Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner)

by Ibram X. Kendi

Paperback, 2017



Call number




Bold Type Books (2017), Edition: Reprint, 608 pages


Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. 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 lives 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. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation's racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited--From publisher's website.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rivkat
Kendi has a very specific, deliberately ahistorical idea of what constitutes racism, or more specifically antiracism, which I don’t think works as well as he does. But the idea of tracing American theories of race from Cotton Mather to Angela Davis is interesting, and I did learn some things.
LibraryThing member deusvitae
As advertised, a history of racist ideas in America, prominently featuring Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis.

The author sets forth an unrelenting parade of white supremacy constantly justifying its premises of black inferiority, finding ways to
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blame black people for their conditions and station, without a hint of self-reflection. For a person of European heritage it is an extremely difficult read: one is made to recognize just how much of the foundation of America is rooted in white supremacy, and how pervasive it has proven throughout time.

The author does well at proving many of his main theses:

(1) Racism and white supremacy were functional: they came about to justify first colonial expansion of Western Europeans, and then their enslavement of Africans, then the inferiority of black people, and now finally maintaining blame for difficulties in the black community on black people.

(2) Racism and white supremacy proved predominant and all-pervasive in American society. Everyone "knew" that white people were superior to black people, that Africa was a wild and savage continent, and that Western Europeans represented the highest level of civilization and worthy of emulation. Religion was used to justify the premises; it was also always considered good science. One of the longest running arguments in American history was monogenesis vs. polygenesis, thus, whether Africans were even of the same species as Europeans. It is hard not to see this same theme present, in more coded language, since 1969: the association of black people with criminality, the expectation that there must be "something wrong" with black people or in the black community which is leading to its current state, and never questioning the construct.

(3) Since racism and white supremacy were functional, "uplift suasion" was always a myth: white people were never reasoned into white supremacy and racism, and therefore, they would not be reasoned out of it by seeing black people display all the fruits of civilization. Such led to the "extraordinary Negro" condition, by which black people who achieved levels of standing and education in white society were considered "different" from the stereotypical "inferior" black people.

(4) Anti-black racism was not limited to the South, or to white people; plenty of black people internalized white supremacist and racist principles, and Northerners have proven equally as racist, and often worse in behavior, as Southerners.

(5) The equation of American civilization with the culture and civilization of Western Europe, the belief that any other culture/civilization is inferior or less civilized, and the fear that any kind of culture/civilization to develop in the United States which is not based/rooted in western European civilization would be degenerate and barbaric, is the most pronounced form of American white supremacy/racism, and remains to this day.

I have a couple of forms of hesitation with the work. There's a bit of a mischaracterization of New Testament evidence regarding the Apostle Paul and slavery: yes, he did expect a slave to remain in that condition, but in that same passage (1 Corinthians 7), Paul said that if a slave could get his freedom, he should. Paul believes in more than the equality of "souls" in Galatians 3:28: Philemon displays the Paul's full embrace of Onesimus' humanity. From all evidence the Apostle Paul believed in the full equality of value of all humans in the sight of God in Christ, but still recognized that people would have different roles/responsibilities/form of social standing, and it could be argued that this emphasis on the equality of man is what led to the reduction of slavery in Christendom in the medieval era, and a main driver of religious sentiment to abolition in the modern era.

I look forward to reading Kendi's work on "antiracism" and getting a bit more explanation, because it seems a very easily and a bit too clean-cut distinction being cut not only throughout the work, but even through individuals and individual speeches. The racist/antiracist framework is one through which one can look at history, and even see within people the different directions they might be pulled, and it might well be a very important and valid framework through which to see history...but it is piled on thick in this book, and is of extremely modern coinage.

