Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: A Review

There are very few history books that encapsulate a combination of vivid storytelling and engaging honesty. Kendi takes the reader on that perilous voyage, from before slavery to the present day (ending with the election of Obama). There is nothing sweet about Stamped from the Beginning. If you aren’t angered by something in each paragraph, you aren’t really reading the book. This is where the contents of the book could have become problematic. Kendi projects so much information that it feels as if they’re underwater. As a result, the reader (at least I did) yearns for some relief, only to realize that a period in history as brutal as the one endured by people of color –for hundreds of years (and continues)– cannot be peppered with jovial anecdotes or celebratory events. Kendi ventures into a world that seems surreal, inhumane beyond belief and definitely a cause to wonder if the Europeans of that era were human at all.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is what a history book is supposed to be. As I trekked through the pages I reflected on the Black history education I had received and how little I truly knew. From parading through elementary school and praising Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving to the water-downed assessment of the searing 60s and the Black Power / Civil Rights movements while a college student, I realized that I was cheated of truth and followed the path of what was expected of me to keep me oppressed although I was led to believe that I was succeeding. Kendi made me listen closely to the conversations and, equally, watch the actions, of people who didn’t look like me, think like me, or, in many instances, were less educated than I am. He forced me to take a deeper look at who I had become and how I had become that person. I shuttered at the realization that the legacy of my forefathers was not only stolen but manipulated so perfectly that I found near absolute comfort in not questioning my heritage.

Kendi opened a Pandora’s Box and left it open, allowing the demons and the filthy truth to flutter freely. He addressed the racism of both Blacks and whites throughout history. He reawakened the ‘down south’ stories I had been told as if they were Aesop fables, thus only slight believable. Kendi made me think, and I am certain that those who become enveloped by this book will also think, or more precisely, rethink, how well they know the history of race throughout the world.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is beyond an amazing book, but because of its depth it may, unfortunately, be taught in very few educational institutions when it should be unquestionably required. This a double or triple read book. There is so much density within each page that a second or third reading would be like reading it for the very first time. Bravo Ibram X. Kendi, for writing one of the best books I have ever read the first time.