I wish every American would read Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi because our history as a nation cannot be fully understood without an understanding of racism. Racist ideas echo from the slave markets of Charleston, South Carolina, to the pulpits of New England churches; across the battlefields of the Civil War to Montgomery, Alabama, and the black ghettos of Chicago, Detroit, Newark, and Los Angeles; from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument to Ferguson, Missouri, to the election of Donald Trump — down the decades, waiting for the moment when political or economic expediency needed them again.

“Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America,” writes National Book Award winner Kendi. “Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America. And this fact becomes apparent when we examine the causes behind, not the consumption of racist ideas, but the production of racist ideas.”

Kendi uses the work of five individuals to tell this history — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis — and through them traces the progression and consequences of racist ideas in all their guises: the curse of Ham, biological inferiority, the notion that slavery benefited black people because it civilized them, the white terrorism of the Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow, and the Black Power movement and the backlash it spurred — the War on Drugs that was felt disproportionately in black communities. Through brilliant, unflinching scholarship, Kendi shows the remarkable consistency and resiliency of bigotry in America’s history.


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