For the most part, Black rage exists submerged, but for poor Blacks, rage is barely below the surface, ready to explode with minimal provocation. Blacks, in varying degrees, tend to submerge feelings of rage, but even the more passive explode occasionally. Research about Black rage focuses largely on individuals, but the potential for overt group rage is just as important.
The 21st century began with a widespread, but absurd claim that America is a post-racial society. That mindset, the financial crisis, emergence of Tea Party conservatism, huge demographic shifts, all tend to obscure any serious consideration of Blacks’ discontent, or subdued rage. After all, don’t we have a Black president? Understanding the genesis and continuing reality of Black rage is crucial for developing sustainable alternatives to the second-class status of Black people in this country.
Today’s column revisits Black Rage (1968), co-authored by psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs. It is an unsettling, exhaustive analysis of a closet issue embedded in Blacks’ psychological DNA. The book explores the origins and ramifications of Black rage that still beg illumination and are at the heart of unresolved psychological and social challenges.
The book begins, “What the hell do niggers want anyway? Every other ethnic group has made it up the ladder on its own. Why don’t Blacks do likewise?” America began building a case when Black men were first sold into bondage. It developed a way of life, an American ethos, and a national lifestyle which included the assumption that Blacks are inferior. Further, hatred of Blacks has been deeply tied to being an American.
“America is rich and powerful, in large measure, on the backs of Blacks. It has become a violent, pitiless nation, hard and calculating. With the passing of the need for Black laborers, Black people have become useless. They are a drag on the market. There are not enough menial jobs. The facts, however, are simple. Since the demise of slavery, Black people have been expendable in a cruel and impatient land.
The most idealistic social reformer of our time, Martin Luther King, Jr., was not slain by one man. His murderer grew out of that large body of violent bigotry America has always nurtured. To the extent that he stood in the way of bigotry, his life was in jeopardy, his saintly persuasion notwithstanding.
Black men have been so hurt in their manhood that they are now unsure and uneasy as they attempt to teach their sons to be men. They have stood so long in such peculiar jeopardy in America that a “Black norm” has developed a suspiciousness of one’s environment that is necessary for survival.
And Black professionals do not escape racial oppression. If these educated recipients of the white man’s bounty find it hard to control their rage, what of their less fortunate kinsmen who have less to protect, less to lose and more scars to show for their journey in this land? The tone (of the book) is mournful, painful and desolate as the psychological consequences of white oppression of Blacks are described. Centuries of senseless cruelty and the permeation of the Black man’s character with the conviction of his own hatefulness and inferiority is psychologically crippling and the book attempts to evoke a certain quality of depression and hopelessness in the reader and to stir these feelings. These are the most common feelings tasted by Black people in America.
But Black people have also had to develop a genius for surviving under the most deadly circumstances. They have survived because of their close attention to reality. A Black dreamer would have had a short life in Mississippi. And the preoccupation with religion has been a willing adoption of fantasy to prod an otherwise reluctant mind to face another day. The psychological devices used to survive are reminiscent of the years of slavery and this is no coincidence. Psychologically, Black men face substantially the same danger now as then.
We should ask what is likely to galvanize the masses into an effective response to psychological oppression. It could happen in any number of ways, but will it be by Blacks finally, and in an unpredictable way, simply fed up with the racism of this country? It will be fired not so much by any one incident as by the gradual accretion of stupidity into national policy.
One might consider the possibility that if the national direction remains unchanged, a requisite conflagration simply might not come about. Might not Black people remain where they are as they did for hundreds of years during slavery?
Such seems truly inconceivable, not because Blacks are so naturally warlike or rebellious, but because they are filled with such grief, such sorrow, such bitterness and such hatred. No matter what repressive measures are invoked against Blacks, ultimately they will never swallow their rage and go back to blind hopelessness. There are no more psychological tricks Blacks can play on themselves to make it possible to exist in dreadful circumstances. No more lies can they tell themselves. No more dreams to fix on. No more opiates to dull the pain. No more patience. No more thought. No more reason.”
Black rage remains a submerged reality. Therefore, concerned folks must work together so that the book’s disturbing, but redemptive, analysis is manifested in new mindsets and strategies that ensure, for us, a more secure and prosperous future.