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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner) Hardcover – April 12, 2016
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An "engrossing and relentless intellectual history of prejudice in America...The greatest service Kendi [provides] is the ruthless prosecution of American ideas about race for their tensions, contradictions and unintended consequences."
—The Washington Post
"Kendi has done something that's damn near impossible: write a book about racism that breaks new ground, while being written in a way that's accessible to the nonacademic. If you've ever been interested in how racist ideas spread throughout the United States, this is the book to read."
Stamped from the Beginning is "ambitious, well-researched and worth the time of anyone who wants to understand racism."
—The Seattle Times
"Kendi admits that he is not writing to change the minds of those who produce and espouse racist ideas. Rather, in his honesty about how deeply he himself had held multiple racist ideas before embarking on the historical odyssey of this book, he gives the reader permission to accompany him on that eye-opening journey...Kendi leaves plenty of room for self-questioning, and for drawing connections between the racist apologetics of the past and those of the present. The process makes for a compelling, thoroughly enlightening, unsettling, and necessary read."
“An altogether remarkable thesis on history, but, in ways that are both moving and immediately painful, it also reverberates with the post-election autopsy we're all conducting right now… Stamped from the Beginning is a riveting (and often rivetingly written) work, well deserving of the National Book Award.”
"To structure his book, which he spent three years writing, Kendi built it around five major American intellectual figures: Puritan leader Cotton Mather, founding father Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and activist Angela Davis. While showing the reader each of them grappling with questions of race, Kendi places them in the wider context of history with graceful, engaging prose and deeply researched details. Stamped is a book that connects everything from Mather's 17th century theological theories about the souls of Africans to Bo Derek's cornrows in the movie 10, and much more."
—Tampa Bay Times
Stamped from the Beginning provides "ever-relevant context for the white supremacist moment."
—The Dallas Morning News
"Ibram Kendi is an important new voice in African American intellectual and social history. This book, an intellectual history of racist ideas, promises to break important new ground for scholarly and general audiences interested in the construction of racism in America."
—Peniel E. Joseph, author of Stokely: A Life and Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour
"Both a penetrating treatise and a wonderfully accessible work of intellectual history, Stamped from the Beginning reveals the heritage of ideas behind the modern dialectic of race-denial and race-obsession. By historicizing our entrenched logic of racial difference, Kendi shows why "I don't see color" and other professions of post-racialism remain inexorable alibis for white supremacy. Stamped from the Beginning has done the cause of anti-racism a great service."
—Russell Rickford, Associate Professor, Cornell University, and author of We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination
"Richly sourced and engaging, Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning is a highly accessible yet provocative study that seeks to complicate our understanding of racist ideas and the forces that produce them."
—Yohuru Williams, Professor of History and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Fairfield University
"In this tour de force, Kendi explores the history of racist ideas—and their connection with racist practices—across American history. Racism is the enduring scar on the American consciousness. In this ambitious, magisterial book, Kendi reveals just how deep that scar cuts and why it endures, its barely subcutaneous pain still able to flare."
—Kirkus (starred review)
"In his ambitious, illuminating, and engaging book, Ibram X. Kendi seamlessly assembles sources from Cotton Mather to Angela Davis; the Great Awakening to Black Lives Matter; the Birth of a Nation to Hip Hop culture, to show how not only race but racist ideas are at the center of American thought."
—Paula J. Giddings, EA Woodson Professor, Smith College, and author of Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching
"This heavily researched yet easily readable volume explores the roots and the effects of racism in America. The narrative smoothly weaves throughout history, culminating in the declaration that as much as we'd like it to be, America today is nowhere near the "postracial" country that the media declared following the election of Barack Obama in 2008. The hope here is that by studying and remembering the lessons of history, we may be able to move forward to an equitable society."
"Stamped from the Beginning is a history of how racist ideas are built, and how they are built to last. Understanding this history is essential if we want to have any hope of progress. This book will forever change the way we think about race."
—Touré, MSNBC contributor and author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness
"Kendi's provocative egalitarian argument combines prodigious reading and research with keen insights into the manipulative power of racist ideologies that suppress the recognition of diversity. This is a must for serious readers of American history, politics, or social thought."
