Speaking on systemic barriers in place throughout U.S. history, to African Americans’ advancements in society, was Emory University professor Carol Anderson, who highlighted her book “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation’s Divide” as part of a talk hosted by the Donia Human Rights Center at the University of Michigan Tuesday.
“It is the presence of black people who achieve, who aspire, who refuse to accept subjectation, the presence of black people who demand their civil rights,” she said as she began the talk, explaining the factors that contribute to white rage.
Anderson built upon this notion by describing how the quality of education and segregated school systems have fundamentally impacted African-American students. She explained how even though the Brown v. Board of Education decision desegregated schools across the country, and the Cold War prompted the federal government to invest money into the education system, African-American students continued to be disadvantaged by the underlying structure that shut down school districts and allocated funds for white students to attend schools in richer, segregated areas.
Anderson also went on to credit the War on Drugs as another response of white rage to the advancement of African-American citizens. The previous shift in mass funding to public schools was reallocated to correction facilities with a disproportionately higher number of Black men incarcerated compared to white men — destabilizing Black families and communities in the process. This was done even though many of the crimes were clearly fabricated.
As a former International Studies major and admirer of Anderson, University alum Brianna Allen said she came to the talk to follow up with current events through the lens of race. She expressed her dismay with the severity of the false accusations against members of the African-American community.
“You just see how much people want to bring down the African-American community,” Allen said.
Anderson linked the spike in the incarceration rate of black men with voter suppression of the African-American community. She explained factors like gerrymandering, underequipped polling places and bans on former felons from voting all contribute to lower African-American voter turnout, and in doing so, impede the full participation of the Black community in democracy and society.
Anderson ended her talk on a more optimistic note of hope, citing former President Barack Obama’s historic 2008 campaign inspiring an extra 15 million people to turn out and vote.
She explained that the trend of voter suppression is slowly disintegrating because those who were previously suppressed persevered and showed up at the polling places. According to Anderson, the right way to move forward from voter suppression is to embrace the new people showing up at the polls.
“(If they show up they) have a stake in the government, value participating politically, and don’t feel alienated,” she said.
University alum Catherine Lebar expressed how Anderson’s hopefulness resonated with her the most.
“She still has a positive vision for the future and this is what I think we should be spreading,” Lebar said.
Anderson also explained another way to counteract the long-term disenfranchisement of African Americans is by dissecting the prevailing narrative that white people built the U.S.
“The narrative most folks have is that it’s a white nation and whites only built America,” she said. “As a nation of merit, so much of who we are is based on we worked hard for this, we earned this, so having this type of conversation is difficult … (It) feels like you’re attacking someone’s foundational sense of self and identity.”