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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,914 reviews
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,480 reviews79k followers
June 10, 2020
A must read.

Edited to add that most libraries are offering the audiobook of this title for free via Hoopla. If you're having trouble getting your hands on a physical copy, or are financially strapped right now, this is a great alternative! Also, Spotify has the entire Stamped audiobook for free at the moment!

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,215 reviews9,891 followers
July 27, 2017
What’s this – 5 stars yet still marked as “to read”? Please explain yourself!

I was talking today with a friend of mine who just joined Goodreads and he raised the question of books which are too difficult to review. These are usually non-fiction books which are so crammed with ideas that to review them properly you would need 5 closely typed pages, and it must be admitted, most GR users will be dozing off by the end of page one, even your dearest GR friends. (I did suggest that he include a gif of a cute kitty after each paragraph to keep up interest, but I took his point.) I said well, what you need to do is just discuss the one or two ideas which were most interesting, you can’t cover everything.

I got a copy of Stamped from the Beginning and I read 40 pages. I already know that

a) It is a 5 star book

b) It will take me a month and then some to read this giant monster of a book even though it is absolutely fascinating because it is as dense and cramful as the centre of one of those collapsing galactic star things.

c) Any review I finally write will be way too long. Way, way too long.

Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
December 13, 2016
The insights and understanding shared with us in this dazzling work of erudition and scholarship entirely make up for its enormous length. One wonders how it can be that such a book has not been written to date, the need for such a work obvious from the moment Kendi begins to trace the evolution of America’s history of racist ideas, from the pre-revolutionary settlers and the sermons of Cotton Mather right through Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis. By the end we have a framework to evaluate and calmly deconstruct the words of Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton and the voices raised in Black Lives Matter.

The work has a momentum that develops from a stately walking pace in slave times, gathering steam after the Civil War and World War I, until we experience a positive torrent of ideas, criticisms, actors, detractors in the 1990s, and 2000s when everyone has a megaphone and it seems no one is listening. Kendi strips all qualified “asks” away and insists that black people be accepted in the fullness of their humanity: good or bad, talented or not, criminal or not.

This often surprising history reminds us how completely our opinions are shaped by political and economic realities rather than by the most logical or rational argument. In the 1600’s Cotton Mather was a product of his time: blacks were inferior in every way except for their physicality, but they should be baptized. Jefferson thought they weren’t as inferior as all that, but some blacks are more enlightened than others, and even those must rely on white people for their “safety and happiness.” The “time wasn’t right” to free the slaves. This was also the opinion of George Washington. William Lloyd Garrison believed fervently that blacks should not be slaves, but they were not the social equal of whites. “It is not practicable to give undeveloped Black men the vote.” This was the opinion of Abraham Lincoln as well, who wanted to free the slaves and send them back to Africa. W.E.B. DuBois was a well-educated black man who believed black men could be the equal of white men, but perhaps just some black men, not the great unwashed. And finally, Angela Davis thought black people shouldn’t copy or aspire to white life in any way, that black people, including black women, were absolutely the equal of whites in every way, if only they had equal opportunity.

In every period Kendi discusses, the latest scientific theories would be put forth to “prove, undeniably” that black people were inferior to white people, in structure, in mind, in morals, in attitudes. Kendi discusses each with a dispassion bordering on amused curiosity. Each argument is eviscerated with cool observation before he moves on to the next attempt to convince white people that black people were worthy. By the end, he has taught us to evaluate each argument ourselves without falling into heated rhetoric or getting tangled in “should” and “oughts.” Kendi himself has concluded the only way black people would not be discriminated against in some way is if everyone recognize that blacks are at least as talented or flawed as whites and should be treated accordingly, that is to say, with the same amount of attention and acceptance of their potential talent, as for their potential for error. Anything less is racist.

I became utterly rapt when Kendi enters the period of Angela Davis and the modern day us. This is recent memory, and anyone can get first-hand corroboration on what people were thinking just forty years ago, as well as investigate the thickets surrounding any race discussions today. We, all of us, but especially white people, were lied to about what black people were about in this period. Because we were segregated, it was hard to get a clear idea or perspective on what was happening in each community. Kendi calls Davis’ first book, Women, Culture, and Politics, published in 1989, an “instant classic.” Davis wrote many more books once she began teaching classes in the university system in California. She understood right from her youth in Birmingham, Alabama that uplift suasion (becoming acceptable to whites by copying their attitudes, look, & culture), or assimilation (actually becoming more white through intermarriage & cultural overlap) were not going to give black people rights or respect. Black people needed then, and need now, the protection of the law. Enforceable law.

Kendi writes beautifully, in a totally engaging way, but the size of this tome may be a little intimidating. To assist uptake of his ideas, Kendi has provided a detailed Prologue and Epilogue. I recommend you read those, and then begin with the Angela Davis section. The momentum one attains in this whirlwind of ideas, popular figures, and known events will allow one to grasp his major theses. Then go back and allow Kendi to carefully outline his research and thinking as it developed. It's worth studying.

This book won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,265 reviews2,439 followers
December 1, 2022

Congratulations, Ibram X.Kendi, and Jason Reynolds, for winning the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Nonfiction book this year for the remixed version (condensed adaption for middle-grade readers) of Stamped.

This book is structured around five eminent personalities Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Angela Davis. Each of these individuals' lifetime is perused under their views and actions on racism. It extensively discusses the whole history of racism in America.

Three things I learned from this book
1) Individualising white negativity and generalising black negativity in America
Ibram X. Kendi is explaining meticulously why the people in the 18th century behaved like this.

"There was not a single article in the colonial era announcing the acquittal of the black male rapist. One-third of white men mentioned in rape articles were acknowledged as being acquitted of at least one charge. Moreover, newspaper reports of rape constructed white defendants as individual offenders and black defendants as representatives of the failure of their racial group, according to historian Sharon Block. Already the American mind was accomplishing that indispensable intellectual activity of someone consumed with racist ideas, individualizing white negativity and generalizing black negativity"

2) The Ballot or the Bullet
It was the title given to the public speech by activist Malcolm X. In his 1964 speech in Cleveland, he admonished African Americans to use their right to vote prudently. He said that if the government prevented African Americans from attaining full equality, they should take up arms. It is considered one of the most famous speeches in American history.

"Many will say he is of hate, a fanatic, a racist, and my response will be, did you ever listen to him? If you did, you will know him. If you knew him, you will know why we must honor him. Anti-racist Americans did honor him, especially after recordings and written scripts of his of speeches begin to circulate"

3) Black people and drugs
What Ibram X. Kendi portrayed about the relation between drugs and black people will make us remember what Kamala Harris told in her book, The Truth's we hold.

