`You deserve freedom:' Carol Anderson receives Brandeis’ Gittler Prize

Carol Anderson, seated on the left, speaks into a micrphone while looking at Professor Chad Williams, also seated with a microphonePhoto/Ashley McCabe

Scholar and author Carol Anderson speaks with African American Studies department chair Chad Williams, in a discussion after she received the 2022 Gittler Prize

Carol Anderson, a leading scholar of African American studies and award-winning author, received the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize on Wednesday, Oct. 26 as part of a three-day on campus residency.

In introducing Anderson, Chad Williams, Samuel J. and Augusta Spector Professor of History and African and African American Studies, noted that Anderson’s work comes at a critical time when “American democracy is in crisis.”

In her award-winning books, Anderson tackles the history and impact of white supremacy, Black voter suppression, and unequal educational opportunities in communities of color, among other topics related to the Black struggle for civil rights in the U.S.

“With these remarkable books, Dr. Anderson is engaged in nothing less than the work of trying to save American democracy,” Williams said.

The Gittler Prize was created by the late Professor Joseph B. Gittler to recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations. The award includes a cash prize of $25,000 and a medal. Gittler Prize winners spend two to three days on campus meeting with students and faculty, and participating in other activities such as public talks, interviews and class discussions.

In her Gittler Prize lecture “White Rage: From Reconstruction to the January 6th Insurrection,” Anderson traced the connections from failing schools and unequal policing of Black communities to police killings of unarmed Black men, to efforts at disenfranchisement of Black voters, and ultimately to the January 6, 2020 armed assault on The Capitol.

Anderson, a professor of African American Studies at Emory University, defined white rage as “invisible violence. It works its way silently through the court system, through legislatures, through the mayor's office, through bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly and invisibly.” She authored the 2016 book on the concept, “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” which became a New York Times bestseller and was recognized with a National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

She said she first began developing the concept while watching television coverage of angry protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. On every cable channel she viewed—from MSNBC to Fox— she recalled “hearing the persistent narrative of the pathology of Black people.”

As Anderson reflected on Brown’s death, and the events that followed, it hit her: “I said, `this isn’t Black rage, this is white rage.’” She first wrote about the concept in a Washington Post opinion piece.

“What I came to understand in my research is the trigger for white rage is not the presence of Black folk. It’s Black people who have ambition, who have drive, who have ambitions, who refuse to be subjugated. Who demand their rights. It’s Black folks who have purpose. It’s Blackness that refuses to give up,” she said.

As part of receiving the Gittler Prize, Anderson came to campus for class visits and panel discussions, as well as the screening of “I, Too,” a documentary featuring her and her work.

After the lecture, an audience member asked Anderson why she keeps believing in democracy.

“One of the things about oppression is that it is designed to make you give up… it’s designed to make you collapse. When you look at history though, part of what you see is folks refuse to accept subjugation,” she said. “You deserve freedom. You deserve to live in your full humanity. And you never cede your power.”

Recent recipients of the prize, which was established in 2007, include Beverly Daniel Tatum, author and former Spelman College president; Columbia Law School professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, leading authority in the area of civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law; and University of Pennsylvania professor Howard C. Stevenson, a nationally recognized clinical psychologist and researcher of racial stress and trauma.

The Gittler Prize is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President and Office of the Provost.

Categories: General, Humanities and Social Sciences

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