None of these criticisms should detract from the magisterial monument Kendi has established here, and the importance for all Americans, especially those of European heritage, to come to grips with what he has said. The time is long past for the descendants of those who so firmly insisted on their own "superiority," and the "inferiority" of those who did not look like them, to have to stare into the ugliness, sit in it, and for once in American history, have to reflect on what it means about them, their heritage, and all they have inherited.
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LibraryThing member larryerick
Would you consider taking all of the millions of America's black people and exiling them to Africa a racist idea? Would your answer change if you knew half of the faces on Mount Rushmore belong to national leaders who where strong advocates of doing just that? This book is subtitled, "The
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Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America". The author first intended to write a book about the history of the origins of Black Studies in American higher education, a book certain to be a best seller with lots of box office revenue from the subsequent movie, no doubt. Oh, well, let's just make things easier by merely defining the expanse of racial thought in America. The reader might actually start out thinking this will be kept short and sweet by the author (1) distinguishing between racist, antiracist, and the unsung assimilationists, and (2) dividing the book into five sections. I was going to say five sections concentrating on five individual Americans, but they don't "concentrate" on them. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), and Angela Davis (1943-present), may be known, if not well known, to many present day Americans, but, as such, the author does not make each section into mini-biographies of the five people. The discussion of each is less as personal histories or as a focal point in time, and more as a reference point to the dominant or maybe just one of many key thoughts during America's history. In each section, other well known and many more barely known individuals get discussed. If there is anything the author is, it is very, very thorough. For instance, you may have known that Voltaire, John Locke, and Ben Franklin, all contributed to racist thought in their time, but I did not. Since many Americans at any given time, struggle to name their nation's current Vice President, I'm guessing most folks are with me on being caught unaware. Indeed, the author may overwhelm some readers with the depth of his scholarship. And the variations on racial thought never stop coming forward. But no worries. Think of the instant replay in sports. Was the runner easily safe stealing the base despite the umpire's call? Was the touchdown catch bobbled just as the receiver crossed into the end zone? The author pulls out the camera recordings from every conceivable angle and lays out the ultimate answers. Absolutely no stone is left undisturbed. Will this book compete with "The Help" as a popular book on racial thought? No, and that's a huge shame, because I challenge any potential reader to not unearth some new view, or many views, on the subject that will haunt them for a lifetime, or at least until it's been fully absorbed into their psyche.
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LibraryThing member witchyrichy
I finally finished Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. The book is organized around five figures in American history and weaves their biographies and philosophies with the context of their times. Each one from Thomas Jefferson to Angela Davis are shown in
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their complexity, how they contributed to or fought back against racist ideas but also created an environment of racist thought in the United States. Kendi does a good job teasing out the various threads of how racist ideas show up in the world and requires a level of personal examination that can be challenging.

While I was reading the book, I watched two PBS series that underscored Kendi's ideas as well as the history itself. The Long Song, a Masterpiece theater series, was set in Jamaica in the 19th century during the end of slavery. Powerful in its message and illustrating the complex relationships of slaves and former slaves to their masters. The story telling was compelling as well along with the cinematography. Highly recommended!

And, be sure to watch The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is joined by an amazing group of leaders to talk about the history and influence of the black church. It repeats many of the same themes as Kendi's book but in the context of religion and spirituality and it moves right into the present day with contemporary faith leaders discussing the challenges of meeting the needs of the current generation.
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LibraryThing member ReadandFindOut
4.5 stars.

A tabbed this book up so much. Everyone needs to read this, as it examines how every side of our history here in the United States helped racist ideas to develop into what they are today. This is a must read.
LibraryThing member cdogzilla
Tremendously important, essential reading. If I were a teacher of American history or social studies, I'd probably start my students with Anderson's White Rage and follow that up with this remarkable history of the generation and promulgation of racist ideas. Can't recommend this book highly enough.
LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
My only regret with this book is that I had to read it so fast because a queue of people are waiting to read it at the library and I cannot renew. But that's a good thing because the more widely this is read the better - and I shall revisit the book when I can. I feel Ibram Kendi has given me the
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beginnings of a feel for the history of the USA and the impact of that on the day-to-day news I read. I shall now re-read the epilogue and return the book.
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LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
Really good, cogent overview that gives clear throughlines and a great framework for understanding American racism and analyzing ideas we come across today. Learned a lot, and got an overall view that connects other more specific things I've read. The author does an excellent job of keeping on the
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intersections, too, calling out 'gender-racism', 'class-racism' and more: he's exacting in considering the justice of anti-racists and their blind spots as well as criticizing assimilationists and segregationists.

Audiobook note: The reading was okay, but occasionally emphasis patterns contradicted the actual meaning of the sentence or a similar word was substituted in for what must have been meant -- I think it wasn't prepared much before being recorded. It's a decent way to absorb the information (although I had to back up to catch statistics, of course) but I wouldn't recommend it over reading the text.
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
Engaging, enlightening and enraging. Now, how to direct that anger towards something productive towards change.....
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Essential and important reading for these times. Occasionally dense going but for those determined to understand racism and anti-racism so we can shore the battle for equality this is a comprehensive tome.
LibraryThing member foof2you
Since the beginning of America ideas about Africans have spread. Throughout the world Europeans were more than willing to share their opinions with everyone about Africans who and what they were. Even though they were wrong those ideas spread to America and have been the basis of many myth still
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Stamped from the Beginning by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is the book you didn’t know you needed to read if you are working towards being an antiracist. At times dense with history and more than a bit confusing, its overlying message of racism as the founding sentiment of the country is as uncomfortable
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as it is important. The care with which Dr. Kendi presents his findings and the honesty he expresses about uncovering his own racist ideas provide the means for you to begin your own journey of antiracism.

