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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive…

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

by Ibram X. Kendi (Author)

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6361623,444 (4.51)54
Title:Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner)
Authors:Ibram X. Kendi (Author)
Info:Bold Type Books (2016), Edition: First Edition/First Printing, 592 pages
Collections:Your library

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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (2016)



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As advertised, a history of racist ideas in America, prominently featuring Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis.

The author sets forth an unrelenting parade of white supremacy constantly justifying its premises of black inferiority, finding ways to blame black people for their conditions and station, without a hint of self-reflection. For a person of European heritage it is an extremely difficult read: one is made to recognize just how much of the foundation of America is rooted in white supremacy, and how pervasive it has proven throughout time.

The author does well at proving many of his main theses:

(1) Racism and white supremacy were functional: they came about to justify first colonial expansion of Western Europeans, and then their enslavement of Africans, then the inferiority of black people, and now finally maintaining blame for difficulties in the black community on black people.

(2) Racism and white supremacy proved predominant and all-pervasive in American society. Everyone "knew" that white people were superior to black people, that Africa was a wild and savage continent, and that Western Europeans represented the highest level of civilization and worthy of emulation. Religion was used to justify the premises; it was also always considered good science. One of the longest running arguments in American history was monogenesis vs. polygenesis, thus, whether Africans were even of the same species as Europeans. It is hard not to see this same theme present, in more coded language, since 1969: the association of black people with criminality, the expectation that there must be "something wrong" with black people or in the black community which is leading to its current state, and never questioning the construct.

(3) Since racism and white supremacy were functional, "uplift suasion" was always a myth: white people were never reasoned into white supremacy and racism, and therefore, they would not be reasoned out of it by seeing black people display all the fruits of civilization. Such led to the "extraordinary Negro" condition, by which black people who achieved levels of standing and education in white society were considered "different" from the stereotypical "inferior" black people.

(4) Anti-black racism was not limited to the South, or to white people; plenty of black people internalized white supremacist and racist principles, and Northerners have proven equally as racist, and often worse in behavior, as Southerners.

(5) The equation of American civilization with the culture and civilization of Western Europe, the belief that any other culture/civilization is inferior or less civilized, and the fear that any kind of culture/civilization to develop in the United States which is not based/rooted in western European civilization would be degenerate and barbaric, is the most pronounced form of American white supremacy/racism, and remains to this day.

I have a couple of forms of hesitation with the work. There's a bit of a mischaracterization of New Testament evidence regarding the Apostle Paul and slavery: yes, he did expect a slave to remain in that condition, but in that same passage (1 Corinthians 7), Paul said that if a slave could get his freedom, he should. Paul believes in more than the equality of "souls" in Galatians 3:28: Philemon displays the Paul's full embrace of Onesimus' humanity. From all evidence the Apostle Paul believed in the full equality of value of all humans in the sight of God in Christ, but still recognized that people would have different roles/responsibilities/form of social standing, and it could be argued that this emphasis on the equality of man is what led to the reduction of slavery in Christendom in the medieval era, and a main driver of religious sentiment to abolition in the modern era.

I look forward to reading Kendi's work on "antiracism" and getting a bit more explanation, because it seems a very easily and a bit too clean-cut distinction being cut not only throughout the work, but even through individuals and individual speeches. The racist/antiracist framework is one through which one can look at history, and even see within people the different directions they might be pulled, and it might well be a very important and valid framework through which to see history...but it is piled on thick in this book, and is of extremely modern coinage.

None of these criticisms should detract from the magisterial monument Kendi has established here, and the importance for all Americans, especially those of European heritage, to come to grips with what he has said. The time is long past for the descendants of those who so firmly insisted on their own "superiority," and the "inferiority" of those who did not look like them, to have to stare into the ugliness, sit in it, and for once in American history, have to reflect on what it means about them, their heritage, and all they have inherited. ( )
1 vote deusvitae | Aug 21, 2019 |
This is a definitive and comprehensive history of racism in the USA. The book takes you through all of American history discussing how racist ideas changed over time. This is a book that should be read by anyone passionate about US history and politics. ( )
  M_Clark | Jun 24, 2019 |
Really good, cogent overview that gives clear throughlines and a great framework for understanding American racism and analyzing ideas we come across today. Learned a lot, and got an overall view that connects other more specific things I've read. The author does an excellent job of keeping on the intersections, too, calling out 'gender-racism', 'class-racism' and more: he's exacting in considering the justice of anti-racists and their blind spots as well as criticizing assimilationists and segregationists.

Audiobook note: The reading was okay, but occasionally emphasis patterns contradicted the actual meaning of the sentence or a similar word was substituted in for what must have been meant -- I think it wasn't prepared much before being recorded. It's a decent way to absorb the information (although I had to back up to catch statistics, of course) but I wouldn't recommend it over reading the text. ( )
  eilonwy_anne | Mar 9, 2019 |
So this book was really incredible and I would absolutely use it in excerpt for undergrads. It's so good on so many fronts at tracing the intellectual history of racism and I really strongly recommend it. That being said, it has some issues; at one point Kendi starts talking about Black "LGBTs" and I was like "where is this coming from and why did no one catch this in editing?" I think also isolating anti-Black racism in the colonial era from anti-Native racism really limits some of the analysis he's able to do early on, because they're deeply connected. But I still think this is by far the best, most concise and most accessible book on the topic and I strongly recommend it. ( )
  aijmiller | Oct 3, 2018 |
Would you consider taking all of the millions of America's black people and exiling them to Africa a racist idea? Would your answer change if you knew half of the faces on Mount Rushmore belong to national leaders who where strong advocates of doing just that? This book is subtitled, "The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America". The author first intended to write a book about the history of the origins of Black Studies in American higher education, a book certain to be a best seller with lots of box office revenue from the subsequent movie, no doubt. Oh, well, let's just make things easier by merely defining the expanse of racial thought in America. The reader might actually start out thinking this will be kept short and sweet by the author (1) distinguishing between racist, antiracist, and the unsung assimilationists, and (2) dividing the book into five sections. I was going to say five sections concentrating on five individual Americans, but they don't "concentrate" on them. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), and Angela Davis (1943-present), may be known, if not well known, to many present day Americans, but, as such, the author does not make each section into mini-biographies of the five people. The discussion of each is less as personal histories or as a focal point in time, and more as a reference point to the dominant or maybe just one of many key thoughts during America's history. In each section, other well known and many more barely known individuals get discussed. If there is anything the author is, it is very, very thorough. For instance, you may have known that Voltaire, John Locke, and Ben Franklin, all contributed to racist thought in their time, but I did not. Since many Americans at any given time, struggle to name their nation's current Vice President, I'm guessing most folks are with me on being caught unaware. Indeed, the author may overwhelm some readers with the depth of his scholarship. And the variations on racial thought never stop coming forward. But no worries. Think of the instant replay in sports. Was the runner easily safe stealing the base despite the umpire's call? Was the touchdown catch bobbled just as the receiver crossed into the end zone? The author pulls out the camera recordings from every conceivable angle and lays out the ultimate answers. Absolutely no stone is left undisturbed. Will this book compete with "The Help" as a popular book on racial thought? No, and that's a huge shame, because I challenge any potential reader to not unearth some new view, or many views, on the subject that will haunt them for a lifetime, or at least until it's been fully absorbed into their psyche. ( )
1 vote larryerick | Sep 26, 2018 |
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Ibram X. Kendiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Piper, Christopher DontrellNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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