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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive…

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in… (2016)

by Ibram X. Kendi

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Wow, so many thoughts about this important and impressively researched book. I don't read history books very often, much less ones this long, so it was a challenge to finish, but I'm so glad I did. Considering the huge scope of the project, and the number of texts Kendi references, the book is very readable and accessible to the layperson.

The book is very well organized, and the author's aim is true from when he sets out his initial arguments in the introduction to his conclusion in the epilogue. He knows that the book is unlikely to be read by actively racist people, or by people who believe we live in a postracial world, so he sets his target on well-meaning people (like myself) who have unwittingly been fed the subtle racist myths and traps of assimilationist thought that are hard to avoid for a person living in America. Kendi immediately connects himself to the reader by acknowledging that there are myths that even he was susceptible to before diving into his research--he makes it clear that anyone who is open to it is capable of true antiracist thinking.

Another major strength of the book: the framing of racist history around five key figures: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB Du Bois, and Angela Davis. The five sections aren't necessarily all about these figures, but their influential ideas are hovering around the edges of everything happening during their lifetimes. I think the biggest virtue of this structure was Kendi's ability to show how each person's approach and thinking evolved over time. I thought the Du Bois section was most interesting, as it showed how in his younger days, Du Bois believed in the fallacy of "uplift suasion" (a great term coined by Kendi to describe the false idea that racism can be fixed if white people see black people become successful or highly educated), but that after decades of seeing this tactic fail, Du Bois's thinking turned toward true antiracist thought that put the blame of racism on discriminatory policies instead of black people's behavior.

Garrison was another interesting case, as he was a key member of the abolitionist movement, but also propagated many assimilationist fallacies throughout his time. Kendi makes a point of showing that many people who fought against slavery still fed into the growth of racist ideas (like the notion that enslaved people were simple, soulful beings who needed the guidance and protection of so-called superior whites). Nobody is portrayed as an infallible hero (though Angela Davis certainly comes the closest of the five main figures).

I was expecting to be in a state of constant anger and depression while reading this, and I put off reading the book for quite a while because I thought it would just be 500 pages of reminders about how shitty and terrible our world is. I was surprised that this wasn't the case. That's not to say that the book isn't full of horrific details about America's history of racism--it definitely is--but Kendi focuses a lot of space on showing antiracist activists who are often ignored by mainstream history and demonstrating humankind's ability to change. It is frustrating to see that racism is still so present despite the efforts of centuries of antiracist effort, yet Kendi's goal is not to shock or depress the reader, but teach them to recognize the myths that have been ingrained into our culture and how they came to be.

I am completely convinced of his main argument: that racist policies, created out of self-interest, are the seed that justifies the growth of racist ideas, and that to combat them, people of all races need to work in their own self-interest to create antiracist policies, starting in their own communities.
  thishannah | Jul 17, 2018 |
My only regret with this book is that I had to read it so fast because a queue of people are waiting to read it at the library and I cannot renew. But that's a good thing because the more widely this is read the better - and I shall revisit the book when I can. I feel Ibram Kendi has given me the beginnings of a feel for the history of the USA and the impact of that on the day-to-day news I read. I shall now re-read the epilogue and return the book. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | May 27, 2018 |
Tremendously important, essential reading. If I were a teacher of American history or social studies, I'd probably start my students with Anderson's White Rage and follow that up with this remarkable history of the generation and promulgation of racist ideas. Can't recommend this book highly enough. ( )
  cdogzilla | Apr 28, 2018 |
Eh. After seeing that this book is being considered for an award I decided to push this up my "to read" list. It sounded like an interesting and and compelling read.
Unfortunately it really wasn't. It's divided into 5 looks at different people and their times from the pre-colonial era to the "current" (as of the publication) day. I'm not really sure why it was such a struggle for me. There is clearly a lot of research and a lot of information but I just felt like my eyes were about to fall out of my head.
I think this is one of those books that would have worked better for me if I had read it in the context of taking a class. It just seemed like there was WAY too much information and the book just didn't work for me. But clearly other people liked it so maybe it just wasn't the right book or right time for me. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016.
  Lake_O_UCC | Dec 3, 2017 |
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"A comprehensive history of anti-black racism focuses on the lives of five major players in American history, including Cotton Mather and Thomas Jefferson, and highlights the debates that took place between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists"-- "Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation's racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them--and in the process, gives us reason to hope."--Publisher's description.… (more)

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