Dr. Kendi divides American history into five sections, with each section lead by one key figure who was highly influential in the ongoing racism battle. In each section, he takes care to provide the necessary political, economic, and sociological ideologies that define that time period so that readers get a fuller picture of racism as it existed at that time and the lengths people went to protect their racist ideas.

One of the more impressive aspects about Stamped from the Beginning is not just the fact that Dr. Kendi provides a list of all of his reference documents for each point he makes. It is also the fact that he is unafraid to call out the nation’s heroes for their own complicity in promoting racist ideology. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, and Barack Obama are just a few of those on the list of people this country tends to admire and who all did nothing to eradicate racism in the country. He draws attention to the problems of such beloved, supposedly anti-racist, novels as To Kill a Mockingbird. Even more, he highlights famous movies that have their basis in racist imagery, whether you realized it or not. In short, he opens your eyes to even the most buried aspects of racism.

Stamped from the Beginning is not an easy read. Not only is it dense with fact and history, but it also is infuriating at all of the ways politicians and other people of power maintained the racist status quo throughout the centuries. The modern section that highlights all of the ongoing issues inherited by Bush one and two, Clinton, and Obama, are particularly infuriating if only because it proves that racists don’t care about science or fact – something we are still beginning to discover as 2020 ends.

In the end, what truly makes Stamped from the Beginning so powerful, and therefore uncomfortable, is all the times in which Dr. Kendi shows how racist thought permeates every aspect of society. I felt shame at having held certain beliefs, not understanding their racist underpinnings. At the same time, I had more than one epiphany as something Dr. Kendi states resonated with me and shifted my perspective. Therefore, since being an antiracist is an ongoing journey, you can’t go wrong in starting your journey with Stamped from the Beginning.
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LibraryThing member Stahl-Ricco
A Christmas gift from a sweet friend! Thanks Larkin! It is the history of racism in the United States, with Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois and Angela Davis as the tour guides. The Angela Davis part really got to me, as I was alive for most of it, but the
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whole book is amazing! It should be a required textbook in all classrooms throughout this country!

On the first page of the Preface to this book it reads, “How could a Donald Trump follow a Barack Obama into the presidency?” Weird, because earlier this evening I finished reading “A Promised Land” by President Obama, and I asked myself the same question over and over the whole time that I read it. Truer words... such as - “...then Donald Trump should come to embody America’s history of racist progress.” He sure has Mr. Kendi. He sure has.

“Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed by police than their White counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according to federal statistics.” That’s what BLM was about! Fact, not made up conspiracy theories!

“I am writing this preface on the eve of Trump’s 100th day in office as the forty-fifth president of the United States. But I am less concerned about Trump’s first 100 days - or last 100 days for that matter - than what Trump’s election reveals about America’s racial history.” What would Kendi write now, after the disaster of the last four years, especially in regards to race relations? That is a chapter/book I'd like to read! Until that time, I can't wait to read another of his books!
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LibraryThing member _janson_
Sweeping; enlightening; and unflinching in it's criticism of nearly everyone. All, even the so-call heroes, are human.
LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
My only regret with this book is that I had to read it so fast because a queue of people are waiting to read it at the library and I cannot renew. But that's a good thing because the more widely this is read the better - and I shall revisit the book when I can. I feel Ibram Kendi has given me the
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beginnings of a feel for the history of the USA and the impact of that on the day-to-day news I read. I shall now re-read the epilogue and return the book.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
A massive and well researched study on the history of racism in America. The author has centered on five historical figures from different eras with many side stories, They are Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. DuBois and Angela Davis. I have been teaching college
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level history for over twenty five years and I learned so much from this book. There are assimilationists and segregationists. There are blatant racists and people who feel they aren't but are in more subtle ways. This is a really important book to understand our country's story.
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LibraryThing member mst3k4L
Good and informative book. The numerous historical people talked about made the chapters hard to follow sometimes.
LibraryThing member marshapetry
If you only read one book in your life, make it this book. It's that good, that well written, that interesting, and that absolutely necessary.
LibraryThing member arosoff
This is an absorbing history of racist ideas in the US, dating back to the Colonial era. As the title says, racism has been stamped from the beginning--built into our founding institutions and documents. It's provocative, but in a good way--when your initial reaction is to disagree with something
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Kendi says, you stop, think about what he's saying, and then see his point. Essential reading.
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LibraryThing member stevesbookstuff
"Exhaustively researched", "thorough", "sweeping" - all these adjectives from other's reviews are true. And add to that - this book is amazing.

Kendi traces the evolution of racist ideas in America from the Puritans to the present day and does so in a manner that pulls you in and moves you right
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through it all. And there is a lot - the written book is 594 pages and the audiobook (which I listened to) is over 18 hours long.