"Black men use drugs at the same rate as white men, but they are arrested twice as often for it. And then they pay more than a third more than their counterparts, on average, in bail. Black men are six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated. And when they are convicted, black men get sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those given to their white counterparts. Latino men don't fare much better. It is truly appalling .” -Kamala Harris

He is also describing many important topics like racism in media, sexism and racism, racism in law and order, racism and politics.

My favourite three lines from this book
“The only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people.”

“Possibly no other American autobiography opened anti racist minds than the autobiography of Malcolm X. ”

“If Blacks did not violently resist, then they were cast as naturally servile. And yet, whenever they did fight, reactionary commentators, in both North and South, classified them as barbaric animals who needed to be caged in slavery."

This is one of the best in-depth books written on racism, with proper emphasis on historical aspects. It might be a long one as it contains 592 pages and a perturbing experience due to the chagrin that African American people had to face discussed in this book. Still, it is a must-read book, especially due to the racist katzenjammer our world is passing through right now.

Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
September 2, 2022
“The beneficiaries of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration have produced racist ideas of Black people being best suited for or deserving of the confines of slavery, segregation, or the jail cell.”

Kendi on “The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” | The MacMillan Center

Shattering the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America Ibram Kendi traces racist ideas from the beginnings of chattel slavery in Africa through its history in the United States. Not surprisingly, he finds racist ideas are systemic in our society, from institutions to attitudes. There are some familiar characters in Kendi’s study. The book is structured around five representational figures: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, WEB DuBois and Angela Davis. From these figures, Kendi pivots to the historical context and to other influential figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and even writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harper Lee. That’s a very incomplete selection, though; there are scores of other figures whose lives and work is examined in the context of racism.

What’s most intriguing, however, is the way Kendi shows racist ideas being used to combat racism. In that way, he shows just how much racist ideas are ingrained in the way we think about ourselves and the world. Kendi posits anti-racist thinking as a way to address the underlying racism in both segregationists and assimilationists. I think he is maybe too quick to label a thinker an assimilationist and thus, according to his view, racist. However, Kendi’s examination did cause me to view disparate historical figures, events or works of art from a different lens. For instance, I had not thought about the assimilationist underpinnings of To Kill a Mockingbird (in which good Blacks wait for a White savior) as racist.

Kendi often reminds the reader that racist ideas didn’t come from simple ignorance or develop in a vacuum. There is a historical context (often predicated on economics or even past discrimination) that informs racist ideas. By exploring the underlying racism in To Kill a Mockingbird or the assimilationist policies of Martin Luther King Jr, Kendi shows how difficult it is to escape the paradigms society has created.

“I know that readers truly committed to racial equality will join me on this journey of interrogating and shedding our racist ideas. But if there is anything I have learned during my research, it’s that the principal producers and defenders of racist ideas will not join us. And no logic or fact or history book can change them, because logic and facts and scholarship have little to do with why they are expressing racist ideas in the first place.”

Kendi concludes with a call to elect anti-racists into positions of power and further maintains that having “principled anti-racists in power” is the only way to eliminate racism. That is all fine and good. Still, such a call is sobering at a moment when those in power count on and court white supremacists. Racial equality (and truly anti-racist thinking) seem a long way off for this nation despite Kendi’s nearly last line that says “that day is sure to come.” Perhaps Kendi is right about what it will take to achieve these ideals; however, does reading this history benefit those who had already been on board or is it simply frustrating to think about the journey that so many Americans can’t or don’t want to take? 4.25 stars
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
June 30, 2020
Speedily sketches the history of anti-Black ideas in America, from the time of their origins in 15th-century Europe up to Obama's first inauguration. Kendi takes on so much here⁠—six centuries' worth of racist beliefs + policies, the whole of U.S. history, the life stories of five famous intellectuals⁠—and he does so in a way that's not infuriatingly general, glib, or reductive, but insightful and accessible. Well worth checking out as the concept of anti-racism bursts into the mainstream.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book148 followers
August 27, 2017
In some ways tremendous, and in others deeply frustrating, this is an impressive but flawed history of racist ideas in the US. The book is at its strongest when it is a work of history, documenting the evolution of these ideas and their consequences since well before the European settlement of North America. It is at its weakest as a polemical piece of advocacy, where I think it will do little more than preach to the converted. Although I listened to it, I will definitely draw on large parts of this book and some of its key insights, despite the problems I had with it.

The core of the book, and the root of its many problems, is Kendi's division of racist ideas into 3 schools. The first school is the segregationists. They believe that the races are biologically different, with white being better, and that there's no way that blacks can ever reach the standard of whites. Many of them believe in polygenesis, or the idea that the races have different theological or biological origins. This was the dominant mode of thought behind slavery, and it's probably what most white Americans thought about other races until at least the early 20th century.

The second school is the assimilationists, which I'd say is his most interesting and flawed concept. Assimilationists believe that the races are biologically equal (or close to equal), but that races like Africans or Asians need time and guidance to reach the standard set by whites. This might be called cultural racism as opposed to biological racism. Some assimilationists in history argued that blacks had become so degraded by slavery (or Jim Crow, or urban poverty) that their cultures and characters had become defective, meaning that they needed paternal discipline from whites to reach that point. Others argued they came from a degraded, barbaric civilization and needed uplift from white society. Today someone who's constantly talking about inner city black problems and denying that those same problems often exist in white communities would be an assimilationist. Assimilationists often use the concept of the "talented tenth" or the "extraordinary Negro" to show that blacks who take on white cultural traits can move up the ladder of civilization. Phyllis Wheatley, a brilliant black poet, was the original extraordinary Negro, and whites considered every possible reason why she might be a good poet except that blacks might be equal to . The extraordinary Negro has offered whites an excuse throughout to overlook systemic inequality and discrimination by saying to other blacks "Look, this person did it, why can't you! Work hard etc etc Bill Cosby."

