Emory historian pens an op ed in the WaPo that goes viral and a book is born

Historians in the News
tags: racism



When Emory historian Carol Anderson wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post on protests and lootings in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, she knew there would be a reaction.

In her op-ed she called Ferguson “the latest outbreak of white rage,” the result of white backlash against African American advancement.   

“When you say things of consequence, there are consequences,” says Anderson, who is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and chair of African American Studies. What she did not anticipate was the op-ed going viral with more than 5,000 online comments on the Post’s website, becoming one of the most-read articles of the year.

The op-ed resulted in a literary agent seeking her out and publisher Bloomsbury offering a book contract. Anderson put her research and writing into high gear to get the manuscript into print — and into the national conversation — quickly.

“This is a book that could not have happened without Emory University’s incredible intellectual strengths, from students, to faculty, to resources,” says Anderson. She cites support from Emory College Dean Robin Forman, faculty colleagues who read and commented on drafts, Emory students who served as research assistants, and Woodruff Library, which had “every book I needed; every database was there.”

Below, Anderson talks about the ideas behind “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.”

What was your motivation in writing the original Washington Post op-ed on which the book was based?

As a historian I understand the power of narratives and how they define and frame reality. In 2014, as I watched the news about Ferguson burning, reporters talked about black rage: Black people burning up where they lived and did they have a right to do so. Because I had lived in Missouri for 13 years or so, I knew that framing was incorrect. We were so busy looking at the flames that we missed the kindling.

We missed the public policies that have created an environment where the police are using African Americans as a revenue-generating source, where the school systems for over a decade have been on accreditation probation, and the policymakers seem alright with that. What does that mean in this society, in this democracy? I wanted to help reframe that narrative so we can begin to have a real conversation about the way the policy works and doesn’t work and the implications for American democracy. ...




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