Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi is last year's National Book Award winner for non-fiction, and U.S. history as it should be told.
While there is a brief dip into the the 15th and 16th Century, this book primarily covers the 17th Century until today, with five parts guided by what Kendi calls "tour guides" of the "landscape of racial ideas through five periods in American history." These guides are: Cotton Mather (1663-1728), the son of Puritan preachers who brought racist ideas from Europe to substantiate slavery and convince converts; Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third U.S. President, lead writer of the Declaration of Independence and both anti-slavery and anti-abolitionist; William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), editor of The Liberator, assimilationist and advocate for immediate equality; W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), assimilationist turned antiracist in his long and learned lifetime; and Angela Davis (1943-present), philosopher, feminist and antiracist.
Over these hundreds of years, we see the recycling and retooling of both segregationist and assimilationist racism and come to confront the racism that is pervasive in almost all things, from our history, to our media, to our language. Kendi covers climate theory and curse theory of the 17th Century, later reflecting on natural slave theory, polygenesis and Social Darwinism. Even as recently as 2000, we saw the claim that we were 99.9% the same based on DNA proof, and racists still found a way of saying that .1% difference was racial superiority/inferiority.
Kendi ends his brief but detailed and brilliant history with a review of the popular strategies used by Americans so far to both combat and further maintain racism: self-sacrifice, uplift suasion and educational persuasion. These approaches have each had backlashes. As Du Bois once wrote, "Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved." Kendi furthers this: "Lawmakers have the power today to stamp our racial discrimination...But local and federal lawmakers fear the repercussions from campaign donors and voters. They know that the postracialists would reject any sweeping antiracism bill as discriminatory and hateful toward White people... even if such a bill would benefit nearly all Americans, including White people. If racism is eliminated, many White people in the top economic and political brackets fear that it would eliminate one of the most effective tools they have at their disposal to conquer and control and exploit not only non-Whites, but also both low-income and middle-income White people."
Is now the time to have the courage to stand up, not just today and as it serves us in the moment, but forever, for a lasting future of equality? I hope so. Ending with Kendi: "..when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves."