A Rage To Kill (White Folks)
By David Horowitz
“I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.” When I read this sentence, I found myself looking around the room nervously. For these are not the opening words of a new novel by Brett Easton Ellis, but a non-fiction essay by bell hooks,¨an intellectual icon of the tenured left. Though only in her forties, hooks is a Distinguished Professor of English at the City College of New York, a former faculty member at Yale, hooks and a phenomenon of the politicized academy. An awkward writer of ideological formulas and agit-prop prose she has a wide-ranging influence in the politically correct university culture. The collection for which this piece called “A Killing Rage” is the title essay is one of a shelf of similar tracts that hooks has published, earning her a sobriquet from the New York Review of Books as “the most prominent exponent of black feminism” in America.
The occasion for professor hooks’ homicidal urge turns out, on inspection, to be nothing more than a lost seat on a commercial airlines flight. As hooks relates the episode, she had seated herself in the first class cabin alongside a female friend, who is also black and identified only as “K,” perhaps an intended allusion to Kafka, so cultivated is hooks’ sense of victimization. No sooner are the two women settled in their first class seats, however, then the voice of the plane’s speaker system calls K to the front of the cabin where her ticket is inspected. The stewardess informs K that she does not have a claim to the seat because her upgrade has not been properly completed. It is too late, moreover, to correct the fault.
The stewardess also introduces K to the anonymous white male who is the putative target of hooks’ murderous intent, and who is holding the appropriately designated ticket. The man tells K that he is sorry to see her inconvenienced and sits down. Resigning herself to the inevitable, K gathers her belongings and relocates herself in coach.
No such passivity governs the reaction of bell hooks. She is unwilling to give up her own first class accommodation to join her friend, but is ready instead to launch her attack: “I stare him down with rage, tell him that I do not want to hear his liberal apologies, his repeated insistence that ‘it was not his fault.’ I am shouting at him that it is not a question of blame, that the mistake was understandable, but that the way K was treated was completely unacceptable, that it reflected both racism and sexism.” Her target, however, is no liberal wimp and lets her know “in no uncertain terms” that in his view the apology was sufficient. The professor “should leave him be to sit back and enjoy his flight.”
Madame Defarge is not be appeased. “In no uncertain terms I let him know that he had an opportunity to not be complicit with the racism and sexism that is so all-pervasive in this society (that he knew no white man would have been called on the loud-speaker to come to the front of the plane while another white male took his seat ...’ Say what? “Yelling at him I said, ‘It was not a question of your giving up the seat, it was an occasion for you to intervene in the harassment of a black woman ...’”
Her invective temporarily exhausted, hooks takes out a pad and starts to pen the notes from which she will later compose her account. “I felt a ‘killing rage,’” she remembers. “I wanted to stab him softly, to shoot him with the gun I wished I had in my purse. And as I watched his pain, I would say to him tenderly ‘racism hurts.’”
While hooks is thinking these sensitive thoughts, her intended victim becomes aware of the hostility that is bristling towards him. “The white man seated next to me watched suspiciously whenever I reached for my purse. As though I were the black nightmare that haunted his dreams, he seemed to be waiting for me to strike, to be the fulfillment of his racist imagination. I leaned towards him with my legal pad and made sure he saw the title written in bold print: ‘Killing Rage.’”
Two pages after recounting this bizarre episode, which is by now, undoubtedly, an assigned course text about racial oppression, hooks makes the following myopic comment: “Lecturing on race and racism all around this country, I am always amazed when I hear white folks speak about their fear of black people....” Apparently hooks is unable to connect the aggression she projects to the reaction it provokes.
I searched through hooks’ text to find a more substantial source for her “killing rage,” one less…well…trivial. But I was destined to be disappointed. There was no litany of personal abuse or racial assault that might justify her murderous passion.
Still a relatively young woman of limited intelligence and modest talent,
hooks has already achieved the kind of academic eminence once reserved for
intellects of extraordinary reach. It is a position that any of her peers,
white or black, would surely envy. Her perks include an adoring following, a
six-figure income and a global itinerary. Her lectures on “white supremacy” and
related battle themes take her across
All this success and the accompanying accolades conferred on so young (and pedestrian) a mind, however, inspires only further resentment. “My rage intensifies,” she writes, ‘because I am not a victim.” Her is a typical radical contradiction. She enjoys the material privileges of the comfortable but wants the moral rewards of those who lack them; she wants wear to the mantle of the scholar, while posturing as a warrior for the cause.
Of course if hooks were not both radical and black, her confession of homicidal malice might provoke public alarm. Race crimes contemplated by whites are a serious matter. But a black killing rage against whites can easily be excused. It is, after all, a comprehensible response to historic grievance or -- as many blacks actually do seem to regard it -- morally justified “pay back.” It can also be seen (by progressives like hooks) as a necessary path to “liberation.” The development of a proper killing rage may even be inevitable for the oppressed who otherwise would submit supinely to their fate. Thus, the repression of black killing rage as hooks informs us, is the agenda of white supremacists.
“To perpetuate and maintain white supremacy,” hooks writes, “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.” Students in hooks’ classroom who resist such claims and
believe that civilized order requires everyone, regardless of race, to restrain
such instincts, are directed to helpful texts: “When such conflicts arise, it
is always useful to send students to read Yours
In Struggle ...” professor hooks advises. While recommending this activist
manual to her students, she nonetheless quibbles over the term “struggle,”
which seems too temperate for her tastes. What is really happening in
These thoughts provide a transition
to the second essay in hooks’ text, which is a companion meditation about an
oppressed black man who did not surrender his rage. Colin Ferguson was actually
born into a prosperous Jamaican family and was a sometime college student
(perhaps even one of professor hooks’ fans) before he went on an armed rampage
Of course the black leaders on
In real life, this task was left to
William Kunstler, the leftist lawyer, who offered to mount a “black rage
theory” defense of Colin Ferguson. According to Kunstler, white society
normally drives black people into homicidal rages for which they cannot be held
At the time, most blacks harboring
such feelings kept them to themselves. But some did not. During a rally held at
Studies conducted at Farrakhan’s Million Man March revealed that 40% of the participants had a college education and incomes exceeding $50,000. More than 70% had incomes of more than $25,000. Farrakhan is now the most popular black leader among blacks, and he and his former henchman Muhammad are easily the most coveted and well-paid speakers before black student associations across the country. Indeed, inviting black racists to college campuses to bait whites has become a rite of African-American authenticity for well-funded black student associations at American universities. This contrasts with the historical experience of all other ethnic groups, where racist attitudes diminish with education and income.
A parallel phenomenon is the tolerance of social elites of all colors for
racist outrage when it is committed by blacks. In the wake of the Million Man
March, blacks burned a white man alive in a
Actually both anomalies -- the
epidemic of black middle-class rage against whites and the absence of outrage
at racism by blacks – are connected by the ideological perception that racism
is a systemic problem, rather than the result of individual acts. It is
generally acknowledged (by all sides) that white racists in
The phrase “institutional racism” originated in the Kerner Commission Report on the inner city riots that erupted following the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 ending legal segregation in the South. It was an attempt to explain -- and to justify -- the paradox of a “rebellions” against a body politic that had just achieved equality before the law for all Americans. (The possibility that these riots might just be criminal eruptions was not a practical option.) The Commission’s reaction to the Sixties riots served to define the “second civil rights era,” whose most distinguishing fact was the squandering of the moral legacy of the first, and the restructuring of the civil rights agenda as a radical cause. Its pivotal legislation was the system of racial preferences called “affirmative action.”
