Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, March 6, 2023

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi - 2016- 582 Pages

 Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi - 2016- 582 

Anyone seriously into American history will find this book fascinating. All teachers of American history should be required to read this work. 

"After the revolution American declared itself the Land of Liberty, which must have come as a surprise to the millions ot slaves" - Philomena Cunk

"If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." Lyndin Baines Johnson

Most of those who try to offer a rationale for the enslavement of people of African descent look for things people believed that lead them to conclude that white people, Europeans, were intrinsically superior and that people of African descent were unable to govern themselves and were better off as slaves. Kendi explains in copious detail that this is backwards. At first people have absurd racist views and want to have slaves so they seek reasons for believing this.

I recently read a very illuminating book A World without Jews: the Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide by Alon Confino.- 2014 in which he pursues a quite similar account of how Germans came to the ideas they used to justify the Holocaust. The traditional explanation by most scholars is that they were lead to this by ideas going way back in European history on up to claims Jews caused the Germans to lose World War One and suffer a long economic collapse destroying the lives of millions. Similar to Kendi, Confino says first Germans and many others hated Jews then they looked for bogus historical claims and remarks by authorities to justify their hatred.

First you have idiotic beliefs, then you look for ways to justify them, not the other way around.

Kendi attacks a core false belief about America. That there is a straight line history of repudiation of racism in America culminating in the election of Barack Obama as American President. Obama himself said it was often a two step forward one back progress but it was real.

Kendi exposes this myth showing for every step of reputation of racism, racists have there own corresponding progress. Obama was followed by the champion of whites who feel they are being pushed aside. Not coincidently this president was Anti-Semitic, rapidly anti- Gay and judged women by how he liked their looks.

Kendi divides attitudes of Americans toward those of Africa descent in post Revolutionary America. Racists believed they were inferior mentally, not capable of self-rule and possessed of very strong sexual appetites and were better off enslaved. Abolitionists believed slavery should be abolished and wanted freed slaves shipped out of the country. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are in this category. Assimilationists wanted slaves freed and given the same rights as white Americans. (Kendi does talk about the attitudes toward and of Native Americans in a very illuminating way. To see the hundreds of tribal groups all thinking the same way is completely ill-informed.)

Kindi structures his narrative around five historically important Americans, Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis, the only living subject.

"The first generation of Puritans began rationalizing the enslavement of these “Negroes” without skipping a Christian beat. Their chilling nightmares of persecution were not the only hallucinations the Puritans had carried over the Atlantic waters in their minds to America. From the first ships that landed in Virginia in 1607, to the ships that survived the Great Hurricane of 1635, to the first slave ships, some British settlers of colonial America carried across the sea Puritan,biblical, scientific, and Aristotelian rationalizations of slavery and human hierarchy. From Western Europe and the new settlements in Latin America, some Puritans carried across their judgment of the many African peoples as one inferior people. They carried across racist ideas—racist ideas that preceded American slavery, because the need to justify African slavery preceded colonial America." - From Stamped From the Beginnings 
Cotton Mather (1663 to 1728- Boston) was the most influential evangelical Christian minister in pre-revoluntunary Amsrica. His sermons proclaimed the inherent inferiority of people with dark skin, and used texts from The Old Testament, Aristotle and other texts to justify enslaving Africans. Wealthy plantation owners loved him and poorer whites derived ego gratification from his sermons. In each segment Kindi deals with the development of ideologies advocating assistlation and absolution. (I was saddened to read quotes from Voltaire and David Hume postulating racists views) and economics of the country. He talks about how Cotton in the south and sugar in the Caribbean needed slave labor for maximum profit.

"VOLTAIRE, FRANCE’S ENLIGHTENMENT GURU, used Linnaeus’s racist ladder in the book of additions that supplemented his half-million-word Essay on Universal History in 1756. He agreed there was a permanent natural order of the species. ..“The negro race is a species of men as different from ours as the breed of spaniels is from that of greyhound.… If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours it is at least greatly inferior.” The African people were like animals, he added, merely living to satisfy “bodily wants.” However, as a “warlike, hardy, and cruel people,” they were “superior” soldiers." - Voltaire, Additions to the Essay on General History, trans. T. Franklin et al., vol. 22, The Works of M. De Voltaire (London: Crowder et al., 1763), 227–228, 234

Thomas Jefferson is the second subject.

