Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

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Young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. The unemployment rate for African Americans has been double that of whites for more than half a century. And yet Americans cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, that the election of the first black president spelled doom for racist policies and racist beliefs. In fact, racist thought is alive and well in America; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.

In this deeply researched, provocative narrative, Kendi offers a comprehensive history of anti-Black racist ideas their origins in fifteenth-century Portugal, their arrival in England in the mid-sixteenth century, and their blossoming in the United States, where they became the founding principles of our nation’s institutions and guarantors of its power. Contrary to popular conceptions, these ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era, men like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. In an effort to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and disparities, assimilationists and segregationists alike created, debated, popularized, and defended racist ideas in the modern era, dictating the discussion on race for four hundred years.

Kendi narrates this history through the lives of five major characters in American history: early America’s most prolific and influential intellectual, Puritan minister Cotton Mather; the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson; fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison; brilliant scholar and thinker W.E.B. Du Bois; and legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis. Their rich and surprising stories offer a window into the debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists that have marked Black Americans for centuries. 

As Kendi shows, racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, but they are also easily discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the long, dark history of racist ideas, Kendi offers us the tools we need to expose themand in the process, gives us reason to hope.

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