White Rage Paper by Elizabeth Landín

Ever since the first day the African slaves arrived on the American soil, racism and racial bias has existed in our country. The problem here is not that the American system is broken, but that the American system was built this way; filled with white supremacy, racism, and bias. In this essay, I will argue why the American system is moral horror and how we can start a change.

To explain why the American system is as corrupted as it is, we first must learn how the American system was constructed. For clarification, our starting point will be after the Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865), since this was the biggest missed opportunity of the United States to redeem itself. One would think that after a war over slavery and freedom, the Americans would begin to look for a way of achieving some sense of equality or tolerance.

Nonetheless, after the war, the white Americans needed more than ever to “[get] things back as near to slavery as possible”.[1] In 1865, Mississippi demonstrated how determined the white people were to make this need a reality. With the Black Codes, any chance of getting civil rights, economic stability, a clarification of identity, or a peak of freedom was now taken away from the African Americans.[2] One of the requirements for these codes was signing an annual contract with a plantation, mill, or mine owner. After signing the mentioned contract, African Americans were enclosed to never being able to seek a better wage or working condition. If a black were to leave his working place, he or she would be sent to jail and auctioned off.[3] Being self-sufficient was not an option either, since they were forced to sign a contract in the first place. Finally, the Black Codes included a penalty for any type of defiance or insult, which in case of happening, made the worker receive whippings as punishment.[4] Mississippi was an inspiration for other states to copy this different sense of slavery. The whites did not consider this as something wrong, they saw it as how things should have been since the beginning. This introduces us to how the system was intentionally built this way, in a racially biased and racist way.

Of course, the Southern states had to justify their actions in some form. They would argue that the Black codes were not trying to reinvigorate slavery, but that they were constructed to bring order to the chaos of freeing too many slaves at once.[5] From the Southern perspective, with the use of these codes, the blacks would have something to do instead of falling into malicious activities, which would cause them to be a “burden to society”.[6] However, the issue was not that the blacks did not know what to do with their freedom; the problem was that the blacks did not have any freedom at all. How could an African American rise in society when they have neglected the opportunity to own land, seek food by hunting or fishing, to work independently, or to the blacksmith?[7] With all these legal barriers, the blacks were once again, legally, slaves.

The white Americans, however, were not content with making African Americans legal slaves; they also did not want to labor at all. Why would they want to work when the slaves had been doing it, for now, four generations?[8] Even with this lack of will to work, president Andrew Johnson was determined to ensure that every plantation owner and the poor whites received titles to millions of acres of land land in which none of them put major labor effort into. On the other hand, those who had worked in these acres of land were treated as criminals in need of serious regulation.[9] Knowing this, one may ask, why did the African Americans not go to court? Well, as I have mentioned before, the judicial system was constructed in a broken, racially biased way.

The judicial courts, especially the Southern courts, were “designed to provide legal cover for terror.”[10] The judges would heavily penalize an insult from a black person, however, with the continuous violent crimes from the whites against the blacks, including offenses such as murder, dismemberment of bodies, threat, and rape, the judges would look the other way. The blacks could not testify any of these horrors since the State court forbid it, leaving any crime against the African Americans impossible to prove.[11] The authors of the Black Codes also helped with the creation of the South’s criminal justice system. They ensured that every black “criminal” would be exploited in the fields, by charging them with death sentences and vagrancy.[12] Now, if a worker were to die or escape from the plantations, they would be quickly replaced by those locked in prison. There was no escape from being a slave, and of course, there was no justice at all.

Moving towards education, the same issue was happening. Jim Crow’s only mission in life seemed to be the domination of black people. In 1896, the Jim Crow laws were passed in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision that made everyone “separate but equal” by implementing racial segregation in America.[13] This was a major step backward in our nation. Every state seized the opportunity to exploit the definition of “separate” by distinguishing the use of nearly every facility by race. Equality was never the intention of the Crow laws; the intention was to “protect and maintain white supremacy throughout eternity.”[14] Once again, the system had been constructed to make ensure the safety of white people, denying any sense of security to the other races.

