Killing Rage: Ending Racism {Book Review}

bell hooks killing race book review

Killing Rage: Ending Racism {Book Review}

“Many African Americans feel uncontrollable rage when we encounter white supremacist aggression.
That rage is not pathological.
It is an appropriate response to injustice.” 

This quote from bell hook’s insightful novel, Killing Rage: Ending Racism, illustrates that many African Americans have rage about race and racism. Hooks suggests that this rage is a result of the internalization of discrimination and class oppression. Hooks contends that there is a systematic effort, with the media fully engaged, to deny this discrimination and class oppression and to claim equality in everyone’s economic and cultural endeavors. The African American’s natural response to the pain and destructiveness of racism is rage. However, hooks strongly believes that this rage should be channeled to constructive ends in order to rid the country of racism.

Although the entire book grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, the opening chapter was the most powerful and influential chapter for me. Hooks shed light on the often ignored and rather confusing issue of black rage. Killing Rage was a direct result of hooks’ rage at several racist encounters in a single day. As she describes the situation and the immense amount of frustration boiling inside her, hooks mentions how she would like to inflict pain and even kill the cause of that rage – to show how racism hurts. After reading her angering accounts of one day of racism, it became clear that rage is a bonafide emotion in response to a very real and hurtful reality for many African Americans today.

“To perpetuate and maintain white supremacy, white folks have colonized black Americans, and a part of that colonizing process has been teaching us to repress our rage, to never make them the targets of any anger we feel about racism. Most black people internalize this message well.”

This is a powerful quote, which hooks uses to begin a discussion about why African Americans repress their rage. In her book, she explains that African Americans have become justifiably convinced that if they do not conform to white standards of acceptable behavior, then they will not survive. Their economic well being depends on their ability to conform to white standards and to turn the other cheek at racist episodes. This is a vicious cycle of colonization, oppression and exploitation at the hands of white supremacy. Racial hatred is real and damaging to the mental health of African Americans. African Americans are rendered powerless when they internalize victimization and surrender their rage. This is the exact position the dominant society wants them in. If African Americans believe that they are not as good or better than “white folks” are, then they will never strive to succeed.

As I read Killing Rage, I became disgusted at the African Americans who were exploiting and oppressing other African Americans. It is no secret that class and color lines divide many within their own race. But nonetheless, it sickened me to think that those African Americans who experience class privilege do not feel this same rage. Is this because they “made it”, they succeeded, that they should not bother getting involved in a war against racism?

Hooks openly opposes and expresses her distaste towards those African Americans who feel that they are above people in their own race just because they have class privilege. Any why not? How can anyone expect to fight racism and injustice if they cannot come together as a united force? It is impossible. African Americans must first unite and put class and color differences within their own communities aside. Only then, will their oppressors be forced to take notice. But until that occurs, white supremacy will remain intact.

In the chapter “Beyond Black Rage,” hooks raises another interesting point regarding black rage and class divisions. She points out that not all elite African Americans are immune to rage. Some of them do feel it but not over racial discrimination and oppression. The elite have a sense of entitlement and feel that they will be selected out and treated better. They are not concerned about racism. What these individuals rage against is being classified in the same group with the lower class African Americans. In the book, hooks points out that it more angers them when Americans make no distinction between the elite and the underclass.

Words cannot do justice to the range of emotions I felt after reading this chapter. Although there is a more prominent voice coming from privileged African Americans today, there are still too few voices speaking out loudly in the fight against racism and oppression. And yes, it still exists!

Hooks asserts that rage is a direct result of the internalization of racism, exploitation, and oppression. In her chapter “Teaching Resistance,” hooks discusses the downfall of the media in their portrayal of African Americans. Hooks asserts that “with the television on, whites were and are always with us, their voices, values, and beliefs echoing in our brains. It is this constant presence of the colonizing mindset passively consumed that undermines our capacity to resist white supremacy by cultivating oppositional worldviews.” She also asserts that “when Black psyches are daily bombarded by mass media representations that encourage us to see white people as more caring, intelligent, liberal etc., it makes sense that many of us begin to internalize racist thinking.”