Kendi labels assimilationist as a racist idea, and I'm about 75% on board with him for most periods of US history (including, to an extent, the present). However, I think he wields this concept in a far too blunt way. Here's an example. Let's say someone like Barack Obama speaks out to black men that there needs to be far more personal responsibility, respect for women, presence in children's lives as fathers, etc. As long as this is not couched as something that is only a problem in black communities, then there's nothing wrong with these exhortations, especially given the fact that people probably won't listen to someone from outside their communities. These problems may have been created and sustained by racism, but there's simply no way out of the swamp for any group that doesn't include the personal responsibility stuff Obama and others have talked about. Moreover, I don't think assimilationism is racist as long as we say that all groups should be striving toward a common standard of behavior that incorporates the best that different cultures have to offer into a core of liberal principles. I can say that other groups and my group all have a lot of work to do to meet common standards that we agree upon together, and that can form the basis of a far more united politics (see Lilla, Mark)

Ok, here's the second problem with Kendi's use of the assimilationist concept (not the concept itself, which is quite useful). There are cultural problems that arise in communities who have been subjected to poverty, discrimination, persecution, inequality, and other forms of injustice. Their culture is not the same as white or black middle class culture. Pathologies develop, and they are passed down generationally and they do block progress on moving up and out. These pathologies differ in different population groups, but they are real. JD Vance applies this concept to his own folk, poor white hillbillies who moved to industrial towns in the Rust Belt, as a way of explaining why these problems persist (along with more structural factors like deindustrialization). In Vance's world, the problems include absentee fathers, drug abuse, rampant excuse-making, conspiratorial thinking, an aversion to work, dependency on the government or harder working relatives, poor physical and psychological health, etc. It is amazing how similar the problems of the black poor are, although they are compounded by even worse treatment by the police and the judicial system and harsher judgement from the rest of society (plus racism). However, Kendi denies that there is anything wrong with African Americans as a group (and disagreeing equals racism), whereas Vance is perfectly willing to say that there is something wrong with poor white Americans as a group. Consider interpersonal violence: both poor whites and blacks have incredibly high in-group murder rate, and this rate is even higher among African-Americans. It would be absurd to say that this consistent, widespread phenomenon is not at least in part sustained by cultural factors: poisonous masculinity, poor or absent male role models, mistreatment of women in local and popular cultures, admiration for outlaw lifestyles, conspiratorial thinking, etc. And yet Kendi will not tread this ground with a single toe for largely ideological reasons. I have not put out a perfect criticism here, but he doesn't even take this point up, it's just racist to him. This is probably the main conceptual flaw in the book and the main reason why less sympathetic readers (the unconverted) will not take this book seriously.

One really interesting and useful aspect of the assimilationist concept is how many African American fit into it throughout history. WEB DuBois, for instance, spent a large part of his life trying to prove to whites that he and other blacks were good enough for inclusion in the white world. Many lighter-skinned blacks denigrated poorer, darker skinned blacks in terms very similar to the white racists around them. One sad example of this was the brown bag test in which darker skinned blacks were not allowed into churches and social clubs if their skin was darker than an ordinary brown bag. The prevalence of black assimilationism opens up one of the biggest revelations of this book: racist discourses have so shaped American history that even their victims think largely in their terms. Moreover, even those whites who openly challenged segregationist ideas and racist institutions, like abolitionists and anti-slavery activists, couldn't quite imagine blacks as their equals.

Hence the importance of the third school of thought on race in US history: anti-racism. Anti-racism is a much newer development (mostly 20th century). Antiracists, like WEB DuBois in his later years and, most famously, Malcolm X, argued that blacks and whites were culturally and biologically equal. They didn't need to do anything to prove themselves to whites. They could, and should, be proud of being black and they should challenge racism openly. This is an important concept because it offers a vision of true equality and compels whites to not just think of their culture as the standard for which all others should strive. On the other hand, Kendi is so enamored with this concept that he overlooks or excuses many of its bizarre and brutal followers. I almost quit the book when he described the brutal serial rapist Eldridge Cleaver as a giant of black thought. He also (like the entire academic left) overlooks how politically ineffective anti-racists have been, how they have fed and still fuel white reaction and have taken the left down into the pit of identity politics. Kendi's book reflects the common leftist presumption that because you are right you don't have to be strategic. He is mostly right about racism, but I wouldn't let him near a political campaign. Rhetorically, you will not convince anyone by calling them a racist. Ever. I think we all know where that has taken liberals and leftists in America.

Kendi made me scratch my head and go "huh" dozens of times in this book. He also made me go "Dang are you serious?" just as many times. The strengths of his book reflect his excellence as a historian, while the weaknesses reflect those of the field of black studies in general (and all "studies" departments) which exist more to impart ideology than to teach a body of knowledge and the skills of that discipline. One quick illustration: you can be a conservative historian (biologist, psychologist, etc) but not a conservative studies professor, which is a huge problem. Kendi is so quick to label as racist such a wide swathe of ideas that even sympathetic readers will grow weary and skeptical.

Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile read or listen as long as one identifies and interrogates its ideological and conceptual foundations. There are so many aspects of racist thought I didn't get to talk about in this brief summary of an expansive book. I hope that skeptical readers will take in the valuable truths and overlook the excesses without letting themselves be turned off to an important read. On race in America, however, I would still say that New Jim Crow is the gold standard and a far more effective, balanced argument.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
August 3, 2020
I’ve been reading this book for over a month...studying it...with my younger daughter and her husband....having discussions.
My daughter and I both believe this book should be required reading in schools.
I’m 68. She is 34. Neither of us remember reading a more comprehensive United States history book.
“Stamped From The Beginning”....teaches history that we didn’t learn in school. Rather than the emphasis being on white male leaders, [Presidents], in the United States —
Kendi teaches us more about the historical social trends....’from the beginning’: racial superiority - white supremacists - intentional ignorance of American History.

This book is powerful, painfully sobering, educational, and a very important book. The time has come — Black Lives Matter....and the movement is totally unstoppable. This ‘history’ book was not easy to read for me —-literally and figuratively — but MY GOD...I AM TRYING HERE!!!! I’m sooo for all I didn’t get!!!

I cried —- on my bed —- sobbing into my pillow a ‘couple’ of times. And yet...racial injustice is not about little old me. I’m sooo sorry for every time I’ve asked the wrong question - tried to understand what it feels like to be black....( every fu#king schools that were mostly white )....but I’m beginning to see - finally- it’s the discriminatory policies that must change. RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CREATES RACIST IDEAS.....which....CREATES IGNORANCE & HATE.

So....I feel it’s crucial that I continue to read about racial disparities- and try to ‘feel’ what the brutalizing and dehumanizing of black people feels like. I understand- more these days....( the silver lining from this years 2020 - breakthrough stand for < again > Black Lives Matter!!!....
The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers jolted and awaken people all over the world.
The more I read, the more I learn, I realize how much I don’t know.
From the past history .... to what can I do now.

