“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.”
– Ibram X. Kendi
Is racism always fueled by hate? Can they exist independent of each other? Is there such a thing as “well-intentioned racism?” Those are just a few of the questions explored in “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi. The very title itself has its roots in racism and is based on a speech given by Jefferson Davis from the floor of the United States Senate in 1860. In the speech, Davis states that Black people are inferior beyond any reasonable doubt and in fact, were “stamped from the beginning.”
Up front, this is no easy read. Not because of the subject matter as it is more relevant in these times we live in, but because it is so thought provoking that the reader will find him/herself putting it down just to think about what they have read. Kendi challenges the reader to reflect on the very institution of racism from its very heart and yours.
Kendi also engages the reader to consider that, “ So many prominent Americans, many of whom we celebrate for their progressive ideas and activism, many of whom had very good intentions, subscribed to assimilationist thinking that has also served up racist beliefs about Black inferiority.” He continues to challenge the reader to consider his definition of “racist ideas” tracking its origins as far back as the 15th century stating the facilitators of the slave trade believed that slavery was the only hope of Africans. Fundamentally, economic needs were justified by racist ideologies. Discrimination is often supported by intellectual rationale (albeit faulty).
Too much to discuss in this small space, Kendi challenges even our own beliefs and calls to the stand W.E.B. Du Bois’ “talented tenth” philosophy. He asks us to question, whether The Cosby Show was an attempt at “redeeming the Black family” in the eyes of White America”? Which then begs the question, how successful was that? Even the efforts of our first black president, Barak Obama, do not escape Kendi’s unwavering gaze.
Whether one agrees with the views expressed in the 2016 National Book award winner for non-fiction, “Stamped from the Beginning” is a serious dissection of a national curse which Kendi has managed to peel back delicately, layer by layer and expose the reader to the deeply embedded roots of Racism. The cure to the curse is yet to be discovered.
Griots Republic gives “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi, 5 out of 5 stamps.