If you, like me, recently read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, you’ll have found that book to be incredibly moving. I felt it really helped explain the environment that many Black men now in their 30’s and 40’s grew up in and that young Black men are growing up in now. However, the book only glimpses at touches of context. Obviously there are references, plenty of them, to great Black thinkers and political activists. That book is primarily an emotional book. To help a reader, targeted towards Black men but very much helps white people, empathize with a young Black man. It humanizes.
This book, this book, though, is a clinical look at our history. It starts out with context around the history of the Civil War, that it WAS a war fought over slavery and not state rights. Anderson highlights the failings of President Lincoln and eviscerates President Johnson (which if you read An Indigenous History of the United States you’ll be unsurprised he’s as horrific towards former enslaved people as Indigenous people).
This book outline the systematic tools white leaders have used to continually keep Black Americans down. How tactics shifted from outright racism to much more subtle approaches of racism. How immediately after freeing enslaved people, they were basically forced into labor and where their labor could be sold if they were caught being “vagrant”, the so-called Black-Code. I’d never heard of these.
The Black-Code morphed into Jim Crow, which stuck around for an absurdly long time. In fact, the book essentially argues we only had a few years without Jim Crow dominating and we’re back into a quasi-Jim Crow state with all the current “Voter Fraud” initiatives – which are really just carefully worded Racists preventing non-whites from voting.
The book is a history book, so it’s dry. That doesn’t mean it’s not an emotional book. There are points where your blood will boil. Where you will be infuriated that we, Americans, have treated through law a group of Americans this way.
I learned how much effort the NAACP put into getting education into southern states. They were the catalyst for Brown. I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about what they did. I vaguely had a negative impression of them when I was younger, because my parents would both get angry any time they were brought up. Like they were a bad group that were only trying to help bad people. Other than that I was pretty ignorant of what they did. Now, I can only look at how my parents reacted to the NAACP as two white people experiencing White Rage at what the NAACP was doing. That my parents and many other people in my home town, practice the subtler form of racism that is dangerous. It can turn into a darker type of racism, like Dylan Roof (which Anderson specifically mentions in her book).
This book is incredibly well researched. The paperback version, with an afterward reflecting on Trump’s election, is only 180 pages long with 83 pages of end notes. For some chapters there are well over a hundred end notes. I learned a lot from this book and honestly, it was an overwhelming amount of facts that spanned from the 1850s-2016. Overall, the book is one of amazing perseverance by the Black community. I’m in awe of what they’ve been able to do despite intentional roadblocks along the way. These roadblocks, it’s important to note, didn’t just hurt Black Americans, they hurt all Americans and are STILL hurting America today.
We could have many more Black scientists than we do, but because of policies enacted in the 50’s to STOP Brown v. Education, we destroyed educational opportunities for multiple generations of Black Americans and poor white people. White Americans should be embarrassed, but instead, many are pushing laws to continue disenfranchising and holding back Black America.