My daughter took to the streets - marching, protesting, in Canada. She has joined an anti-racism group - people who are interested in the reconstruction in the civil rights movement. I’m proud as can be of her. I’ve joined the ranks - [with her] - doing what I can - with others who oppose anti-Black bigotry.

As a white person, ....I’m realizing I need to have the hard conversations with other white people: politically, historically, and emotionally.

Kendi makes it clear....that a place to start...[ from the beginning], ....
is study what our forefathers did.....then do the opposite.

Kendi did the research. He’s a great teacher. He centered the history of racism around Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis.
He chronicles the Puritan adoption of racial superiority over all non- white people.

This is a must read - and re-read - for any activists who want their voices heard, who want to stand for justice- so that anti-racism is not just an intellectual abstract - but something that becomes tangible.

Reading this book has been helpful in understanding the tools that white people brought to bear in furtherance of the caste system must be harnessed to create antithesis, an anti-racist world.

“American needs respectable anti-racist white people to wage war for the soul of their race. And win”.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!! But.....CHALLENGING..... figuratively and literally.

Profile Image for Elle.
587 reviews1,399 followers
July 4, 2020
This is possibly the most comprehensive account of the history of the United States I’ve read. Stamped From the Beginning is almost 600 pages chronicling the beginning and evolution of racist ideas in America. I decided to listen to this audiobook after almost the entirety of Bookstagram picked it as a group read. It is currently still available to borrow through Hoopla, for anyone interested, and I can’t recommend it enough.

“Racist ideas always seem to arrive right on time to dress up the ugly economic and political exploitation of African people.”

The book itself is split into 5 parts, each with their own ‘guide’, usually a person speaking against racism during that period of time, in whatever form that takes. The five guides are Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Angela Davis. Some of those names may be familiar and some might not be. Each historical figure introduced Is scrutinized through an anti-racist lens, even if that means we as readers have to challenge what we have previously believed about that person. Nearly all of them, save Angela Davis, have contradictions in both their words and beliefs. In re-learning about these figures, it’s important to not whitewash history into something more palatable for white people to consume.

The main point Ibram X. Kendi hits on is the difference between three consistent, yet ever changing groups of Americans: the segregationists, the assimilationists and the anti-racists. One of the more difficult things I found reading this book was having to identify which of my previously held beliefs fell into either of the first two categories. Perpetuating racist ideas that may seem positive or complimentary just add another layer of racial bias that will have to be scraped off later.

“Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.“

There’s a lot of nonfiction books about racism getting attention right now. The one thing I would suggest is to pick one by a black author. There’s no reason why White Fragility should be the title dominating the NYT bestseller list other than white people are more comfortable listening to the words of a white woman on the subject of racism over the voices of black writers. This isn’t the time to avoid uncomfortable conversations. If Stamped From the Beginning is a little to dense or has too much historical context for you, perhaps check out How to Be an Antiracist, which is by the same author. Or if you want a more condensed version that’s approachable for both adults and teenagers, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, is an option as well.

Just don’t bury your head in the sand. That can’t be the response anymore. We’ve been asked to pull up, and it’s time to deliver.
Profile Image for Reggie.
116 reviews392 followers
February 1, 2020
I've only been reading recreationally since 2015, but in that short time frame, this is the best nonfiction book I've ever read! No questions asked! It changed my life and how I view the world. I read this in January of 2017, so a reread needs to happen in the coming years, but this is the real deal... A game-changing, mind-altering masterpiece.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
809 reviews1,265 followers
June 23, 2020
The real American history you probably didn't learn in school

I knew I was going to learn a lot from this book when I made eleven highlights just in the prologue. Wow!

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is outstanding!

There were times I felt intimidated by the sheer volume of information in this book and yet at no point did I want to put it down. I wish I had a photographic memory so that I could retain everything. 

There are thousands of reviews of this already so I won't write a lengthy review. If you're interested, you probably already know about it.

If you're not interested and you are American, I encourage you to head over to the book's page, read about it, and then read the book. This is something every single American needs to read.

I urge you, no, I implore you, to read this book! We cannot dismantle structural racism in this country until we first educate ourselves. And it is imperative that we dismantle it. White supremacy has reigned for the last 400 years. There is no justification for white supremacy and a white supremacist worldview.

It needs to end.


“When men oppress their fellow-men, the oppressor ever finds, in the character of the oppressed, a full justification for his oppression.” ~Frederick Douglass
Profile Image for Andre.
542 reviews146 followers
May 27, 2016
The author posits that there are really 3 sides to the debate of racial disparities existing and persisting. The three sides are segregationists, assimilationists and antiracists. His definition of racism,i.e., the adoption of racist ideas is a simple one, and as such you will see some famous people that will surprise you to be labeled as racist at points in their career. W.E.B. DuBois is certainly a name most readers would never associate with being a "racist" during his long illustrious career.

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.
Profile Image for Monica.
620 reviews631 followers
November 1, 2020
Complete, thorough, unyielding and unrelenting catalog/analysis of systemic racism specifically pertaining to Black Americans. No punches pulled. I listened to this so I won't do a detailed review. Suffice it to say, the book was filled with information on American history that we were/are not exposed to. Historical accounts/behaviors/views of people were quite different than what has been casually taught in schools. This includes George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson as well as W. E. B. DuBois and Martin Luther King Jr and a myriad of other historical and contemporary figures. And yes, what we view as normal thought is ingrained and systemic and inherently false and unfair with regards to race in America. If you have read So You Want to Talk About Race, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism and many others, Kendi gives a historical account of those issues and how we got here. And his Epilogue...well I've already gone back and highlighted it all.
"It has been true that racist policies have benefited White people in general at the expense of Black people (and others) in general. That is the story of racism, of unequal opportunity in a nutshell. But it is also true that a society of equal opportunity, without a top 1 percent hoarding the wealth and power, would actually benefit the vast majority of White people much more than racism does."
An insightful, very smart and impressive book that I will likely consult over and over again. Another book that is well worth the time and effort to read!!

4.5+ Stars - there was so much I didn't know...

Listened to the Audible book. Dion Graham did a respectable job. Not emotional, even keeled but never boring.
Profile Image for Michelle.
653 reviews183 followers
February 6, 2017
*2016 National Book Award for Non-Fiction*

Ibrahm Kendi's work is evident of a great deal of scholarly research. I felt that I had to commit myself to giving it at least the same treatment. Scientist that I am, I found myself leafing through his references, pulling out more morsels of truth. It wasn't enough to pour over the pages of this well written tome. Twenty two pages of outline notes later, I feel as if I still could revisit this work as there is still more intellectual meat to be consumed.

In Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi examines racism as a three dimensional force with its roots extending as far back to Aristotle (384-322 BCE). To illustrate the forces that have shaped racism and discrimination in America, Kendi uses five tour guides: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis. Do not be mistaken, Stamped From the Beginning is not a compilation of biographies; although each of these figures is treated with an analytical eye. Kendi walks us through their transformations and exposes their flaws through a lense of their time in American history, including the literature, media reports and political bouts of the day.

To sum up the main idea of the book I feel only Kendi's words can do Kendi justice:
“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. Ignorance/hate --> racist ideas --> discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been an inverse relationship – racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate. Racial discrimination --> racist ideas --> ignorance/hate: this is the causal relationship driving America’s history of race relations.”

This book is a must have for home libraries.

Profile Image for Raymond.
352 reviews256 followers
October 13, 2018
Ibram Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is a monumental book. It covers over 300 years of racist beliefs about Black people from 1635 to the present day. Kendi tells this history in a smart way by dividing it up into five parts. Each part has a central figure who has expressed through their lifetimes racist, assimilationist and antiracist views (Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis). The five parts are not biographies of these central figures but the author places them in the larger context of where America was on racial issues throughout history.

On a personal note this book challenged and changed me. I began this book in December 2016. A few days after I started reading, Carl Paladino, a NY politician, made some racist remarks about former President Obama and First Lady Obama. It bothered me alot because the specific things he said about Michelle Obama were the exact same things said about black women in the 1600s and 1700s that Kendi highlights in his book. It's a prime example that some things change but racist ideas persist. As the book progressed through the centuries my own thoughts were challenged. Before I read this book I would consider myself as someone who has both assimilationist and antiracist views. Little did I know that it is not good to be an assimilationist. Kendi states that assimilationists have good intentions but they still have racist views that black people are inferior.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. It is a very well researched and readable work.
Profile Image for SibylM.
335 reviews29 followers
October 18, 2016
Every American should read this book. A true tour de force, an absolute scorched-earth history and reassessment of racism in the United States. I read a lot of American history and I read a lot, talk about a lot, try to learn a lot about the role of racism in American history and the present, and I was absolutely floored by what this book showed me that I did not know and had not considered. Moreover I was impressed with the author's interweaving of issues such as sexism and heterosexism. Very engrossing and a real page turned as well as being so brilliant and thoughtful.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,765 reviews207 followers
February 19, 2019
Looking back through centuries of history, Ibram X. Kendi gradually takes us through the layers and layers of lies used to define and denigrate people from Africa. The self-serving and nasty attitudes masquerading as good Christianity of each new "learned" person, built upon the lies of earlier men (going back to the Middle Ages and to Ancient Greece), served to reinforce and harden bigoted ideas. And these were used to justify the kidnapping, separation of families, rape, torture, enslavement and murder of countless thousands of Blacks through the centuries.
I cannot imagine how Kendi could have stomached to read through the words of these men, who were convinced blacks were beasts, and enacted a number of conflicting laws and rules to control and brutalize a people, all the while being terribly self-congratulatory about their management.
As this book centres on America, Kendi focuses on specific, influential individuals over the years, from colonial times all the way to the presidency of Barack Obama. The influencers’ ideas for control were a mixture of racism, assimilation and segregation, all based on a rotten foundation. These ideas morphed slightly with each slight improvement in blacks' plight as time went on, to find new ways to humiliate and restrict and murder.
Kendi also does not hesitate to show how the years of indoctrination of the fallacies about blacks has permeated the minds of blacks, resulting in a multitude of conflicted and conflicting perceptions of themselves as a people, and how they felt they should be treated by the whites.

I found the duplicity, hypocrisy, misogyny, and the utter lack of compassion as a justification for brutalizing a people was prevalent in any number of men whose writings, portraits and monuments litter the US; Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Teddy and FDR, and the list just goes on and on, of men happy to increase their wealth, influence and power, helping themselves and their rich friends and supporters, while pitting poor whites against blacks.
And though slavery was abolished years ago, the legacy of these racist, assimilationist and segregationist beliefs continues in the laws and policies and attitudes of today.
While this book is big, it's fascinating and I found not difficult to get through. The writing style is not complicated, and the introduction helps the reader understand some of the bases for Ibram Kendi's conclusions. This book is definitely well worth reading if you want to understand how artificial the ideas are about racial superiority are, and how prevalent, dangerous and insidious they are.
Profile Image for SheLovesThePages.
348 reviews98 followers
August 5, 2020
This should be required reading for all Americans, at this point, all high school graduates. My bachelor's degree is in American History with a minor in Afro-Amercian Studies. I can definitively say that this is one of the best researched and most comprehensive book that I have read on the history of racism. I highly suggest highlighters and note-taking. This is a life changing book and should be treated as such.
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
679 reviews3,947 followers
August 25, 2020
I have lost count of how many times I recommended this while reading. Informative and easy to follow whilst not being overly simplified, Stamped from the Beginning is an absolute must-read.
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
547 reviews3,524 followers
June 24, 2020
This book took me the better part of a month to read because of dense and detailed it is, but that also made it thorough so I did not mind it. I actually liked just how much detail the author went into, laying out the evolution (or not) of racism in the US through the centuries, pretty much from the origins of transatlantic slavery to the Obama era. The fucked up part that he really did a good job at highlighting is the fact that it's always the same arguments that have been regurgitated, tweaked and recycled to perpetuate racism for literal centuries.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,768 reviews1,768 followers
December 19, 2017
This book goes wide (not deep) on a very important topic, and should be required reading for everyone. That phrase gets thrown around a lot when talking about "important books", but I'm seriously for serious here. Kendi has written THE comprehensive book about the history of racism in America, tracing it all the way from its roots in the 16th century through modern day, and he covers it from top to bottom, hitting on every major point you can probably think of along the way. It's an invaluable resource not just for scholarly purposes, but for real life ones as well.

I actually finished this back in October and didn't write a review at the time because I told myself I was going to go back through my audiobook and type up or find all the quotes I bookmarked. I held onto this lofty ambition until about ten minutes ago, when I realized I had probably bookmarked about a quarter of the book and this was not a realistic goal at all. I don't even have time to go back through and re-listen to pull out a couple of quotes to highlight the flavor. This book and its quotableness overwhelms me.