Thomas Jefferson

Born- April 13, 1743- Dies July 4, 1826 - in Virginia 

January 1, 1772 - Marries his third cousin - Martha Skelton 
September 6, 1782- She dies- he kept his promise never to remarry-2 of their daughters survived to adulthood 

Authors The Declaration of Independence-1776

American Revolution- April 19,1775 to September 8, 1783

Governor of Virginia- June 1, 1779 to June 31,1781

Ambassador to France- May 17, 1785 to September 26,1789

Secretary of State for President Washington - March 20, 1793 to December 31, 1793

President of the United States- March 4,1801 to March 4, 1809

April 30, 1803. The Louisiana Purchase doubles American territory 

Jefferson owned about 300 slaves, he had a long relationship with a woman he owned with whom he had six children. Jefferson treated their children, as they legally were, as his property though he did eventually free the children still alive as he neared death. In his Pulitzer Prize winning biography Jon Meachem, Thomas Jefferson:The Art of Power portrays Jefferson as an assimilationists of sorts. He knew the principles in The Declaration of Independence mandated the end of slavery. However he believed those enslaved were inferior in intellect and self-control to such a degree that they needed once freed shipped out of the country. This was a common belief, also held by Lincoln.

Recently I read The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry should be required reading for all teachers of American history. It shows how slavery corrupted all slavers and inflicted terrible cruelty on the victims. I cannot find a way to adequately praise this book. Those taught the after school cartoon version of the founding of America will be shocked maybe even hurt by what they learn about God - Like figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  

1810 - the importation of slaves into USA is banned. This was sponsored and pushed for by then President Thomas Jefferson. The as taught in schools myth is that this showed Jefferson, a slave owner, long term wanted to end slavery. The exposure of the venality and self-serving reasons for Jefferson's actions is presented in completely convincing details in The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry by Ned and Constance Sublette - 2015 - 752 pages

 By stopping the import of slaves those already here became much more valuable. It became very profitable to breed slaves. When a slave was too old for field work, Jefferson cut their food rations in half.  I think to call him without serious qualifications an assimilation is an error.

"Equating enslaved Blacks to three-fifths of all other (White) persons matched the ideology of racists on both sides of the aisle. Both assimilationists and segregationists argued, yet with different premises and conclusions, that Black people were simultaneously human and subhuman. Assimilationists stridently declared the capability of sub-White, sub-human Blacks to become whole, five-fifths, White, one day. For segregationists, three-fifths offered a mathematical approximation of inherent and permanent Black inferiority. They may have disagreed on the rationale and the question of permanence, but seemingly all embraced Black inferiority—and in the process enshrined the power of slaveholders and racist ideas in the nation’s founding document."

Kendi might have gone into more details as to the reasons enslaved persons were counted as 3/5ths of a free person but emotionally hid claim is completely credible.

William Lloyd Garrison (1805 to 1879- Newportbury, Massachusetts- New York City is the third subject. He completely repudiated all forms of racism and was a leading figure among anti-slavers. I admit I knew nothing of Garrison but now I hold him in high esteem. He edited a highly influential anti slavery publication for two decades. He over and over printed articles saying there were no biologically based racial differences. Kindi also addreeses the way in which notions of race were constructed in the mid-14th century to rationalise European control of Africa and the slave trade. (Wikipedia has a good article on him)

W. E. B Du Bois and Angela Davis are featured in segments four and five.

This post is rather long. I will give Kendi the next to last words.

"It is in the intelligent self-interest of Asians, Native Americans, and Latina/os to challenge anti-Black racism, knowing they will not be free of racism until Black people are free of racism. It is in the intelligent self-interest of White Americans to challenge racism, knowing they will not be free of sexism, class bias, homophobia, and ethnocentrism until Black people are free of racism. The histories of anti-Asian, anti-Native, and anti-Latina/o racist ideas; the histories of sexist, elitist, homophobic, and ethnocentric ideas: all sound eerily similar to this history of racist ideas, and feature some of the same defenders of bigotry in America. Supporting these prevailing bigotries is only in the intelligent self-interest of a tiny group of super rich, Protestant, heterosexual, non-immigrant, White, Anglo-Saxon males. Those are the only people who need to be altruistic in order to be antiracist. The rest of us merely need to do the intelligent thing for ourselves."

DR. IBRAM X. KENDI is a National Book Award-winning author of thirteen books for adults and children, including nine New York Times bestsellers—five of which were #1 New York Times bestsellers. Dr. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor. 

Dr. Kendi is the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest author to win that award. He also authored the international bestseller, How to Be an Antiracist, which was described in the New York Times as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.” Dr. Kendi’s other bestsellers include How to Raise an Antiracist; Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, co-edited with Keisha Blain; How to Be a (Young) Antiracist, co-authored with Nic Stone; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored with Jason Reynolds; and Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Genius Grant. - from

The author has numerous of his articles linked on his website and has a number of presentations on YouTube 

Mel Ulm

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