WESTPORT — The insidious details of how systemic racism impacts lives were outlined in a keynote address Sunday, when the Westport Country Playhouse hosted the 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Held in conjunction with the Westport Library and other local groups, the event featured musical entertainment, comments by several local officials, and a talk that mixed humor and heart-wrenching history from author Carol Anderson.

“Thank you for being here,” Anderson told a near full-house crowd at the Playhouse. “Your being here means that you’re ready to do the hard, hard work of lifting up this democracy.”

Anderson, an Emory University professor and author of “White Rage” and “Eyes Off the Prize,” among other books, outlined how her emotions and worldview were affected by the shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo in New York City in 1999, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 by police.

“This isn’t black rage,” she said. “This is white rage. ... We have been so focused on the flames that we missed the kindling.”

“This is the quiet, corrosive, subtle rage that comes through legislation,” she said.

Anderson outlined decades-old educational inequities that have affected poorer communities, as well as how legislation has aimed directly and indirectly at limiting people’s right to vote.

“I can stand up here for 49 hours ... talking about the right to vote,” she said, noting how reasonable-sounding scare tactics, like concern for voter fraud, open the door to practices that undermine democracy.

“One of the things to remember about white rage is that it always sounds reasonable,” she said.

“This work is hard,” said Rev. Alison Patton, of Saugatuck Congregational Church, on the topic of addressing inequities. “It is tangled, demanding, spirit-crushing. It is also necessary and urgent.”

“This is one of the most important days on the Playhouse calendar,” said managing director Michael Barker, noting it melds their “beliefs and aspirations for current events” as an organization.