At the same time, I'm kind of glad about this. The whole point of this book is to look at racism through the lens of historical context. It traces the roots of modern anti-black racist thought all the way to their origins, and it does so by living in the details. Details do not make for snappy pull quotes, and snappy pull quotes do not make for good arguments.

And actually, what I just said is also misleading. Kendi doesn't go searching through history to find examples to prove his points after already determining them. What he actually does is start from the beginning and lay out the history of racist ideas such that when you get to modern times, you can easily see the roots for yourself. It's a much better strategy. It's a story that almost tells itself.

He's careful right from the beginning to point out that his book is not meant for everyone, and the point of it is not to convert racists to non-racist ways of thinking. His audience is made up instead of everyone else, self-identified non-racists, and once he's got you (us), he then sets out to prove that even the most strident non-racist person holds racist ideas. It's the main thesis of this book that no one can escape the racist ideas that permeate their culture. Even the most famous abolitionist or civil rights activist can (and does) hold racist ideas. Kendi admits that in the process of writing the book, he found to his surprise that he held quite a few himself and it was a struggle to reorient his thinking.

I didn't 100% agree with everything he said in this book, but the main thing that is worth considering in terms of criticism is that the format does hamper slightly his ability to make certain points (perhaps why some points felt like a stretch to me; maybe they wouldn't have given more space). By its nature, this is a book that zooms through four hundred plus years of history, so there just isn't room practically speaking for him to flesh out every point, and moreover, he's not trying to. The point isn't to prove individual ideas, but to lay out as a whole picture in broad strokes the history of racist ideas. It's up to other authors to delve more deeply into specific instances and points.

I highly recommend this book. Even if you don't normally read non-fiction or history. It was interesting and extremely thought-provoking, not to mention highly relevant.

[4.5 stars rounded up for its staggering relevance to practically everything]
Profile Image for Rincey.
813 reviews4,589 followers
February 25, 2017
Probably closer to 3.5 stars, but this is worth rounding up
Profile Image for Mike.
502 reviews378 followers
February 19, 2019
The popular and glorious version of history saying that abolitionists and civil rights activists have steadily educated and persuaded away American racist ideas and policies sounds great. But it has never been the complete story, or even the main story. Politicians passed the civil and voting rights measures in the 1860s and the 1960s primarily out of political and economic self-interest—not an educational or moral awakening. And these laws did not spell the doom of racist policies. The racist policies simply evolved. There has been a not-so-glorious progression of racism, and educational persuasion has failed to stop it, and Americans have failed to recognize it
This can be a hard book to read because it lays bare the harsh truth of racism in America. It deeply explores the American experience with anti-black racism and strips away some of the comforting illusions we maintain about it.
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. Ignorance/hate -> racist ideas -> discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been the inverse relationship—racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate
Instead of racism crawling out of a fetid pool of ignorance it is instead the slick product of insidious greed.
Proslavery legislators repressed the very captives they said were docile, and restricted the education of the very people they argued could not be educated. Racist ideas, clearly, did not generate these slave codes. Enslaving interests generated these slave codes. Racist ideas were produced to preserve the enslaving interests.
Kendi identified three main forces that contested with each other during the couse of human history:
The history of racist ideas that follows is the history of these three distinct voices—segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists—and how they each have rationalized racial disparities, arguing why Whites have remained on the living and winning end, while Blacks remained on the losing and dying end.
Somewhat surprisingly, to me at least, was that Kendi had a pretty major beef with assimilationists (who sought to integrate black populations into the wider America, ie: white, culture), who would often be on the side anti-racists. But Kendi makes an excellent point that many of the goals the assimilationists sought were either counter productive towards the goals of equality or were aggressively ineffective. The base operating assumption of the assimilationists was that racism, and the subsequent racist policies, was a product of ignorance on the part of many people. If they just saw how smart and civilized and cultivated blacks could be their mind would change.
This strategy of what can be termed uplift suasion was based on the idea that white people could be persuaded away from their racists 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.
But racist ideas are not so simply undermined. Where there is money and social advantage to be made by oppressing a group of people new justifications will be generated to preserve the status quo. The case of uplift suasion was no different.
These extraordinary Negros supposedly defied the laws of nature or nurture that standardized Black decadence. They were not ordinarily inferior like the “majority.” This mind game allowed racists to maintain their racist ideas in the midst of individual Africans defying its precepts. It doomed from the start the strategy of exhibiting excelling Blacks to change racist minds. But this strategy of persuasion endured.
And persist it did, arguably even to contemporary times. How often has it been said of a member of another racial group "Oh, I like [insert name here], he's one of the good ones." implying a member of that group that is worthy of respect and friendship is the outlier, the extraordinary member of an otherwise "bad" group.

Uplift suasion is the brick wall assimilationists kept banging their head against for hundreds of years will little to show for their efforts. Not only that but, at its root, it was racist.
The strategy remained deeply racist. Black people, apparently, were responsible for changing racist White minds. White people, apparently, were not responsible for their own racist mentalities. If White people were racist and discriminated against Blacks, then Black people were to blame, because they had not commanded Whites’ respect. Uplift suasion had been deployed for more than a century, and its effect in 1903? American racism may have never been worse. But neither its undergirding racist ideas, nor its historical failure, nor the extraordinary Negro construction ensuring its continued failure had lessened the faith of reformers.
So yeah, I very much see where Kendi would have a beef with assimilationist efforts in this vein.

