The rioting that erupted following the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 was framed by the news media and critics as yet another example of misplaced black rage.
Wrong, writes Carol Anderson, Chair of the African American Studies department at Emory University. Black rage are the flames produced by the kindling of white rage, she writes.
Time and time again throughout American history – from the Emancipation Proclamation to the election of Barak Obama – advances by black Americans have been met by “a formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions” by whites in both the North and South, according to the author.
During the Reconstruction era, the defeated South unleashed a reign of terror against blacks that left thousands murdered. Later, Blacks fleeing the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration were arrested at railroad stations, as were labor agents who tried to hire them for jobs in the North. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to create greater educational opportunities for blacks. Instead, policy makers around the country ignored the ruling and delayed implementation for decades, leaving millions of black children stranded in poorly funded and equipped schools. The Civil Rights era was hampered by mass incarceration, the War on Drugs, Supreme Court rulings and policies encouraged by the Nixon and Reagan administrations that were detrimental to African Americans.
This pattern of push-back did not end with the election of Barack Obama, according to Anderson. Death threats against America’s first black president were up 400 percent his first year in office compared to George W. Bush. Meanwhile, states worked to slow the voting power of blacks by implementing tougher voter identification laws, and the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for states to disenfranchise black voters.
Violence continues to have a role in the on-going struggle for equality. The recent spate of police killings of black men leads Anderson to conclude “that black lives don’t matter.”