"Stamped from the Beginning delivers a timely and bold corrective to the history of racist and anti-racist ideas that explodes our understanding of the root of anti-black violence as we know it today. Kendi's deft analysis of key thinkers from Cotton Mather to Angela Davis illustrates how racial thought, specifically debates about racial difference, take shape across space and time and influence racial policies and the persistence of racial discrimination. This book is a must read for those interested in working to unearth the foundational ideas and practices that hinder true racial progress."
—Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, Associate Professor, Brown University, and author of Black Women against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil
"Kendi upends many commonly held beliefs about how racism works, exploring the ideas and thinkers behind our most intractable social and cultural problem."
—The Boston Globe
“A deep (and often disturbing) chronicling of how anti-black thinking has entrenched itself in the fabric of American society.”
“A staggering intellectual history of racism in America that is both rigorous and …readable.”
“An intricate look at the history of race in the U.S., arguing that many well-meaning American progressives inadvertently operate on belief systems tinged with a racist heritage.”
“Self-proclaimed as a definitive history of racist ideas in the US, this exhaustive, encyclopedic opus lives up to that claim. Kendi's mighty tome is breathtaking in its scope…. Both worthwhile and extraordinary…. Essential.”
"Racial tensions have seemingly increased over the past year, making Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning essential reading. The book points to the roots of the problem, offering lessons on digging them up."
“By showing how deeply entrenched racist ideas have been — and still are — in America, and thus exposing clearly and discrediting these ideas, Kendi has created not only a great work of scholarship but a much-needed tool.”
“I honestly wish every American would read this book, especially people who haven’t been exposed to the history of blatant, transparent racism in our public policy.”
—Chicago Review of Books
“A work as prodigious as the subtitle implies…. Had Kendi only provided history, Stamped from the Beginning would be a meaningful contribution to the literature, but it is so much more. It a call for all Americans to look inward.”
—Albany Times Union"
Given our political moment and the work we need to do as individuals and as a country, this book should be on every young leader's bookshelf. It’s not pretty, but the truth often isn’t."
About the Author
Ibram X. Kendi is a New York Times best-selling author and award-winning historian. He is Professor of History and International Relations and the Founding Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. A frequent public speaker, Kendi specializes in the history of racism and antiracism. He is the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation, 2016), which won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. He is also the author of the award-winning book, The Black Campus Movement (Palgrave, 2012). Kendi's writings have appeared in Black Perspectives, Salon, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Daily News, Time, The Huffington Post, and The Root. Kendi has received research fellowships, grants, and visiting appointments from a variety of universities, foundations, professional associations, and libraries, including the American Historical Association, Library of Congress, National Academy of Education, Spencer Foundation, Lyndon B. Johnson Library & Museum, Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, Brown University, Princeton University, Duke University, University of Chicago, and UCLA. Before entering academia, he worked as a journalist. Kendi earned his undergraduate degrees from Florida A&M University, and his graduate degrees from Temple University. Kendi lives in Washington, DC. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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One thing that is most important in these kinds of arguments, is for everyone to be operating from the same definition. So to the author's credit he states his explanation of racist ideas early. Keep in mind, we are not talking about racism, but racist ideas and how these ideas have affected and infected not only Americans but world citizens. "My definition of a racist idea is a simple one: it is any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. I define anti-Black racist ideas—the subject of this book—as any idea suggesting that Black people, or any group of Black people, are inferior in any way to another racial group."
With that in mind,author Ibram Kendi compiles a comprehensive history of racist ideas, using historical "tour guides " to traffic readers through a landscape beginning in mid 1600 to present day. Kendi here makes a powerful statement with this book about how these racist ideas have led to continuing racist discrimination.
"I held racist notions of Black inferiority before researching and writing this book. Racist ideas are ideas. Anyone can produce them or consume them, as Stamped from the Beginning’s interracial cast of producers and consumers show...Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people.I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people."
That's a potent admission for someone writing the "definitive" history of racist ideas. But I think it is important to this wonderful work by Kendi. As he goes about exposing these ideas, readers may be surprised to find themselves subscribing to ideas that, by Kendi's definition are clearly racist. As we move through the five eras, with our guides, you will be fascinated as these ideas and the consequences of them are brought to light. Thoughts that you have given little attention to, and have become part of your consciousness will hopefully be liberated.
Something that black people generally do when they hear some terrible news item, one of the initial thoughts is hoping the perpetrators are not Black. Does that hope spring from our buying into the racist idea that Black people are pathological? And we will be judged by the actions of the perpetrators and therefore be seen as defective? Is this a racist idea?