While intellectually more respectable than Farrakhan’s crackpot religious claims, the theory of institutional racism inspires no less sweeping indictments of the culpability of whites. Developed into a full-blown ideology by the “multicultural” academy, institutional race theory regards any statistical disparity of black representation anywhere in the culture as proof of white malevolence and the necessity of racial preference remedies. The unspoken assumption of every such policy is that institutions where whites predominate must be forced to be fair to black applicants, even where there is no actual evidence (nor any ground for believing) that this is the case. But does even the most fanatical advocate of affirmative action quotas believe that Harvard, Yale and other institutions of the liberal elite contrive to bar qualified African American students from entry, and would continue to do so in the absence of these affirmative action laws? Then why are such laws necessary? Because, their proponents argue, the influence of “institutional racism” is so subtle that Harvard and Yale would nonetheless exclude qualified African Americans without the coercive intervention of the state.
It is precisely because the theory
of “institutional racism” and the affirmative action policies it has spawned
are a radical rejection of the American system -- of individual rights, equal
opportunity and equality before the law -- that the most dramatic anomaly of
the second civil rights era has been produced. Whereas the civil rights
movement under Martin Luther King’s leadership achieved its aims with the
support of 90% majorities in both houses of Congress, a majority of Americans –
roughly 70% -- oppose the current civil rights agenda that embraces racial
preferences. This opposition reflects the inability of most Americans to
understand or respect the persistence of “black rage” in the face of the
enormous social, cultural and economic gains made by African Americans, and
their own sense that they accept African Americans as fellow citizens and full
It is this reality that has spawned the peculiar angst of bell hooks. “Why,” writes hooks, “is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?” In other words, for radical ideologues like hooks, actual racism is not the issue. The issue is their Marxist fantasy of domination and subjugation. In conceding that individual racists are not the problem, hooks is neither original nor alone. She is simply a camp follower of the political left. In an issue of The New Yorker devoted to race relations, for example, Angela Davis laments the passing of the Sixties when “there was a great deal of discussion about ... the importance of understanding the structural components of racism. There was an understanding that we couldn’t assume that racism was just about prejudice -- which, unfortunately, is what not only conservatives but liberals are arguing today.”
For the radicals, racism is not about prejudice but about imaginary structures of domination, which are evidenced in any disparities in the status of blacks and whites, that appear to them to be detrimental to blacks. Just as Marxists are convinced that there is class “oppression” when everyone is not economically equal, so race radicals claim that racial oppression exists when any disparity appears between racial groups. As long, that is, as the disparity works against the “oppressed.” No one, for example, argues that the diminishing presence of whites in major athletics is the result of a racial conspiracy by blacks or that it requires a government remedy.
The racialist view of American
social institutions propounded by hooks,
The theme of institutional racism
was also the text of Jesse Jackson’s semi-literate rant at the Million Man
March: “We’ve come here today because there is a structural malfunction in
The utility of “structural” racism
for demagogues like
In this, as in other aspects of contemporary racial cant, bell hooks is an unfailing guide. Like Farrakhan, she prefers the term “white supremacy” to “racist” when describing enemies of the people -- because the latter term suggests a search for individual culprits, while sophisticates know that it is the System that is at fault. Professor hooks, in fact, tells us that her own moment of truth came when she encountered white women in the feminist movement who sought the comradeship of blacks but who “wished to exercise control over our bodies and thoughts as their racist ancestors had.” Whatever specifics lie behind this paranoid image (hooks fails to provide details), the emotional bottom-line is clear: Insofar as hooks feels less powerful in any relationship she has with whites, for whatever reasons, she will regard herself as a victim of racism. Thanks to the widespread acceptance of the politics of victimhood, there are many successful blacks who see racists under the bed on similar impulses, and for similar reasons respond positively to demagogues like Farrakhan.
The concept of institutional racism not only insulates blacks from the charge of racism, but actually exculpates them in advance for any racial crime they might commit. Thus hooks, in a kind of pre-emptive jury nullification, finds herself innocent of the airplane murder she wanted to commit: “Had I killed the white man whose behavior evoked that rage, I feel that it would not have been caused by ... the madness engendered by a pathological context.” In other words, even if she had done it, she didn’t do it. In fact, white people did it.
