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Finally, A Powerful Guide to Antiracism for Younger Readers

Popular books on antiracism (the belief that racial groups are equal) are on the rise. The powerful reception to Ibram X. Kendi’s landmark Stamped from the Beginning suggests that people are greatly interested in how racism works in our society. The fact that there are large groups of individuals who aim to understand and eventually help to dismantle oppression is inspiring and signals hope for the next decade of antiracist work.

The only thing is, these antiracism books are nearly all geared toward adults. And while it is true that adults are the ones in charge of existing systems and can shape them for the better, we seem to forget that young people will one day grow up and take their place. There are definitely several fantastic works of fiction about racism out there for young adults—Internment by Samira Ahmed and Jay Coles’ Tyler Johnson Was Here, for example—but there’s a significant gap when it comes to YA nonfiction on this topic.

Enter two masters of their own respective worlds: Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Jason Reynolds is the New York Times bestselling author of a slew of books ranging from poetry collections to young adult novels. He’s one of the biggest names in the YA universe right now, having penned legendary works like Long Way Down, an innovative novel in verse. Ibram X. Kendi, as mentioned earlier, has devoted his artistic prose to educating the masses about racism and antiracism. His National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning somehow condenses a centuries-long history of racism into an endlessly readable text, illuminating its audience on how exactly racism emerged and how it functions today.

Now, these experts have joined forces to create Stamped, a remix of Kendi’s original novel for younger readers. It definitely isn’t a history book, as it is sure to tell readers. Or at least, not the type of history book filled with lists of dates and only one paragraph on Black History Month. This is the kind of book that, while it contains history, continuously works to connect the present to the past and pull the teenage reader in.

It can be difficult to make history engaging—it often feels so far removed from our present-day concerns. Yet, as Kendi and Reynolds illustrate, that is actually far from the case. Even as long ago as 1415, when Stamped begins its exposé, the ideas and actions perpetrated by people then greatly impact how we live our lives now. As the book eloquently explains, a big example is racism, the origins of which can be traced back centuries, yet still frames our society in its image.

Studying race is no small prospect. Scholars spend their whole lives and academic careers trying to understand this complicated, dynamic, worldwide force. It is no small miracle then that Reynolds and Kendi make racism (and antiracism, its antidote) easily comprehensible without removing the nuance. Stamped provides its readers with a crucial vocabulary to move forward in their lives with a deeper understanding of race and—central to cultivate healthy and productive conversations—an ability to discuss race accurately. For example, Stamped redefines central terms from Kendi’s original work with ease: segregationists are “haters,” assimilationists are people who only like you when you’re like them, and antiracists love you because you’re like yourself.

Just as Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi have shown their skill in their previous works, their partnership here illustrates just how talented these authors are. Reynolds and Kendi deftly infuse genuine humor into a tough subject, allowing for an entertaining read that doesn’t laugh off violence for cheap jokes. It perfectly balances tone, rendering one of the hardest topics in the world approachable but still serious. This, along with several other tactics to embrace readability, deems Stamped a truly honorable project. Racism and antiracism are some of the most vital topics one can educate themselves about, and in this book, it is finally accessible for all. Additionally, just like every truly great young adult work, Stamped can easily be enjoyed by older readers. Adults, in particular, might enjoy this book as a captivating introductory text into the larger genre of critical race theory.

In an astounding feat, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You provides a younger generation with the tools to become the antiracists of the future.

 

Mya is a reader, poet, and writer in New York City who lives with their beloved kitten, Ramen.  You can find them and their work on Twitter @literallymya.