Book Review: Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

3 Aug

When terrible times are upon us, we tend to turn our backs and busy ourselves with things that are less upsetting. Although, personally, I had to make the effort to keep the phone turned down each morning so that I wouldn’t scroll down through reams of infuriating events and the comments from people who have radically different outlooks on those very events, and thereby ruin my whole day, I decided to educate myself so that I was armed with facts that would help me navigate the confusing and unprecedented time we face today in America.

If you are like me and you would like a wealth of information that traces the history of racist ideas and actions in our country, than I couldn’t recommend more highly Ibram X. Kendi’s scholarly (yet accessible) account. The book begins with the first real racist work (from a Spanish propagandist for a Prince who saw lucrative opportunities in the market for human slaves), and then follows the history of racism through the lives of five influential people in history: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Dubois, and Angela Davis.

Why would I want to do that? You ask. Well, I believe it is as good or better a time as any to take a deep look into your own misconceptions about race, history and society, so that you and I can be better fellow citizens to all of our American countrymen and women. It is a difficult journey and, honestly, there were many moments when I had to put the book down and do something mindless, or routine. The book is revealing, disillusioning, and does the job of shattering some of those hard worn conceptions about why things are the way they are.

I do not feel qualified to give this work a full review, but I feel compelled to share that my reading of the work has been transformative for me and how I might think about our history, our current events and even how I might better instruct young people about history.

For those of you who don’t have the time to read this long account of the many instances and movements of segregationists, assimilationists and anti-racists throughout American history, then you should check out Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Kendi. Reynolds did a masterful job of boiling down the essence of Kendi’s work for a quicker, yet still insightful, read.

Some quick draws for me personally in this book was the inclusivity Kendi used in drawing together the events and people described in his book. He addresses sexual and gender rascism throughout and highlights many, many powerful women who have led the fight against racism. He also gives note to racism in culture, covering radio shows, and movies, showing how the different attitudes with race are metaphorically “stamped” into classic movies from Gone with the Wind, Tarzan, King Kong, Planet of the Apes and Rocky.

If you love history, wish you had a better grasp of the forces interacting still to this day on the very streets of our nation, or you just want a clearer perception of history, than I cannot recommend more this important work.


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