I am so excited to get our “Salon” featuring Ibram Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Before I get started I just wanted to note, that this book selection will hopefully be the first of many (our next pick will be in January). I apologize for the delay in posting, but I hope it gave more of you time to engage with this wonderful (and rather lengthy) read. My reflections and discussion points are only meant as a jumping off point here: they are not a fully fledged response to the book.
In Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning he traces the history of America’s racist ideas from pre-enlightenment Europe through the Black Lives Matter. I am generally skeptical of large scale surveys, but Kendi’s Stamped has the detail (and exacting prose) of a good monograph but the accessibility and call to arms of a popular history survey.
Kendi argues that racist ideas have not inspired racism and racist policy, but were spurred by racist policies themselves. Racist ideas historically developed to justify everything from slavery to segregation to mass incarceration.
Not only does Kendi (in my perspective) soundly prove this, he gives insight into the developers of America’s racist (and anti-racist ideas). What books did Cotton Mather read on race? Why did Thomas Jefferson so revere John Locke? Popular “well known” historical figures are interrogated and in terms of the lineage of their racial ideas.
Though I learned so much from the early sections of Kendi’s work, my favorites were near the end. His exploration of Black Power, the development of intersectional feminism, and the profound critiques leveraged by Gangsta Rap are brilliant, and accessible enough for undergraduates to read.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed Kendi’s work, I do wish he had included some of the less well known intellectual figures and thinkers, particularly regarding African American women’s intellectual history and the politics of mass incarceration. Until the development of Black Feminist and intersectional feminist theory in the late 20th century, Kendi rarely interprets the impact of African American women intellectuals (with the notable exception of Phyllis Wheatley).
These are just a few thoughts on Kendi’s groundbreaking Stamped from the Beginning! I hope to include more polished thoughts in a later post, but for now I want to know what you all think! Remember, please submit your guest posts and look forward to an interview with Ibram Kendi.
- How does Kendi’s work fit with other works on African American intellectual history, like How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women.
- Would you use this an undergraduate course? Which sections?
- Much of Kendi’s discussion of Cotton Mather and the puritans was new to me. What was the newest/most surprising insight for you?
- Kendi very clearly centers his work in the present political moment: #BlackLivesMatter and the post Obama era. How does this affect his argument? What value does this add to the book?
- What does Stamped From the Beginning add to our understanding of American intellectual history? Has it reframed your conception of intellectual history in any way?
Obviously, these are not meant to be pedantic and are just a starting point!!! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts! And also, any suggestions for our next read.