BOOK REVIEW: “Stamped From the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi, reviewed by Mansfield Frazier

 

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

Ibram X. Kendi’s magnum opus, Stamped from the Beginning, takes a deep dive into the most important — and divisive — issue extant in America today, as it has been since the very beginning: Racism, and its intractability. While the Founding Fathers were warned by people like John Adams and Ben Franklin that slavery would eventually destroy the republic, it now appears as if its ugly stepchild — persistent racism that morphs as needed when times change, reinventing itself with new iterations over the decades and centuries — will be the culprit, the instrument of our fall from our lofty position as the greatest nation on earth to a second-rate historical footnote in some distant future.

But Kendi believes that it doesn’t have to turn out that way, and with this magnificent tome he sets out to cure our nation of its race-based sickness by systematically explaining its origins, its wily ways, and how it manages to keep returning, rising back to the surface, haunting us like a cursed case of — in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates — “bad credit.” He also has the cure for this disfiguring disease — read on.

Avoiding finger-pointing to the extent that he can (a feat in and of itself that’s a testament to his skill as a wordsmith), Kendi, a former journalist who now is a professor of history and international relations (and the founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center) at American University in Washington, DC, nevertheless pulls no punches and allows no one — be they black or white — to slip off the hook of responsibility. He’s brilliantly non-discriminatory.

The title of the book is taken from a speech by racist South Carolina Senator and eventual Vice-President, John C. Calhoun (1783-1850), a slaveholder who justified the pernicious institution by using the Bible to posit that blacks were the progeny of Ham, and therefore were “stamped from the beginning” to be servants of whites. The problem, of course, is that while slavery has disappeared from this country, the notion that whites are somehow “better” than blacks is still very much in evidence. Indeed, since the last presidential election many other latter-day racists of the same ilk and stripe as Calhoun throughout the country have slithered out from under rocks they have been hiding under.

However, the racial animus that stubbornly refuses to go away had its roots in economics, not the Bible. To enslave a people a nation first has to despise them, and that’s exactly what a variety of individuals over millennia have sought to do.

Kendi traces the beginnings of race-based greed back to 1415, when Prince Henry of Portugal, along with his brothers, convinced their father, King John, to capture Ceuta, the principal Muslim trading route in the Mediterranean on the northeastern tip of Morocco. They were aware of the riches coming out of Africa and wanted them, but didn’t want to trade for them. So, similar to the plantation owners in the United States a few centuries later, they became thieves. They stole gold, while slaveholders stole labor and lives.

The legacy of this 600-year-old tradition of thievery from the darker-hued people of the world still haunts us today. But Kendi is firm in his belief that appealing to altruism or a sense of fairness in racist whites is futile, that it will yield nothing in terms of bringing about fair treatment for blacks. In the final chapter of his masterwork, he explains how whites can gain financially from abandoning their racist ways. This possibility alone should cause the most rabid segregationist to read this book — and you should too.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.

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