Kendi also took time to point out some pretty glaring hypocrisies that arose in the white community over the history of America. For instance many abolitionists consider John Brown to be a sort of hero in the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century even though he failed hard just like every over anti-slavery revolt:
But in the weeks after the conflict, he joined with abolitionists in transforming John Brown in the eyes of antislavery northerners from a madman to a “martyr.” Countless Americans came to admire his David-like courage to strike at the mighty and hated Goliath-like slave power. The disdain for violent Black revolutionaries lurked in the shadow of the praises for John Brown, however. Black slave rebels never became martyrs and remained madmen and madwomen. Never before had the leader of a major slave uprising been so praised.
This is a pretty clear double standard that when blacks rise up they are violent and savage (even though they were fighting to be free) but when a white man leads them the resistance is noble and worthy of martyrdom.
From their arrival around 1619, African people had illegally resisted legal slavery. They had thus been stamped from the beginning as criminals. In all of the fifty suspected or actual slave revolts reported in newspapers during the American colonial era, resisting Africans were nearly always cast as violent criminals, not people reacting to enslavers’ regular brutality, or pressing for the most basic human desire: freedom.
In a more modern example of white hypocrisy Kendi identifies that many of the arguments against government welfare that would benefit blacks was often couched in terms that infantilized the people (i.e.: black citizens) who would receive it and that just wasn't morally or spiritually acceptable.
Welfare "transforms the individual from a dignified, industrious, self-reliant spiritual being into a dependent animal creature without his knowing it," Goldwater wrote without a shred of evidence. Many proud, dignified, industrious, self-reliant members of the White middle class, who had derived their wealth from the welfare of inheritance, the New Deal, or the GI Bill, accepted Goldwater's dictum as truth, despite the fact that parental or governmental assistance has transformed them or their parents into dependent animal creatures. After looking at White mothers on welfare as "deserving" for decades, there Goldwater conservatives saw the growing number of Black mothers on welfare as "undeserving" - as dependent animal creatures.
At its core anti-black racism was never and is never about any sort of rational, codified ideas. It is about power and it is more than willing and able to alter its justifications to adjust to the needs of the time. Be that by acknowledging that SOME Black Americans could be extraordinary while consigning the balance of them to the realm of savage animals to declaring A war on (some classes of people who use some) drugs or claiming "economic anxiety" when voting for out-and-out racist politicians and policies. Systemic, institutionalized racism cannot be negotiated with, it can only be confronted and smashed. And even then we must remain vigilant should this insidious weed take root again and spread under a new banner or slogan. It will likely always be with us and it is our duty as civilized peoples to stand in solidarity with our fellow citizens against this pernicious weed.

What makes this book so compelling is the detail and historical depth that Kendi digs into to support his thesis. It isn't just a matter of looking at famous people of the respective eras (even if each section is named after one of them), but the overall social currents, the seemingly small things that end up metastasizing into some terrible practices and ideas later on. Because the story of anti-black racism in America isn't about a few "Great Men" charting the historical path of a nation but about society as a whole and how it treats blacks both in terms of politics and popular culture. Kendi explores all these nooks and crannies, showing how they all merge together to form a cohesive racist force within society. Kendi provides a continuous examination of racist ideas and not a skipping around from one historical figure to the next which would leave historical gaps in the story and lose some important details and contexts.

I strongly recommend all Americans (and really all people since racism knows no national boundaries) read this book. While I know simple knowledge does not remove the specter of racist ideas, it is an important first step to arm the citizenry with all the facts and a powerful lens to view them through. If you are really interested in learning about the darker side of American racial history this book is a must read and will likely be relevant for too many years to come.
Profile Image for Jason Adams.
405 reviews2 followers
November 2, 2017
I found "Stamped From The Beginning" to be a problematic book. The author, Ibram X. Kendi, takes pains to mention in the afterword, that he is writing to a mass audience. This appears to have ed to a narrative approach to racist ideas through the centuries. While this is definitely accessible, I think the attempt to strip away scholarly rigor and include pop culture touchstones also weakens the books contentions. On the one hand, the book never does a good job of creating a model that defines racism and its impacts. On the other, it does not provide the scholarly support for many of its contentions. Thus the reader is confronted with counterintuitive assertions that Martin Luther King and Rocky Balboa were racists without a lot of solid sourcing. It feels like real enlightenment in this area will only come by perusing the bibliography.

I also found a few of the endnotes in my Amazon Kindle edition to be oddly uninformative. The author appears to add a single note to contain all references within a paragraph. There were more than a few times that a quote might be sourced, but a contention by the author was not. It may be that the source was included in a previous paragraph, but the lack of scholarly detail in the service of pop history is frustrating. The structure was also problematic. While the colonial era felt like filler, the modern era felt rushed. I also found the various personalities at the center of each section to be inconsistently related to the time period. Cotton Mather barely appears in his section, while Angela Davis is a prime mover in hers. The section on William Loyd Garrison carries far more material about Abraham Lincoln. I would have better preferred a more focused work that dissected specific racist ideas to their purveyors and their impacts, rather than a frequently fragmented narrative that took paint to reintroduce a character that felt increasingly secondary to the ideas under discussion.

At the heart of this book is the important contention that racist ideas are a fig leaf for exploiters to legitimize their exploitation. It also hits the nail on the head that people prefer simple narratives of causation over complex truths. Thus attempts to shine truth on problematic assertions will have no real impact as the truth was never the question. In this era of "fake news" the power of the lie, as described here, has led our polity down a disastrous path. The strongest part of this book is really the latter chapter as the increasing disconnect of reality in an information age creates patterns that could easily be used to predict the rise of Trump.

I found, however, that most of the evidence cited has been covered by other authors with far more nuance, and I was not a fan of the structure or hyperbolic tone of the narrative. For those that live in a bubble of privilege and entitlement, perhaps this is the right tome to shake loose an awareness of the dynamics that shape the world. I on the other hand found it not to be my cup of tea. 2 stars.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews489 followers
October 28, 2017
I read this because I am teaching The Fire Next Time.

It's one of those books that I find hard to review. I think everyone in America should read it, and if I had a magic wand or the power of the Force, I would make everyone read it. But writing that sounds flippant despite it being true.

What Kendi (with the aid of his wife he thanks quite a bit) does is trace the development of Racist ideas in America. He does this in part by challenging the standard definations of some words and terms. This is done early on in the book, so you know extactly what Kendi means when he uses words like antiracist, racist, and assilmation later. It's true that some people (gives certain Orange being and family the stink eye) will say that the book doesn't deal with racism towards white people - but really? Honesty, if you read the book, that question is answered. (Though in fairness, Kendi limits, or seems to do, the defination of racism as towards black. Racism towards Native Americans and Asians is mentioned but only in how racism towards or by such groups is connected to racism towards Blacks. But this limiting matches what Kendi sets out in the introduction).

Kendi traces racism though various major public figures in America, even pre-Independence. Jefferson of course is here, but so are Angela Davis, DuBois, Mater, and Garrison. In some ways, the weakest section is Davis, almost like this section could be a whole book in and of itsself, mostly because at that point it almost feels like Kendi is hitting a check list. Yet the first four sections are engrossing and stacked with facts. So, is the last section despite it's checklist feel. In the interest of fairness, I am from Philly, and Kendi's brief, very brief, mention of the Mumia case is enough to get anyone in Philly a bit annoyed for a wide variety of reasons. (I am of the he is guilty but the system/time was extremely racist group. Honesty, there are better anti-death cases out there. Does Mumia get the attention because he is well read and a good speaker? Is that class or the extradorinary Negro racism that Kendi talks about). It was puzzling because Kendi calls Mumia is a political prison, but Kendi doesn't mention Move and the bombing of that group (done by the police, and which ended in the destruction of a neighborhood), an event that surely seems far more political and raicst.