However, during this era, a spark of progression occurred. After almost 60 years of segregation in all types of services such as healthcare, education, transportation, and political rights, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court dictated in Brown v. Board of Education that the Jim Crow laws violated the Fourteenth Amendment, making these laws unconstitutional.[15] This was a major victory for the African Americans following the Emancipation Proclamation done in 1863.[16] The hope of true citizenship for African Americans was now more alive than ever. Nonetheless, there was much resistance against this progression. Horrors such as mutilated bodies, protests against education for the blacks, and literature and art that praised white supremacy began to form.[17] It almost seemed as if the Southern states were against any form of advancement, or in a clearer way, any form of black advancement.

Now the question was if segregated education is unconstitutional, how could segregation all itself be considered constitutional? This is where the Civil Rights Movement takes place. This movement was deeply important and powerful. It cost the lives of many African Americans and white supporters. It also led to famous events such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream”.[18] The Civil Rights Act was passed in Mississippi in 1964, prohibiting any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Not only did the Civil Rights Movement create this act, but the Civil Rights Act led to another act; the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With both of these acts, “almost every legislative roadblock to equality of opportunity for education, jobs, and voting had been removed”.[19] After over 300 years of fighting for social equality, the African Americans were beginning to see a new future.

Carol Anderson does an excellent job of using the sources from our past and connecting them all to explain our current situation. It is now the year 2020, nearly 401 years after that ship with slaves arrived in Jamestown, and the United States is still struggling with achieving equality for all. Of course, as this text has conveyed, there have been some black advancements within their oppression. However, White Rage demonstrates how the system was built to favor white Americans. Not only did the system have a bias; it was focused on keeping African Americans as inferior. After reading these horrific events and slow progressions, one asks, how can the United States make this stop? What should one do to build, once again, this nation? To answer these complex questions, let us have insight into the chapter “Imagine” from White Rage.

Earlier before, I mentioned that the Civil War was the biggest missed opportunity of the young nation to redeem itself. Throughout history, there have been many other missed opportunities as well. Nonetheless, there is no longer a need to miss another opportunity for equality and justice for all.[20] The United States now has a choice that must be used to “defuse the power of white rage”.[21] To achieve a better future, one must offer equal job opportunities to all and let the people choose how they will seize them. To see a brighter tomorrow, the United States must invest equally in all children, giving them the valuable education that they will use to nurture themselves and prepare their minds to lead the generations ahead.[22] To ensure a just future, one must rebuild the justice system to one that suits people of all nations, colors, races, sexes, and ages. A system that was intentionally built to cover the needs of all, by giving a just result, no matter the case presented.[23] To have a future filled with democracy, one must take citizen participation seriously, and let everybody express their voice through equal voting opportunities. To achieve all of this, one must rebuild America.

We can start a change by learning our history. We can start a change by observing our surroundings and identifying what is considered regression and what is progression. We can start to rebuild our nation by rebuilding ourselves, our racial viewpoints, and our biases. We must stop imagining a better future and work harder to achieve it. The system was built in a corrupt way; yes. However, there is no reason to comply with this. It is not too late to redeem ourselves.

Elizabeth Landín

Trevecca Nazarene University


[1] Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 19. [2] Anderson, White Rage, 19. [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. [5] Ibid., 20. [6] Anderson, White Rage, 21. [7] Ibid. [8] Anderson, White Rage, 27. [9] Ibid. [10] Ibid. [11] Ibid. [12] Anderson, White Rage, 28. [13] Anderson, White Rage, 67. [14] Ibid., 73. [15] Ibid., 74. [16] Ibid., 75. [17] Ibid., 98. [18] Ibid. [19] Ibid., 99. [20] Ibid., 161. [21] Ibid. [22] Ibid., 162. [23] Ibid.

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