Op-ed: Why are you mad?

By James Michael Brodie
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A few days ago, a white gentleman responded to one of my posts with a series of profanity laden insults. When another poster pointed out his bigotry, he responded by declaring himself a “proud racist,” before adding in a few more expletives.

A quick look at postings on his page revealed a wealth of Alt-Right propaganda, complete with a treasure trove of racial stereotypes.
His outburst was not the first I had encountered.

Even in my early days as a reporter, I often received mail reflecting similar themes, with a few threats thrown in. But they are reflective of a deeply embedded rage and fear of “other” that has torn the veneer of respectability from the idea that America is a colorblind society and exposed its ugly underbelly.

From unfounded accusations of assaults on white women by black men which led to the destruction of the black towns of Tulsa, Okla. and Rosewood, Fla., to the torture and murder of Emmett Till, falsely accused of whistling at a white woman, to the “Karen” police calls of today, history is filled with incidents of white anger directed at black faces.

Recent events have shown no letting up on this rage.

On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a then 21-year-old white man, walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and took part in a Bible study with church members. At some point, he opened fire with a handgun, killing nine people.

In 2018, a white man killed two black people at a Kentucky supermarket, having minutes earlier tried to walk into a black church. Another killed two people and injuring five more at a Florida yoga studio before turning the gun on himself. And a third slaughtered 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh, Penn., synagogue, declaring, “I just want to kill Jews.”

In June of this year, Maryland police arrested and charged a white bicyclist who confronted a teenage girl who was posting flyers in Bethesda, Md., in support of the George Floyd protests. The man grabbed flyers from the teen, then aimed his bike toward a male member of the group, causing him to fall to the ground.

Also in June, three Thousand Oaks, Calif., men, including two who worked for local law enforcement agencies, were arrested for vandalizing a Black Lives Matter sign, which had been damaged or removed several times.
In early July, a white woman was caught on video making racist and homophobic remarks during a Black Lives Matter protest in Elizabethton, Tenn. She yelled “white lives matter,” “white lives are better,” and told a protestor he would “burn in hell” for being gay. At another point, she told a black woman that she was “just a poor little black girl with a messed up mind.”

Meanwhile, a white couple in Clarkston, Mich., was arrested and charged with a felony after a video showed the woman pointing a gun at a Black mother and her two daughters after they got into an altercation with the family at a Chipotle restaurant.

And officials at St. Paul’s First Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, Calif., were accused of harassing a Black woman for sitting in the grass on the property. A church official hung a “no trespassing” sign on a tree over the seated woman.

And just a few days ago, a white California couple was charged with a hate crime after they defaced a Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez, Calif. In the video, the man was heard saying, “There is no racism. It’s a leftist lie,” and “No one wants Black Lives Matter here.” When someone asked him, “What’s wrong with you?” the man, replied, “We’re sick of this narrative, that’s what’s wrong. The narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism. It’s a lie. Make America great again.”

This is not to say that all white people are inherently violent. Such generalizations are no better than uttering the words “black-on-black” crime, as if these American crimes deserved some special category.

This type of rage, this acting out, has always been with us and usually has been attached to any perceived advancement of Black Americans. Some of that rage has been legislative. Consider the following:
The end of the Civil War and the Reconstruction was followed by the creation of Jim Crow laws and the birth of white terrorist groups. White legislators Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-Pa.), and Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.), defended Reconstruction, but were outnumbered by white opposition to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which granted legal citizenship to the newly emancipated Africans. The Supreme Court’s 1876 United States vs. Cruikshank emboldened white terrorist violence by removing laws aimed at stopping Klan behavior.

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation led to white mobs hurling bricks at schools trying to integrate. In 1956, 101 members of Congress issued the “Southern Manifesto,” declaring war on the landmark case. Governors in Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia created laws to deny public funding from any school attempting to integrate, using tax dollars to ensure that whites could continue their education at racially exclusive private academies. Georgia added the Confederate stars and bars to its state flag.

Passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act led to a mass exodus of Southern politicians from the Democratic to Republican parties in what would become “The Southern Strategy.”

The Civil Rights Movement sparked the War on Drugs, which criminalized and disenfranchised Black voters. This included the harsher sentencing for the possession of crack cocaine, common to inner city communities, compared to sentences assigned for possession and use of powder cocaine, common in white communities.
Affirmative Action laws were followed by Allan Bakke’s successful lawsuit against the University of California-Davis, where the then-32-year-old argued that admission of Black candidates denied him an education. It also led to the coining of the term “reverse discrimination.”

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African American elected to the U.S. presidency. As Obama ran for reelection, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham issued an ominous warning during the 2012 Republican National Convention. “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,” he said.

After Obama won reelection in 2012, commentator Bill O’Reilly remarked on air that he didn’t live in “a traditional America anymore.” Others shared their sadness on talk radio airwaves and online.