When blacks commit crimes, the truly guilty party is the white devil who made them do it. Even when hooks does not fully identify with an odious act committed by an African American, she still finds a way to extenuate it. Thus, she disavows Farrakhan and his anti-Semitic screeds, but nonetheless asks:
From whom do young black folks get
the notion that Jews control
In other words, if blacks are
anti-Semitic, it is the white devil who taught them to be so. Of course, hooks’
reasoning is so circular, she could just as well praise the “white-dominated
media” for imposing the leftist view on the public that
WHITES EARN MORE AT ALL LEVELS,
CHALLENGING BELIEF THAT EDUCATION
IS THE KEY TO PARITY DATA SHOWS
Whether they have dropped out of high school
or invested years in a graduate degree, whether they have struggled to master
English or not,
This Times report was probably more powerful in persuading middle-class blacks who read it that the system is stacked against them than all the speeches of Louis Farrakhan. But the Times’ study, which was conducted from census figures by the Times’ own analysts, showed nothing of the kind. The term “Anglo,” its euphemism for “whites,” included minorities -- Jews, Armenians, Arabs -- who are victims of ongoing prejudice and hate crimes and yet (for reasons unexplained in the study) are successful and thus provide the Times’ yardsticks of “privilege.” The category “Hispanic” – though ideologically useful -- is sociologically spurious, since it includes South American Indians, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians, low-earning Puerto Ricans and high-earning Cubans.
The Times analysts made no allowance for the kind of educational degrees, graduate or otherwise, that its target groups possessed. It is well known that more blacks and Hispanics seek college degrees in low-paying fields like education rather than in higher-paying professions like physics or engineering. The Times analysts also failed to take into account age or on-the-job experience, obviously critical to earning potential. Yet the editors of the Times chose to print essentially meaningless but racially inflammatory statistics and to weave them into an analysis that corroborated the existence of “institutional racism.”+
The theory of institutional racism,
devised by radical academics and promoted by an irresponsible media, has also
led to a religious expression of racial rage called “black liberation
theology.” Its chief text, written by the Reverend James Cone, is published by
the Maryknoll press, an imprint of liberation theologians, who found Christ in
the Eighties among the Sandinista dictators and
This country was founded for whites and everything that has happened in it has emerged from the white perspective ... What we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.
This kind of Afro-nazism would seem hard to swallow even for a bell hooks. But she manages with little difficulty: “Cone wanted to critically awaken and educate readers so that they would not only break through denial and acknowledge the evils of white supremacy, the grave injustices of racist domination, but be so moved that they would righteously and militantly engage in anti-racist struggle.” Or simply take out their aggressions on the nearest white available.
According to hooks, of course, such aggression doesn’t happen. “It is a mark of the way black Americans cope with white supremacy that there are few reported incidents of black rage against racism leading us to target white folks ... [Whites] claim to fear that black people will hurt them even though there is no evidence which suggests that black people routinely hurt white people in this or any other culture.” Actually, there is. In 1993, for example, Justice Department statistics show there were 1.54 million violent crimes committed by blacks against whites. By contrast, there were only 187,000 violent crimes committed by whites against blacks. Taking population into account, a white was fifty times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime committed by a black than vice versa. (The fact that there are many more white targets of opportunity, in the population, may account for some of the disparity.) The crime of rape -- an act of anger and aggression -- stands by itself as a statistic. In 1994, there were 20,000 rapes of white women by black men, but only 100 rapes of black women by white men.
Of course, radical professors have an institutional explanation even for this extreme statistic. In Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile and Unequal, a book that has already become a classic of anti-white scholarship, Andrew Hacker attempts to explain the fact that while blacks constitute only 12% of the population, they commit 43% of the rapes, including rapes of white women even though, as he observes, the risk to the black perpetrators is greater:
once claimed that violating white women has political intentions ... Each such
act brings further demoralization of the dominant race, exposing its inability
to protect its own women from the worst kind of depradation. Certainly, the
conditions black men face in the
For this white apologist for black rage, as for the Sixties radical, the act of rape is not a vicious act against a defenseless individual but an understandable attempt to strike at the real culprit: the white supremacist system.
In the last analysis, all this
sophistry is of a piece with the Kerner Commission’s original decision to use
the concept of “institutional racism” to justify a criminal riot. It should
come as no surprise that leftists would applaud the 1992 race riot in
Racism, as bell hooks thoughtfully informs us, hurts. But racists also often hurt themselves. Indeed, in hooks’ own case, a self-inflicted wound is revealed to be the trigger of her “killing rage.”
The incident on the plane flight that inspired these meditations began, in fact, with a series of familiar urban frustrations, which the professor’s politically sensitive antennae quickly converted into a racial casus belli:
From the moment
K and I had hailed a cab on the
There is hardly a white New Yorker, however, who has not had the same experience.
Hooks and her companion face “similar hostility” when they stand in the “first-class line” at the airport:
Ready with our coupon upgrades, we were greeted by two young white airline employees who continued their personal conversation and acted as though it were a great interruption to serve us.
She interrupts the employees’ conversation and is rebuffed by one of them, who reacts with something like the following response: “Excuse me, but I wasn’t talking to you.” Professor hooks’ aggressive response then shifts into radical gear and becomes an actual racial confrontation:
When I suggested to K that I never see white males receiving such treatment in the first-class line, the white female insisted that ‘race’ had nothing to do with it, that she was just trying to serve us as quickly as possible.
Even the effort to smooth over the situation is taken racially by hooks. She looks over her shoulder and sees that a line of “white men” has formed in back of them, and concludes that now her tormentors “were indeed eager to complete our transaction even if it meant showing no courtesy.” To spite them all, hooks makes everyone wait anyway, summoning a supervisor to whom she complains about the racism of the airline employees. The supervisor listens and apologizes, while the tickets are processed by the “white female.” When the transaction is complete, hooks glances cursorily at the tickets she has been given. She raises her eyes just in time, however, to catch the hostility of the employee she has humiliated. “She looked at me with a gleam of hatred in her eye that startled, it was so intense.”
Somewhere in these emotional minefields, hooks’ friend, fails to get her ticket properly marked for upgrade, and both of them then fail to catch the error. It is this confluence of mistakes (wholly understandable in light of the ruckus hooks needlessly creates) that later causes K to be “ejected” from her first seat. Her upgrade has been given to the white male, who probably waited patiently in the same line behind them and had his ticket processed correctly.
The entire incident and commentary on it reveal bell hooks to be a woman driven by racial resentments she hasn’t begun to come to terms with, and over her head on a university faculty. But she is also typical of the tenured left that has come into its own in the last decade in the American academy, a perfect expression of the misery the “multicultural” university has inflicted on itself and on the nation as a whole. In the real world, the term “institutional racism” is properly applied only to race-specific policies such as affirmative action itself. Its current vogue is an expression of racial paranoia, and little else. It is true that even paranoids have enemies. But it is also true that by projecting their fear and aggression onto those around them, paranoids create enemies too.
¨ The lower case affectation is hers.
Ä Among the self-styled critical race theorists (and “critical race feminists”) are Derrick Bell, Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Williams, Regina Austin and Anita Hill.
* Of course this is maliciously faulty history. It was the slaveholders at the constitutional convention whose representatives wanted to count each slave as a full human being so as to maximize the slave states’ voting power. It was the anti-slavery faction that did not want the votes of slaves to be equated with free votes. Eventually a compromise was reached to count a slave’s vote as three-fifths that of a free person’s, whether white or black (there were more than 3,000 black freemen who owned slaves in the United States). Nowhere in the Constitution are the words “black” or “white” to be found, and nowhere is race specified or mentioned.
+ The article appeared on January 10, 1993. After reading it, I called the reporters responsible. They sheepishly admitted that they did not have the data to make the claims they had, but defended the decision to print the story anyway.