Stamped from the Beginning has been on my tbr since a long time, but as someone who tries to read a lot of books to escape reality (and the real world in general), I’m not always good at catching up with the important nonfiction books that bring light to the ugly truths that exist in our world. But attending a talk and getting to listen to Dr. Kendi speak in close quarters was truly eye opening and I knew that I had to read his book soon. But then came the announcement of this remix version of Stamped by Jason Reynolds and I thought I’ll read it first, just to get an idea about the original that inspired it before deep diving into Dr. Kendi’s work. And I think I made the right choice.
Firstly, I have to mention that I listened to the audiobook and Jason’s narration is spectacular. There’s just no other word for it. The whole book (and narration) feels like Jason is having a conversation with us, just explaining us the historical truth behind racism in a simple but effective manner, in a way that’ll make us think and want to read more about all the racists and antiracist activists who are mentioned within these pages. He insists multiple times that this is not a history book, and it may not be in a conventional sense, but I feel it is indeed a historical account of the origin and perpetuation of racist ideas and an accounting of all the people who are responsible for the extremely racially divided world we live in today.
Just like what Dr. Kendi spoke about in his talk, Jason gives us clear distinctions between segregationists, assimilationists and antiracists and how the ideas each of them perpetuate have been a part of America since it’s inception. But one clear point he makes is that every person can contain multitudes, have both racist and antiracist ideas, or gradually change our beliefs from one to the other – but the most important thing is that if we want to confront the racism that has been entrenched in American society for centuries and has been the backbone of all the prosperity that white people have enjoyed, it is not enough just to not be racist, we have to actively be antiracist and fight against any idea or policy that is not for complete racial equality.
There are a lot of historical figures who get mentions in this novel and as someone who doesn’t know much about the revolutionary war or the founding fathers or even the Civil war, there were many things I was very surprised to learn, especially about Jefferson and Lincoln. As the narrative moves on to Jim Crow and later the world wars, we also get to know more about intellectuals and activists like W. E. B. Dubois or Booker T. Washington, MLK Jr and Malcolm X and even Bill Cosby – and the difference in their ideas, which were quite contradictory to each other and sometimes even harmful to black people in the long run.
Another narrative that I found throughout the book is how racists have used media and literature and even science to their advantage time and time again to give credence to their horrible ideas, and the inevitable fact that if you keep hammering people with a certain idea over and over, they will believe it to be the truth even though it’s exactly opposite of that. I was appalled to read about some of the books and movies that were essentially used as propaganda at the right moments in history to provoke white rage and fear and lead to violence against black people. And I promise you, if you aren’t aware of racist history much, then after reading this book, you will never see classic movies like Tarzan, Rocky or Planet of the Apes in the same light ever again.
This might feel abrupt and there is so much I could talk about this book, but ultimately it’s a small one and I think you should read it for yourself. If you enjoyed Stamped from the Beginning and want an easier version of it for younger readers, or just want to read an accessible version of the book, you should totally check this out. It may not be comprehensive, but it is a brilliant concise account of the history of racist ideas in this country and also a wonderful beginning for any other future readings we might wanna do on these important topics. I also highly recommend the audiobook because Jason’s narration brings fire to the writing and you’ll not want to put it down at all.
PS: Thank you to Libro.fm and Hachette Audio for providing me with this advance listening copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.