Obama’s time in office was marred by new voter-suppression laws, the creation of “stand-your-ground” gun laws, a rise in reports of police brutality, the formation of the Tea Party, and the election of Donald J. Trump as Obama’s successor.

So where does this angry reaction come from? James Baldwin, in Letter from a Region in My Mind wrote that America’s racial animus is rooted in perceptions of color. “These tensions are rooted in the very same depths as those from which love springs, or murder. The white man’s unadmitted – and apparently, to him, unspeakable – private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro.”

Sociologist Michael Kimmel, in his 2017 book, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, described an America influenced by the aggrieved entitlement of white men, who, as members of a historically dominant group, have been reacting with anger and rage to gains in social equality and their perceived loss of economic advantage.

Raised to expect traditional privilege, Kimmel asserted, “When America’s white men feel they’ve lived their lives the ‘right’ way, worked hard and stayed out of trouble, and still do not get economic rewards, then they have to blame somebody else.”

Even more terrifying is the phenomenon of angry young boys. School shootings, Kimmel said, are not just the work of “misguided youth” or “troubled teens,” but of alienated young men who turn to mass murder, seeing such violence as their right to use force against others.

In her 2016 book, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Emory University professor Carol Anderson explored what she called “structural racism,” and how it has fueled white anger and resentment, specifically regarding African Americans. Anderson argued that black gains have routinely unleashed a backlash from white America, sometimes violent, sometimes resulting in changes to law and policy.

In a 2014 op-ed in the Tampa Bay Tribune, she wrote:
“Remember a Florida judge instructing a jury to focus only on the moment when George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin interacted, thus transforming a 17-year-old, unarmed kid into a big, scary black guy, while the grown man who stalked him through the neighborhood with a gun becomes a victim.

“Remember Connick v. Thompson, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2011 that ruled it was legal for a city prosecutor’s staff to hide evidence that exonerated a black man who was rotting on death row for 14 years.

“And think of a recent study by Stanford University psychology researchers concluding that, when white people were told that black Americans are incarcerated in numbers far beyond their proportion of the population, ‘they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities,’ such as three-strikes or stop-and-frisk laws.”

Rev. Gibson Stroupe knows something about white anger. He says he was once gripped by it. He grew up in the segregated South, where, as a teenager, he planned to pick up a gun and attack a Black man who was attempting to integrate a university in Mississippi.

In an open letter to Atlantic columnist Conor Friedersdorf, Stroupe, who presided over the multicultural Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Ga., from 1982 to his retirement in 2016, explained his change of heart on matters of race:

“I had been taught racism by my family, my church, and my teachers – by really decent white people in my hometown on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta. I believed that white people were superior, and that black people would never be our peers or equals. If at times my experience seemed to teach otherwise, I was like Thomas Jefferson in his ‘Notes on Virginia.’ Though he agonized over the ideas of equality and slavery, he indicated that he could not find evidence of the equality of people of African heritage.

“Education was one of my paths out of this total captivity to race. Though most of my public-school teachers were believers in race, one of my English teachers, a Jewish woman in our small Arkansas town, suggested that I read Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, about apartheid in South Africa. I read it, and in it I met my first black person. Oh yes, I had seen many black people in my youth, but I had not considered any of them to be a person as I was.”

We are, despite outward appearances, headed toward a United States that has the potential for being more diverse. Whether that diversity will lead to inclusion is yet to be known. The choice comes back to how white America addresses its historic anger. Will we see more violence, more destruction, more exclusion? Or will we see people who identify as white walking side by side with those they have always pushed to the outside?

James Michael Brodie is a Baltimore-based writer, journalist and author. His books include “Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators” and “Sweet Words So Brave: The Story of African American Literature.” A University of Colorado graduate in English, Brodie’s current project is a collection of personal narratives titled “The Black and Gold Project.”

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  1. Tim Roper says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if the Chas’s of our country would write such articles from their perspective so we could be clear on how they really see racism in our country? Instead we get no more than a brush off of the facts presented. Or worse, a parroted sound byte whining about “reverse racism,” or how they have never personally owned any slaves so how could they be considered racist and why should they bear any responsibility for American racism?

    Our white privilege comes in many forms and is often subtle, even invisible to those who aren’t honestly looking for it within their own life experience. It’s there. It’s real. It’s not hard to see once one shifts their thinking in ways seeking to understand it through the experiences of those who have felt the sting of systemic racism in our country.

    “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
    Steven Covey

  2. barbara a. egypt says:

    Re-reading this Michael. Needed now more than ever. B.

  3. James Michael Brodie says:

    Chas, can you point out the inaccurate information? Would be useful more than the simple dismissal of something that runs counter to your perspective.

  4. That is the nature of commentary. It is an opinion piece not a news article.

  5. Chas Roys says:

    What a Bias article. Another one sided speech

  6. The article was very well researched and thought out. It offers facts as opposed to opinion and stereotypes. Thank You. Those who cannot be swayed by facts, will never be swayed by facts. Leave them to themselves.