I was very nervous to read this book. When it came in the mail, it was huge, and that really freaked me out. I should have expected a huge book given the fact that racist ideas in America are almost never ending, but actually seeing this book and holding it in my hands was intimidating. It sat on my shelf for about six months before I actually started it.
In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Ibram X. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.
This is one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. Kendi is taking on racist ideas in America, and that is no small task. He expertly guides the reader through debates about race taking place at any given time in the US. He presents the different sides, and exposes the thinking that has shaped American culture since its earliest days.. His ambition pays off, not only is this book detailed and expansive, it is clear and direct. Kendi won The National Book Award for Non-Fiction with Stamped from the Beginning, and it is well deserved.
At the risk of sounding cliche, and in all earnestness, this book is eye-opening and life changing. It is an academic exploration of things we’ve come to know anecdotally as residents of the United States, but have never truly grappled with. This book gives background to standardized testing, affirmative action, popular films and so much more. Kendi is relentless in his dissection of racist ideas and the cultural importance they have had. For example he spends time talking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to illustrate how pivotal these books were in spreading ideas about Black Americans across the country and the world.
Kendi is patient with his reader and explains things in detail. Dissecting key moments in American history, both culturally and legislatively, to develop the progress of racist, assimilationist, and antiracist thoughts over time. From the start of slavery through to the presidency of Barack Obama there is never a dull moment for the reader or for racist ideas. Kendi is there to help the reader make sense of it all and give ideas their proper context and in turn show the extent of their reach.
This book was challenging to read. I struggled and reread many passages to make sure it was all sinking in. That was part of the enjoyment of this book, really being challenged to grapple with the ideas and the text.
I would highly recommend this book to everyone. Especially if you consider yourself an antiracist or an ally in the fight for equity in this country, or if you’re interested in learning more about Blackness and anti-Blackness.
- Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Nation Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017)
- 5/5 stars
- Buy Stamped from the Beginning on Amazon
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