While “Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” is a welcome addition to the scholarship of U.S. history the title is a bit misleading. It is not a “definitive history” as that is impossible. Rather it is a long rant on who is in what bucket: racists, assimilationist or anti-racist. Kendi’s thesis is that assimilation in the end is simply just a facet of racism as it does nothing for justice and systemic racism in society. He pleads for an anti-racist world from all segments of society. Fair enough.
One thing I take issue with in the book is the naive notion of racism having no historical context. That David Hume, the philosopher of the Enlightenment is taken to task about his polygenisist beliefs is silly. Most white people at the time, including scientific organizations, thought humans were many species. (This is probably, though rarely mentioned, the root of modern racism) Throwing Hume under the bus makes it so people do not actually read Hume and dismiss his many brilliant ideas because it is so unfashionable to read the works of a “racist.” Kids these days have not a clue what the Enlightenment was and is. The same can be said for pretty much everyone in the 19th century. John Muir, of course the racist, who just happened to be a naturalist and wanted to “save the planet’ before it was fashionable, and who talked on some mountain top to another racist, Theodore Roosevelt. The list is long.
The other issue I have is that Fred Hampton, the Black Panther murdered by the FBI, who’s politics were far beyond the identity politics of race and terrified the FBI as he spoke of economic injustice beyond the systemic racism is not even mentioned. Harry Belafonte, who was a major figure in the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s is left out as well.
This is but a brief review. Read the book.
Definitive. I think not.