Monday, October 16, 2017

Stamped From the Beginning

What Ibram X. Kendi accomplishes in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is threefold: To present a biography of worldwide racism and its associated ideas from the earliest recorded history; to thoroughly and systematically demonstrate how those ideas have invaded all levels of American social, political, and cultural spheres; and to illustrate the disastrous consequences of those racist ideas.  Throughout the history of racist ideas, Kendi masterfully weaves in the perspectives of five prominent black figures throughout history, including W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Y. Davis, acting as tour guides for the reader from the early 1600's into the early moments of the presidency of Barack Obama. 

Kendi presents there as being three sides to any perspective on race: Assimilation, segregation, and anti-racism.  Assimilationists believe that non-whites would be better off if they just became more like white people in their appearance, behaviors, beliefs, and so on.  Segregationists want to separate non-white people from the rest of white society.  Subscribers to either of these two perspectives inherently believe that non-white people are inherently lesser than white people, and need the benevolence of white society to improve them.  The anti-racist perspective holds that there are no inherent differences between white folk and non-white folk, and that they should be treated in complete equality; any differences are entirely a product of the racist policies and beliefs that have been imposed on non-white people by those in power (who are not always 100% white people). 

In fact, Kendi reveals that there is a long history of racist ideas being internalized by non-whites and then leveled back on their own people.  This makes racism a very complicated issue to try and untwin from the history and identity of America itself.  In each of the five "tour guides" who lead us through the history of racist ideas, as well as the many philosophers/writers/activists/politicians/etc., the author is unafraid to expose the racist ideas that they themselves believed.  There are some true surprises, including that some black figures, whom are generally regarded as non-racists, in fact internalized and spread horrible racist ideas.  In the introduction, Kendi, himself, admits to harboring racist ideas as he researched Stamped from the Beginning.  As I was reading the book, I recognized a few positions that I could recall myself or friends/family espousing.  The desire for people of all classes to want to have someone to look down on, therefore uplifting themselves (whether only in their imaginations or not), is a pervasive and highly damaging aspect of American society. 

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is a groundbreaking work of scholarship and social criticism.  The author's exploration of racist ideas, and how they function in partnership with discrimination, will hopefully open eyes, minds, and hearts to how America has become the highly racially charged nation that it is today.  With this information, hopefully the readership will be inspired to make positive changes in their own spheres and the larger American culture to inform about the nonsense that racist ideas truly are, and to move toward empathy and equality.