As a fan of history books, I appreciated the amount of research that must have gone into this - the breadth of ideas Kendi follows through the sweep of over 350 years is really impressive.

Kendi points out that racial ideas in America don't fall into two camps - racist and non-racist, but three camps - segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. And those three sets of ideas - two supporting racist ideas and one opposed - have been at play in America since the beginning, as he demonstrates in this book.

I have read a lot of history and so I was familiar with many of the individuals and stories covered by Kendi, but have never seen them all brought together in the way he does. If you like history and would like to ground yourself in an understanding of the history of racism in America this is a must-read book. I can't say enough good about it. Masterful.

Christopher Dontrell Piper narrates the audiobook and did an excellent job.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Monumental history book filled with truth and a ton of facts you never knew. We read this for our library's Anti-Racism Book Club (thanks to Brad McKenna, Tech Librarian) from Jan - Sept 2021. I'd love to take a full year college course featuring this as the text. In the Boston area, we are
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fortunate to have Dr. Kendi in residence at BU. We also "own" Cotton Mather and William Lloyd Garrison, two of the prime movers in the book, and their perspectives towards enslavement and abolition. The others are Thomas Jefferson (who wins The Most Hypocritical Award), W.E.B DuBois, and Dr. Angela Davis. I challenge anyone who opines that "Critical Race Theory" teaches children to hate themselves for being white to read this book.
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LibraryThing member Meggo
This is an important book to read, but not an easy book to read. I despair for our society, but am better equipped to address my own unconscious biases.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
Non-fiction that chronicles the history of racism in the United States. It is structured around the lifetimes of five individuals: Cotton Mather (1663–1728), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879), W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963), and Angela Davis (1943–present). In
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this ambitious undertaking, the author also examines the interconnections among racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism that have occurred over hundreds of years.

Kendi offers definitions for segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists, which he uses throughout the book. He includes racial policies and practices evident in science, politics, court cases, industry, socioeconomics, education, literature, and performing arts in each generation, noting progress and regress. It is scholarly in tone and takes focused concentration to keep track of the many concepts covered. It is written for people who are or desire to be antiracists. It is not a quick read but definitely worthwhile if you want to understand and contribute to the ongoing dialogue about race in the US.
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LibraryThing member ms_rowse
I learned so much from this book. I listened to it on Spotify while reading the YA version (still need to finish that--almost done), and I really liked doing it that way. Listening to it took me quite a long time, and I need a hard copy of this version to read again, highlight, look at footnotes,
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find and read primary sources referenced in the book. If you aren't quite sure where to start regarding learning about systemic racism, this is an excellent starting point.

"When we fight for humanity, we fight for ourselves."
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LibraryThing member tanyaferrell
This is a really ambitious work. Most historians could not call themselves experts on such a long period of time, even when narrowing themselves to one topic like racism. If it were a textbook, which it honestly could be, it would be updated every couple of years to make corrections and refine the
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content. All that being said, I don't think people should go into this expecting every single statement to ring true. Instead, it is a timeline that gives you just enough information to do your own research into the topics that interest you most.

I really enjoyed all of the pre-Civil War content. If you are really well-educated on racism and modern American History, then I don't think Kendi provides any new facts or meaningful interpretations in his post-Civil War content. This was also where I noticed my biggest issue with the book. At times, Kendi will provide a personal interpretation or opinion on facts without taking the time to explain to the reader how he got there. I think with most artistic works, that explanation is required. We may all agree on his interpretation of a book as popular and embedded in American culture as Uncle Tom's Cabin, but many of the books and films he references do not have singular interpretations as he presents them.

And, I was actually offended and saddened when he did this on his extremely brief coverage of Bo Derek and her braids, and glibly claims that women who relax their hair are hypocrites for appropriating European culture. When a black woman adopts the most widely accepted beauty standard in her home country, she is not appropriating, she is assimilating. And it's not even an assimilation to European beauty standards. Long, straight hair is a nearly global beauty standard. The differences between assimilation and appropriation should be obvious to someone who wrote over 500 pages on assimilation racism. It honestly stunk of sexism for both him and his editor to seek out an opportunity to call black women hypocrites instead of working on the assumption that black women are educated enough to understand the definition of appropriation.

But, like with his unsupported literature and film critiques which were just hard to follow rather than offensive, I'll blame the speed at which he's trying to cover all of these topics. If you're only spending a few paragraphs on a topic, you're more likely to get something wrong.

All that being said... This did encourage me to read more about Africa's history and Ida B. Wells. I'll likely buy a physical copy so I can give it a closer read someday and uncover more topics to read about and research.
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Physical description

608 p.; 9.15 inches


1568585985 / 9781568585987
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