Book Review: We Are Not Yet Equal, by Prof. Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden, NAACP Image Award finalist, Published September 11, 2018, 304 pages Recommended for Grades 9-12 or 12-18 years Please note: this book is not yet in the Pageturner library and will require student requests in order for purchases to be made.

“White rage is not only about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly...White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its ends far more effectively, far more destructively.”
--location 90

The first Black people were brought here into slavery in late August, 1619.  More than 15 million men, women, and children were victims of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade; 6 million died en route.  Their descendants are still being relentlessly victimized; this book details how, in the intervening century and decades after the Civil War, to 2018.  In 2024, we seem to be regressing even further from equal rights for all.

President Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863.  It was his express intention that Black people should be returned to Africa or deported; he was not quite the Great Emancipator we learned of in school.  Still, southern slaves didn’t learn of the Emancipation Proclamation until a full two years later. Lincoln’s successor and former vice president was Tennessee native Andrew Johnson, self-styled as “the new Moses of the colored people,” who was only able to buy several slaves after he’d been in Congress awhile to amass the money. What struck me most about this book is that the exact same oppressive strategies and denials extant in 1865 are still the ones in use today, even as we see House Speaker Mike Johnson--with the same surname--designating himself “the new Moses.”  In 1865, President Johnson dispatched Union general Carl Schurz to tour the South to see what was happening:

“As he went from county to county, state to state, Schurz conveyed the sickening, unbearable stench of decomposing black bodies hanging from limbs, rotting in ditches, and clogging the roadways. White Southerners had unleashed a reign of terror that had reached “staggering proportions,” wrote Annette Gordon-Reed in her biography of Andrew Johnson. Many urged the president to strengthen the federal presence in the South. “Not only did Andrew Johnson preside over the country where this slow-motion genocide was taking place,” wrote Gordon-Reed. “He strenuously resisted every effort to bring full protection to the people living under these conditions.” The president’s failure to take action encouraged white Southerners, who recognized that they now had a friend in the White House. Like a hydra, white supremacist regimes sprang out of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the other states of a newly resurgent South.”  That same year, Louisiana declared at its constitutional convention: “’We hold this to be a Government of white people, made and to be perpetuated for the exclusive benefit of the white race; and in accordance with the constant adjudication of the United States Supreme Court.’ The Louisiana delegates concluded “that people of African descent cannot be considered as citizens of the United States.”

When Congress passed the 13the, 14th, and 15th Amendments to legislate basic rights for Black people, the South quickly subverted them. Their strategy was to “stall and defy, then stall and undermine,” which they’ve just about perfected now. The White House and the courts, especially the Supreme Court, would follow in lockstep with the South through time, to ensure Black people could not escape the mire of oppression.
A slew of despicable Supreme Court decisions were issued in the late 1800s and through the 1900s, all designed to repress Black education, achievements, and human rights, especially in voting.  When the SCOTUS required “separate but equal” education, the focus, of course, was solely on separate, while the equal part was a sham. Students of color were relegated to tar paper shack schools, while white schools were built of stone. Schools received funding from local taxes; Black people had for decades been forced into environmental ghettos, such that a white school might have more than $1600 per pupil, while a black school had only $21.  Schools begun in Black churches were threatened, burned, or bombed.  In 2015, a white racist gunman knelt with Black parishioners to pray before murdering nine of them, including the pastor, in cold blood.

Most know how Nixon focused on crime with dog whistles to racist white America. “Crime and blackness soon became synonymous in a carefully constructed way.” I wonder how many know that when Congress in the 1980s staunched the illegal flow of funds to Reagan’s Contras in Nicaragua (he hoped to overthrow the Sandinista government), Oliver North stepped in to arrange the purchase of cocaine equal to 16.2 million rocks, sending it into California for the Crips and Bloods to sell, devastating entire neighborhoods across the country.  “In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. It called for mandatory sentencing. It emphasized punishment over treatment. It created the 100-to-1 difference in sentencing between possession of crack and possession of powder cocaine based on the myth that the cheap narcotic rock was more addictive than its powder form.” 

In this book, we learn, too, how white people have also suffered because of racism--the former slave states all rank in the lower 25% by every measure of life quality.  (Not mentioned, but covered in The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee: when The Civil Rights Act of 1965 required desegregation everywhere, public pools across the country were permanently closed to all.) Our entire nation is suffering a lack of education that’s bringing us down compared to other major nations; we’ve dropped from 40% of U.S. scientists being citizens to just 12%.  Ironically, avoiding STEM education among people of color has required the U.S. to import STEM experts--most of whom are people of color.  Their numbers are limited by the number of H1-B visas allowed by Congress per year.

“By 1990, blacks in the bottom 20 percent were poorer in relation to whites than at any time since the 1950s.” Slavery permitted as criminal punishment under the 13th A. ballooned under Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill.  Hilary Clinton also stumped for the Three Strikes Bill in California, which had been drafted by the private prison industry; white people knew who she was talking about in calling teens “super-predators.”  “At the end of 2023, the United States had the highest number of incarcerated individuals worldwide, with almost 1.8 million people in prison. It was followed by China with around one 100,000 fewer prisoners. Brazil followed in third.” See:

When Barack Obama rose to prominence, Trump claimed repeatedly that he hadn’t been born in the U.S.--MAGAs still believe that lie.  Just as he began to campaign for president, threats against Obama increased 400% and he required Secret Service protection. Trump’s party now makes endless threats against anyone not MAGA, through intimidation, gun violence, private militias like the Proud Boys, and swatting (calling police to claim falsely that violence is occurring at a private residence, hoping some innocent will be shot by police).  Black people have always been gunned down by police in highly disproportionate numbers, but now white supremacist fanatics have joined in to commit mass murders against Black and brown people, non-Christians, Asians, and most recently, Palestinians. Politics has been weaponized by MAGA; even the term has become trite.

This book details the Supreme Court decisions that helped white racism expand and grow, including the Roberts Court’s decisions decimating the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court is still denying Black people’s rights, often in the name of states’ rights or federalism, which began as an alleged impetus for the Civil War. “Chief Justice Roberts himself, in the Supreme Court's 2007 Parents Involved decision, stated: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." (How profoundly illogical, especially as applies to the reverse discrimination Bakke case of 1978, which is explored herein.) Justice Sotomayor, in the Court's 2014 Schuette decision, stated: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination." 
--Ronald Turner (no relation to this reviewer or to Pageturner), see:

Prof. Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler professor of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She researches public policy in relation to race, justice and equity. Ms. Tonya Bolden has written award winning children’s nonfiction including No Small Potatoes (illustrated by Don Tate; Knopf), Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man (Abrams) and Cause: Reconstruction America, 1863 – 1877 (Knopf).