When a book wins an award, it is a big deal. When a book wins the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction, it is a really big deal.
Today at the Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas (sponsored by CitySquare). I presented my synopsis of that 2016 winner, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas by Ibram X. Kendi. It is not a good book; it is a really, really good book. Accessible, understandable, sweeping, filled with substance and insights from world history and American history (I learned much, and was embarrassed, again, by not knowing more to begin with).
The title comes from a speech by Jefferson Davis. The speech was given in 1860, while he was a U.S. Senator, before he would become the President of the Confederate States of America. From the book:
THE TITLE STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING comes from a speech that Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis gave on the floor of the US Senate on April 12, 1860.
“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes,” but “by white men for white men,” Davis lectured his colleagues. The bill was based on the false notion of racial equality, he declared. The “inequality of the white and black races” was “stamped from the beginning.”
As always, I begin my synopsis handouts with a section on “Why is this book worth our time?”
#1 – This book tells the story of the pervasive centrality of “racism” and racist policies throughout the history of the United States (and, really, the history of the world). This is a history we should know.
#2 – This book convincingly makes the argument that strategies that have been used by antiracist people and groups (some black themselves), all well-meaning, have not worked; and will never work!
#3 – This book is great history writing – accessible to the “non-academic.” In other words, this book is a great read.
The author makes his definition clear. From the book:
What is a racist idea? — My definition of a racist idea is a simple one: it is any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.
Here are some critical insights developed throughout the book:
Historically, there have been three sides to this heated argument. A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimination were to blame for racial disparities
About the structure of this book: These five main characters—Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis—were arguably the most consistently prominent or provocative racial theorists of their respective lifetimes, writing and speaking and teaching racial (and nonracial) ideas that were as fascinating as they were original, influential, and/or contradictory.
The book describes failed antiracist approaches, some of them well-meaning, but not able to deliver on their promises, such as: self-sacrifice; education; change of climate; uplift suasion; education.
#1 – We really should learn more of our history – especially the foundational ideas in our history. Racist ideas are foundational in and to our history!
#2 – We all have to renounce the idea that “becoming more white” should be the goal for black people…
#3 – Obviously, we all have to renounce racist ideas and especially racist policies.
#4 – And, let me say again, we need to read more books about issues/problems we have “ignored…”
#5 – And, maybe we should protest at the local level; constantly.
#6 – And, we should call out racist ideas and arguments of “racism” – every single time, over and over and over again.
At the end of my synopsis presentation, I stated that Stamped from the Beginning is my new “read this book first” recommendation to understand issues related to race in America. And, I also stated that if you have time to read more than one book, add to your reading stack these two volumes:
I think if you were to read those three books, you would have a pretty good grasp of the issues regarding race in America. After understanding comes action. So after reading, then, it’s back to work!
Would you like to see my synopsis handout? (it is designed as a “follow along” with my presentation; but you can see “the best of Randy’s highlights” from the book, and a few other items). Just click here to download a pdf of my handout.