Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Ibram X. Kendi
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Some Americans cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, that the election of the first Black president spelled the doom of racism. In fact, racist thought is alive and well in America--more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.
In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, 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.
Contrary to popular conceptions, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era. These intellectuals used their brilliance to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation's racial disparities in everything from wealth to health. And while racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them--and in the process, gives us reason to hope.
rights) and Fifteenth (voting) Amendments. If the Bargain of federal noninterference was consummated in 1876, then after years of northern and southern reticence, it became the undisputed national policy in the 1890s and in the first decade of the twentieth century. A series of separate but (un)equal laws was instituted, segregating nearly every aspect of southern life, from water fountains, to businesses, to transportation—all to ensure White solidarity and Black submission and to ensure cheap
in Knuckles and Gloves (1922), London boxing aficionado John Gilbert explained that White men were “at a disadvantage” in boxing because of their “physical inequality.” The US government soon accomplished what White boxers failed to do: knocking out Jack Johnson, though only in a metaphorical sense. He was arrested on trumped-up charges of transporting a prostitute (or rather a White woman) across state lines. After skipping bail, he lived abroad for seven years before turning himself in, and
policies. That strategy sapped W. E. B. Du Bois’s pleasure with the civil rights movement. And activists desegregating southern businesses that low-income Blacks could hardly afford did not seem like racial progress to Du Bois, who refused to measure racial progress by the gains of Black elites. Du Bois had been waiting for a political-economic program to arise. He had been waiting for something like scholar Michael Harrington’s shocking anti-poverty best seller in 1962, The Other America. “A
for racial disparities. In embracing biological racial equality, assimilationists point to environment—hot climates, discrimination, culture, and poverty—as the creators of inferior Black behaviors. For solutions, they maintain that the ugly Black stamp can be erased—that inferior Black behaviors can be developed, given the proper environment. As such, assimilationists constantly encourage Black adoption of White cultural traits and/or physical ideals. In his landmark 1944 study of race
2005), 222–223. 11. Thomas, Slave Trade, 38–39. CHAPTER 2: ORIGINS OF RACIST IDEAS 1. P. E. Russell, Prince Henry “the Navigator”: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 6. 2. Ibid., 249; Gomes Eanes de Zurara, Charles Raymond Beazley, and Edgar Prestage, Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, 2 vols. (London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1896), 1, 6, 7, 29. 3. William McKee Evans, Open Wound: The Long View of Race in America (Urbana: University of Illinois