In the midst of unrest following the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, Carol Anderson wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post that went viral. As the world focused on the protests and riots in Ferguson, Mo., she drew attention to key advancements in African American history, each of which was stunted or derailed, if not by physical violence, then by courts and governments around the country.

Ms. Anderson’s latest book, White Rage, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, builds on that theme, presenting a brief but incisive look at the ordeal of achieving civil rights in the United States. “The trigger for white rage is, inevitably, black advancement,” writes Ms. Anderson, professor and chairman of African American studies at Emory University. The book chronicles major turning points since the Civil War, including the Reconstruction, the Great Migration, Brown vs. Board of Education, the war on drugs and the backlash following the election of the country’s first black president in 2008.

“I wanted us to be able to have the conversation, and to see the way that racism affects not only African Americans greatly, but in fact affects the United States of America,” Ms. Anderson said in a recent interview. “It is so corrosive, it is so toxic that it destabilizes our democracy.”

The outrage among many white politicians and voters that followed Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 and persisted throughout his two terms — perhaps most dramatically in the government shutdown in 2013 — was part of a pattern of achievements and backlash going back to the Civil War, Ms. Anderson writes.

After the Emancipation Proclamation formally ended the practice of slavery, state governments throughout the south — with the help of President Andrew Johnson — all but re-established slavery through discriminatory policies that devastated black ambition and dismantled the newly ratified 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.

Perversely, when African Americans began leaving the South in search of economic opportunity and greater safety in the North, white southerners sought every avenue to stop them, even appealing to the federal government for help.

Almost 10 per cent of the southern black population moved north in the Great Migration, threatening to undo the socioeconomic fabric of the region. But life above the Mason-Dixon line wasn’t always much better, with equally horrifying episodes of violence, and housing policies that forced African Americans into congested ghettos and limited their upward mobility. Efforts to defy those barriers often ended tragically.

Backlash to progress in the 1950s left countless black (and poor white) citizens without access to quality education after state governors and members of congress banded together to undermine the decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, which had found that that state laws establishing separate schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.

Ms. Anderson noted efforts to ramp up scientific progress after the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957 — a time when equal education in the U.S. would seem to have had clear implications for national security. “Then I started researching it,” she said. “Even in the face of fear that the Soviets could get their nuclear warheads all the way over to the United States and blow us out of the water, still it was like we refused to educate black people. That is some serious, deep stuff.”

The civil rights movement beginning in the 1950s helped do away with the “socially acceptable” racism of previous generations, she writes. But it also generated a new wave of regressive policies and strategies to obstruct African American progress. President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” for example, used coded language such as “welfare” and “bleeding heart liberalism” to associate African Americans with the Democratic party and appeal to white voters who feared their advancement.

Throughout the period that she explores, media played a role in informing people about civil rights issues and conflicts. But perhaps more often than not, it also fueled race-driven narratives that undermined black progress.

“The way that the violence against black people was covered, it was usually based in terms of the myth of black criminality,” she said, noting the media’s role in fueling the Atlanta race riots dating back to 1906, and later helping to make “crack” and “black” synonymous during the war on drugs.

She compared the media’s response to crack addiction in the 1980s to its response to the national opioid epidemic that emerged around 2000. “You don’t get the kind of sympathy that we are seeing right now for opioid addiction, which is primarily coded as white,” she said. “Opioid [addiction] is viewed as a health care crisis, where crack was just a testament to black criminality: Lock them up.”

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 marked a historic milestone for the country, but the outrage that followed sent chills through the African American community. A string of high-profile police killings of unarmed black men, for example, “sent the message that black lives don’t matter,” Ms. Anderson writes. She explores efforts by the Republican party to make sure the events of 2008 never happen again.

“It wasn’t what he did,” she said of Mr. Obama. “It was who he was.”

In recent years, nine out of 12 confederate states, along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, have passed voter ID legislation and other laws widely seen as limiting the black vote. And the gutting of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 left many people outraged and concerned about the future.

But it’s not only black people who suffer from voter suppression, Ms. Anderson writes, noting that voting laws passed since the election “turned poor whites, students, and the elderly into collateral damage that got caught in the blowback.”

As one consequence of voter suppression, she pointed to Milwaukee, which includes 70 per cent of the black population of Wisconsin, and where 60,000 fewer people voted in 2016 compared to 2012. (Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 27,000 votes.) White Rage only briefly mentions the 2016 election, but Ms. Anderson said she will pick up the thread in her next book, about voter suppression.

She said White Rage has already generated the types of conversation that she hoped it would, with people from many backgrounds grappling with some of the hardest problems facing the country. But she has also experienced the inevitable backlash. “Just go to Amazon and look at some of the comments,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Here we go again, blaming white people for everything.’”

But she said it’s important to understand that white people are not the problem. “The problem is white supremacy that operates through white rage,” she said. She highlighted a key point in the book — that policies aimed at limiting black progress, such as voter ID laws and efforts to undermine equal access to education, have ended up hurting black and white people alike. “We are all connected,” she said. “Once we understand that, white rage begins to lose its power.”

Carol Anderson will speak on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Harbor View Hotel, and on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.