizing childhood development through tangents that create divergent results and divergent cultural mindsets.

Glen Loury has a good suggestion of “supplimental trust account” for chidren of lower income that would allow for head start in life once that account matures at 21 years of age. And it’s something that parents contribute to, and if parents are not able to, then government can kick in.

All of these are good ideas, but perpetuating the conceptualization of “whiteness” and “blackness” is nonsensical given that these are rather broad and artificial distinction when it comes to both oppression history in this country, and the complex social dynamics of post WWII global community.

When I immigrated to the US around Y2K from Eastern Europe, I didn’t really sign up to accept my status as “white oppressor”. And that’s a problem in this narrative that can’t be swept under the rug with “well… you still benefit somehow from the country that benefits from slavery”. We’ll, yeah, I benefit from it just like a descendents of the slavery benefits from it, or an Asian or other black immigrant would. What does the skin color have to do with that unrelated narrative?

So, there’s a negligence in attempting to lump everything up into oversimplified racial narratives that are far more complex than how these are painted by Tanehisi Coates. If you listen to Coates, then you have to listen to the likes of John McWhorter, Glen Loury and plentiful voices that point to broader cultural issues that can only be solved by abandoning the present-day racial identity narratives and instead focusing on things like poverty, education, and bridging the savings wealth gap.

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LOL. I am just disappointed that this topic seems to get so little positive attention. So many people seem to think we are living in some sort of post-racist society and that we need to stop talking about blacks and whites and white privilege, which only perpetuates racism. Fix a few problems, like giving predominantly black communities better schools and lock up all the black drug dealers (never acknowledging that the majority of dealers are white) and it will all be fixed. Structural racism lingers like a rotting corpse and most whites prefer to remain ignorant.

Off my soap box now. George, I think it’s your turn to write the review of a review. You are better qualified than me, as you haven’t read the book. :wink:

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Please explain this institutionally

Bryan,
I am thinking of reading again Kafka’s book, The Trial. I remember reading it when I was in college, but could not actually finish it because it’s very enerving. Similar to what we see happening now at the White House. But, if I read it and write a review, will you write a review of my review even without reading the book? Or should I ask @Cliff to do it, since he is an expert on writing reviews of reviews without actually reading the books?

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Sounds like a relevant book for review. We should all know the abhorrent history by now, except the people who should read it probably won’t and suffer from “racial fatigue” by now. We hope the attention makes a difference. The solutions offered in the book are a no-brainer and should have been carried out long ago, especially in the democratic cities who claim moral superiority. We look for action not just words. (drugs are a tremendous problem–how could this not be considered as important and stopped at its source?) But that would take closer attention to the borders which is another issue. The one problem here is a reverse profiling against anyone with another viewpoint–name-calling and misrepresentation that will not make the bigots out there any easier to deal with…

We can consider two narratives:

  1. The problems in black communities are largely due to the racism of the past, and the invisible hand of the structural racism in the present that’s responsible for unfair treatment and discrimination of which these communities are merely victims, etc.

  2. The problems in these communities are largely due to the problematic cultural presets in these communities like drug culture, bad spending habits, shaming certain speech and aspirations as “acting white”, lack of education and viable role models with 70% of mothers being single, etc.

I think the prudent thing is to reject both premises as false, since both largely contribute to the present state of the problems in these communities.

BUT we have to acknowledge that addressing the issues outlined in #2, while will not eliminate structural issues, would create a better environmental baseline from which new generations of people raised in these communities would have a much better platform to stand on.

Hence, we can’t blindly follow one of these narratives and ignore other. And I certainly wouldn’t bank on some future world in which all of us outgrow our limbic brain and would be solely directed by prefrontal cortex.

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You mean, as in the SDA church? My comment had more to do with the larger structural racism of society. I am less versed on structural racism in the church, although the Black conferences do represent vestiges of it.

This narrative is closer to the truth as I understand it, although the victim label is not a healthy way of expressing the situation. I know you simply do not agree that the country still suffers under structural racism that continues to keep blacks down, but I have seen too much data to support this, and have seen it personally enough to know this is the way it is. When I say personally, I do not mean that I have experienced it, as I am not black, but that I have numerous black friends and acquaintances who have confirmed for me the things I have learned from studying the topic based on published research and books. This narrative is the one also identified by the majority of blacks who have written about the topic, and I think it is wise to listen to them, as they are the ones who can share the personal experiences that give proof to the narrative.

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You are too much George. :rofl::rofl::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I already read it anyway, but so long ago I don’t remember it much, so I could do it “as if” I’ve never read it. Truth be told, I’m just not smart enough to write reviews of reviews of books I haven’t read. :wink:

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larger structural racism of society.

Yes, structural racism in society !
You mean “Institutional” racism in society I think ? So do you mean the penal system and education system, government, housing?

No, I mean structural racism in society, which is one of the terms used to describe what we have right now. Here is a quote to give you an idea of what I am referring to:

" The complex system by which racism is developed, maintained and protected is often referred to as structural racism. The term was developed in part to help people working towards racial equity emphasize the idea that racism in society is a system, with a clear structure, and with multiple components. Per the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, a group doing important work to help others understand structural racism, “the term structural racism refers to a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity….the structural racism lens allows us to see that, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance, and privilege. This dominant consensus on race is the frame that shapes our attitudes and judgments about social issues. It has come about as a result of the way that historically accumulated white privilege, national values, and contemporary culture have interacted so as to preserve the gaps between white Americans and Americans of color." The term structural racialization has also become popular more recently (See Dr. john a. powell’s work). The idea of racialization is being used for two reasons. First, to avoid some of the negative response to the term “racism,” and second, to emphasize the processes by which institutions and systems create and maintain racism – not, at this point, the actions of individual people acting out of their own individual, conscious racism."

Source: https://www.racialequitytools.org/fundamentals/core-concepts/structural-racism

Ok, thank you. We are getting closer. So what are those polices? What are those institutional practices?
That is my question

If you do I’ll review your review of the review it and let you know how wrong the original work was - though I don’t have the time or inclination to read it.

@bness

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I don’t understand… what is the second suggestion? The first?

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This is somewhat pertinent. I like Betty:

Stop the “the war on drugs” (177) I mean is a crazy suggestion I believe