"Already, the American mind was accomplishing that indispensable intellectual activity of someone consumed with racist ideas: individualizing White negativity and generalizing Black negativity. Negative behavior by any Black person became proof of what was wrong with Black people, while negative behavior by any White person only proved what was wrong with that person."
All the ways that racist ideas have worked hand in hand with discrimination are unearthed here. And it may come as a surprise to some that prominent Black leaders of their day held tightly to racist ideas, like uplift suasion. The concept that "was based on the idea that White people could be persuaded away from their racist ideas if they saw Black people improving their behavior, uplifting themselves from their low station in American society. The burden of race relations was placed squarely on the shoulders of Black Americans. Positive Black behavior, abolitionist strategists held, undermined racist ideas, and negative Black behavior confirmed them."
Sounds a lot like today's concept of respectability politics, if we would just pull our pants up, stop listening to that damn music, not be so loud, etc. etc. If we would just present ourselves in a more respectable manner, we could then usher in that post-racial epoch that some say is already here.
The journey through the racist idea history has to include the players and events of the time periods covered and Kendi does a good job of incorporating that history and integrating the ideas that girded those times. The book clocks in at 500 pages, but it is well worth your time and investment.
Very few individuals or institutions mentioned in this book come off as completely free of racist thinking; even many abolitionists and civil rights activists are revealed to have held racist ideas that contradicted their cause. This made me realize the extent to which racism has ensnared the United States in its pernicious roots. In Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi presents two main ideas about racism that helped me understand its influence and progress over the centuries. First, he explains that “Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.” The author admits, “I was taught the popular folktale of racism: that ignorant and hateful people had produced racist ideas, and that these racist people had instituted racist policies. But when I learned the motives behind the production of many of America’s most influentially racist ideas, it became quite obvious that this folktale, though sensible, was not based on a firm footing of historical evidence.” As Kendi explains further, “Racially discriminatory policies have usually sprung from economic, political, and cultural self-interests, self-interests that are constantly changing.” Now that I understand self-interest—not hate or ignorance—has been the driving factor behind racist policies, I can better understand why racism hasn’t died out with the Emancipation Proclamation or desegregation or any of the Civil Rights Acts passed in this country. Tragically, racism persists and continues to evolve according to the current self-interests of people and institutions in power. It’s why, after slavery was abolished, segregation and the Jim Crow laws rushed in to replace it, and long after segregation has been outlawed, African-Americans continue to be oppressed by disproportionate mass incarceration as well as disadvantaged by fewer, inferior housing and employment opportunities.
Second, Kendi points out that racism is not simply a debate between those who support racist ideas and those who oppose racist ideas. Throughout history, three–not two–viewpoints on racism have persisted: “A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimination were to blame for racial disparities.” As much as I would like to believe I am firmly in the antiracist camp, reading this book made me realize I have held a lot of racist ideas from an assimilationist viewpoint that I need to correct. Kendi gives many examples of well-meaning civil rights activists, including some African-Americans, who upheld assimilationist ideas. Some persisted with these ideas their entire lives, others realized their error and later self-corrected to an antiracist viewpoint, and still others upheld both antiracist and assimilationist ideas, often not realizing the contradiction. Thus, a tragic pattern that has repeated itself throughout American history is the persistence of many assimilationists in seeking to abolish racist policies and ideas with the same flawed strategies that never work.
Indeed, the African-American author admits, “Even though I am an African studies historian and have been tutored all my life in egalitarian spaces, I held racist notions of Black inferiority before researching and writing this book.” I think it’s crucially important that Kendi tells readers about his mistaken notions of race—not to make readers feel better about their own ignorance, but to demonstrate how deeply racist ideas have taken root in American culture. Hopefully this admission on the author’s part will ease readers out of their defensive mode and open their minds to the disturbing truth that racism is a lot more pervasive among us Americans than we would like to believe.
If you want to understand exactly how racism took root in the United States and why it has persisted through the present day, if you are prepared for a very sobering, very painful, and often highly disturbing look at the many flaws, hypocrisies, and atrocities in the American notions of democracy, exceptionalism, and “liberty and justice for all,” then Stamped from the Beginning is a must-read. Ultimately, what the author conveys with copious examples is that “Black Americans’ history of oppression has made Black opportunities—not Black people—inferior.” An absolutely necessary emendation to the traditionally accepted canon of American history.