On the History of Racist Ideas in America

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This definitive history starts with Aristotle and a few other ancients that the Founding Fathers would have read. And it surges on to the present (at the time of writing). In spite of the multitude of sources, Kendi succeeds in making the welter readable. That readability, Kendi accomplished by creating a frame and relentlessly keeping that frame in front of readers. He divides the ideas into three groups:
“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” (2). And by Kendi’s definition, racist ideas are those that posit one race as superior to another; hence, both segregationist and assimilationist ideas are racist ideas.

His project is made more complex because one person’s thought can exhibit all three in either different speeches/writings or even the same piece. And people can change. For the most part Kendi led me through the maze; however, the W.E.B.DeBois section was least easy to follow. I think that may be explained by two things: it was the longest section, and the nuance had to increase as the complexity increased.

Two points he made really shifted my thinking: First, the distinction between hating Whites and hating racism and the problem when commentators treat them as equivalent. This helped destroy some claims of reverse racism. And second, the problem with explanation as a solution: After discussing how proof of Obama’s birthplace did not end the birther controversy, Kendi says, “[Birther ideas] were not started out of ignorance, so why would they go away out of knowledge?”(494).

In the Epilogue Kendi speaks of strategies for antiracists. It was a whirlwind section that made me want more detail. I am hoping to find the detail in his How to Be an Antiracist.

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2 responses to “On the History of Racist Ideas in America

  1. Thanks for the review! I admire your reading habits–often the best I can do is listen to books on CD while doing other things.

  2. Of the problem is the people who should consider reading this book never would! I love how well read you always are 🙂

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