I completely agree with hooks’ assertions. How can you not? I am not an expert in psychology, but I understand enough to know that humans unconsciously internalize many of the messages we receive about ourselves and our race, class, gender, and cultural affiliations. I do not believe that every African American who watches television sees a program which highlights white people as caring, intellectual, and responsible individuals will immediately internalize this to mean that all African Americans are the exact opposite. I agree with hooks that the more negative depictions of African Americans a person sees and hears, the more this stigma is reinforced, therefore causing a greater chance that he or she will begin to believe this about his or herself.

It is difficult to ignore overwhelming evidence that the black race is not looked at as equal to the white race. Personally I do not feel that the majority of African Americans consciously choose to act or feel inferior. Instead, I feel as though they choose to live with the stigma instead of pursuing the uphill battle of fighting against it. This is so common in today’s world. On issues related to race, gender, sexual-orientation, and age many individuals feel that there is no point in fighting against something that is not going to change. It is better to live with it, strike out against it so other people remember that you are not completely accepting it, and go on with life the best one can. I do not think that this is the most effective approach at fighting racism but for many African Americans it might be the only way to fight an institution they do not know how to confront.

As I read this novel I went back and forth trying to formulate a scholarly answer to the question of the function of rage. However, I believe that rage is currently not serving any function because the white power ignores it and forces African American to suppress it. However, rage could serve some very important functions if it is acknowledged. First and most importantly, rage lashes out against passive acceptance of victimization. The first step in fighting racism is to vocalize to the oppressor that you know racism is out there and that you will not let your life be ruled by it. You will no longer be the victim.

Rage also halts the cycle of exploitation. When rage is internalized and suppressed, white supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture will continue to exploit the black underclass and reap material rewards for their hard efforts. If African Americans lash out against this culture then the white powers will have to stand up and take notice.

Rage also heals. African Americans must work through the pain and humiliation racism leaves them with by feeling rage. Rage reminds them that they are deserving of equal treatment. They should not sit idle and let racism overcome them.

After reading hooks’ ideas about the function of rage I came to the conclusion that rage is probably not going to change much unless it evolves by epic proportions. The “white” powers that be will continue to suffocate and admonish rage. The media will continue to portray rage as an unnecessary response to an invisible problem. African Americans will continue to internalize rage causing little change in the world of racism. African Americans will still be divided amongst themselves. Class and color differences will dictate who makes it and who does not. Those who make it will not bother to fight racism because as they see it, they overcame it and why rock the boat? Until every African American can join together and fight racism as a unified front, social justice could be at a stand still. All the rage in the world will not do any good if it is not put into action. Rage is a necessary first step in the fight against racism but it must be acknowledged both by all African Americans and the white power before anything will change.

Bell hooks is an inspiring woman who offers a valid critique of a very real problem. Even today, after so much work has been put into ending racism, people continue to overlook racism, talk around racism, and hide from racism. Although many people claim to want to fight against it, very little is actually done, hence the continuing problem of racism. Hooks’ novel angered me, inspired me, and encouraged me to more aggressively join in the fight against racism.  Won’t you join me?

About bell hooks

Born in September 1952, Gloria Watkins, better known by her revolutionary nom de guerre, “bell hooks,” is a Distinguished Professor of English at City College in New York. Characterizing herself as an “insurgent Black intellectual voice” committed to “renewed liberation struggle,” hooks is a tenured member of the academic elite, with teaching credits that include Yale University, Oberlin College, and Southwestern University in Texas.

Professor hooks’ written work is virtually never about literature as such, but rather about the “patriarchy” and the race and class “hierarchies” that in her view dominate every aspect of the social order and its culture. Some of her numerous titles include Killing Rage: Ending Racism; Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representation; Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom; Art On My Mind: Visual Politics; We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity; and Reel to Real: Race, Sex and Class at the Movies.