Black lives and Black rage have always mattered, although Black rage is mostly episodic, following egregious affronts to the Black Community such as police repeatedly killing unarmed Black youth.
The 21st century began with the widespread, but absurd, claim America is a post-racial society. That coupled with the financial crisis, emergence of Tea Party conservatism, and huge demographic shifts tended to further obscure Blacks’ discontent and muted 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 intractable second-class status of Black people in this country. The seminal work, Black Rage (1968), co-authored by psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs, is an exhaustive analysis of a closet issue embedded in Blacks’ psychological DNA. The book explores the origins and ramifications of Black rage—issues that are at the heart of still unresolved psychological and social challenges.
Black Rage 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?”
Understanding the genesis and continuing reality of Black rage is crucial for developing sustainable alternatives to the intractable second-class status of Black people in this country.
“America began building a cause when Black men were first sold into bondage. It developed a way of life, an American ethos, a national lifestyle which included the assumption that Blacks are inferior. Hatred of Blacks has been so deeply bound up with being an American that it has been one of the first things new Americans learn and one of the last things old Americans forget. Such feelings have been elevated to a position of national character.
America is rich and powerful, in large measure, on the backs of Black laborers. 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 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 racist 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, desolate, as the authors describe the psychological consequences of white oppression of Blacks. The centuries of senseless cruelty and the permeation of the Black man’s character, with the conviction of his own hatefulness and inferiority tell a sorry tale.
This dismal tone attempts to evoke a certain quality of depression and hopefulness in the reader and to stir these feelings. These are the most common feelings tasted by Black people in America.
Black people have also shown 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 getting 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 fixtures of 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 a hundred 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, they will never swallow their rage and go back to blind hopelessness.
There are no more psychological tricks Blacks can play upon 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 muted, unresolved reality. Therefore, we must work to ensure the book’s disturbing, but redemptive, analysis is ultimately manifested in new mindsets and alternative strategies that secure a more safe and prosperous future for the Black community.