But this book gives the reader so much information and so much to think about. It really should be required reading for everyone in America. Quite frankly, if you are teaching about Civil Rights, Slavery, or African-American culture/literature, you should read this book before teaching the subject matter.
Profile Image for Udeni.
74 reviews68 followers
February 19, 2017
"Stamped from the Beginning" is an ambitious and (necessarily) lengthy history of racist ideas towards black Amercians. Despite its length (over 500 pages), it is a compelling read, brimming over with surprising facts, laser-sharp analysis, and a clear argument.

Kendi argues that racist policies are promoted through racist ideas by powerful men who wish to maintain control of their wealth. Discrimination is not caused by ignorance and hate. Racial discrimination leads to racist ideas, which lead to ignorance and hate.

The book starts with the origins of racist ideology, imported from 15th century Europe, through early British settlements, slavery, abolition, Jim Crow, and ending in the 20th century with Barack Obama's presidency. A simple structure makes the book readable: five main thinkers form the underpinning to each book section.

Cotton Mather (1663-1728) provided a theological justification of slavery. He argued that black people were physically inferior and deserved to be slaves, but that white owners could ensure their spiritual salvation by converting them to Christianity. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) added a further justification: because black people were not descended from Adam and Eve, they were intellectually and physically a different species, entirely incompatible with white people. This is while Jefferson was hypocritically advertising for highly skilled slaves for his plantation, and bought a 14-year old black child, Sally Hemmings, as a mistress. William Garrison (1805-1879) developed the "assimilationist" idea that is still in force today: that blacks had become savage through slavery and that, by educating themsleves and behaving like white people, a talented minority of black people could eventually join civilised society. To W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963) is attributed the mainstreaming of the anti-racist idea that racial groups are equal. Racial disparities are the result of racial discrimination and are perpetuated by the powerful who want to divide and rule. It is a relief to finally come to Angela Davis (1943-present), who denounced those promoting the "post-racial" fairytale while instituting a criminal justice system that has resulted in the mass incarceration of black people. The book ends, frustratingly, before Trump's election, but here is an excellent interview with Kendi on the Trump phenomenon here.

I found much of the book to be a tough read. For much of history, I would have been considered stupid, ugly, over-sexualised, inferior because of the colour of my skin. I have no idea how Kendi has found the courage to steep himself in racist ideology for so long. I am grateful that he has, though. This is an essential book, which, in the Epilogue, provides necessary and practical advice for anti-racists everywhere. This book thoroughly deserved the National Book Award of 2016 for non-fiction. It also has sold out in UK bookstores and is unavailable on Kindle in th UK. A reprint is due urgently, please!
Profile Image for Susan O.
276 reviews98 followers
July 11, 2018
So far this is the best book I've read all year. It is very important and I recommend it to everyone. Kendi expanded my ideas of what racism is and how pervasive and insidious it is. Although Kendi's history is based on five major historical figures, his emphasis is on racist thought, wherever it appears. And the places and people who exhibit that thought might surprise you. The ideas and principles are also applicable to other groups/characteristics as well such as immigrants and various religious groups. I rarely say this, but please read this book. Kendi is also an excellent writer, so it is a pleasure to read as well.
Profile Image for Chris Blocker.
698 reviews162 followers
May 30, 2017
This is perhaps the most powerful and well-built book I've come across on the subject of xenophobia/racism. Not only is Ibram X. Kendi well versed on the subject, but he presents it in a very unbiased and honest manner. Tracing the history back to the first enslavement of Africans by the Portuguese in the 1400s, Kendi works through nearly 600 years with significant care and detail. He separates the historical figures from the legends and analyzes each by the same criteria: segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. He doesn't shy away from pointing out the flaws of those who've been branded heroes, and the positives of the villains. Neither does Kendi fall into the trap of making his theory about race itself. As he illustrates repeatedly, figures from all racial groups and social classes have fallen into each of the three categories. And so, with the facts presented as they are here, the argument should be ended, once and for all. (But we know that will not happen so easily.)

Over and again, I was impressed with the author's very insightful, very thorough, and very rational presentation of the history. I agree strongly with nearly every point he made. Despite what we've been taught, so many of the decisions shaping our every day lives have been decided by racism. I like that Kendi strongly argues a point I've weakly made many times, ie the truest antiracists are not the champions of Civil Rights we celebrate today; the champions were more often assimilationists (sometimes even segregationist, as was the case with Lincoln). Their assimilationists views are the reason these figures are allowed to be celebrated in a society that still reeks of racism.

The one and only point of contention I had with Kendi's overall argument was his notion that people were in no way damaged because of the history of slavery and racism. If Kendi's whole point was that racism does not create a biological inferiority in blacks, by all means, that's without argument. But Kendi argues that to suggest an ailing psychology is racist. Living in fear is traumatic. I myself have suffered many injustices and been the brunt of much racist anger, the majority of which happened nearly twenty years ago, and I still have nightmares. I'm damaged, yet I had the freedom to hide when push came to shove. Others are not so fortunate. It's not merely about “inferior opportunities and bank accounts,” as Kendi suggests; it's also about the terror induced by a flash of red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror. It seems almost ludicrous to suggest there isn't some psychological consequence to centuries of abuse. And yet Kendi argues that very suggestion is wrong and racist. What is the harm in acknowledging the trauma of being treated inferior? Acknowledging that one has been a victim does not mean one is owning a state of inferiority. Any person of any social class or ethnicity or gender who has to struggle and struggle and struggle to get ahead while living in fear is going to be psychologically run-down, not merely “psychologically different” as Kendi suggests.

Stamped from the Beginning is a book I highly recommend for anyone who considers themselves to be an advocate for social justice. Too often, we applaud ideas that are inherently racist without recognizing them as such. Kendi examines all these ideas that have shaped us and gives a new perspective to view them with. And perhaps, having so thoroughly explored the subject, Kendi is right. Perhaps I'm wrong about the psychological impact of racism. No matter, because the discussion is alive and no one can say the history of racist ideas in America has not been thoroughly mapped. This is it. And it should not be ignored.
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