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This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.
The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.
Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.
Now available for younger readers: Stamped (for Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You
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To know the past is to know the present. To know the present is to know yourself.
I write about the history of racism to understand racism today. I want to understand racism today to understand how it is affecting me today. I want you to understand racism today to understand how it is affecting you and America today.
The book you’re holding is a remix of my book, Stamped from the Beginning, a narrative history of racist and antiracist ideas. A racist idea is any idea that suggests something is wrong or right, superior or inferior, better or worse about a racial group. An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests that racial groups are equals. Racist and antiracist ideas have lived in human minds for nearly six hundred years. Born in western Europe in the mid-1400s, racist ideas traveled to colonial America and have lived in the United States from its beginning. I chronicled their entire life in Stamped from the Beginning.
The novelist Jason Reynolds adapted Stamped from the Beginning into this book for you. I wish I learned this history at your age. But there were no books telling the complete story of racist ideas. Some books told parts of the story. I hardly wanted to read them, though. Most were so boring, written in ways I could not relate to. But not Jason’s books. Not this book. Jason is one of the most gifted writers and thinkers of our time. I don’t know of anyone who would have been better at connecting the past to the present for you. Jason is a great writer in the purest sense. A great writer snatches the human eye in the way that a thumping beat snatches the human ear, makes your head bob up and down. It is hard to stop when the beat is on. A great writer makes my head bob from side to side. It is hard to stop when the book is open.
I don’t think I’m a great writer like Jason, but I do think I’m a courageous writer. I wrote Stamped from the Beginning with my cell phone on, with my television on, with my anger on, with my joy on—always thinking on and on. I watched the televised and untelevised life of the shooting star of #Black Lives Matter during America’s stormiest nights. I watched the televised and untelevised killings of unarmed Black human beings at the hands of cops and wannabe cops. I somehow managed to write Stamped from the Beginning between the heartbreaking deaths of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin and seventeen-year-old Darnesha Harris and twelve-year-old Tamir Rice and sixteen-year-old Kimani Gray and eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, heartbreaks that are a product of America’s history of racist ideas as much as a history of racist ideas is a product of these heartbreaks.
Meaning, if not for racist ideas, George Zimmerman would not have thought the hooded Florida teen who liked LeBron James, hip-hop, and South Park had to be a robber. Zimmerman’s racist ideas in 2012 transformed an easygoing Trayvon Martin walking home from a 7-Eleven holding watermelon juice and Skittles into a menace to society holding danger. Racist ideas cause people to look at an innocent Black face and see a criminal. If not for racist ideas, Trayvon would still be alive. His dreams of becoming a pilot would still be alive.
Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed by police than their White counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according to federal statistics. The under-recorded, under-analyzed racial disparities between female victims of lethal police force may be even greater. Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.
I’m no math whiz, but if Black people make up 13 percent of the US population, then Black people should make up somewhere close to 13 percent of the Americans killed by the police, and somewhere close to 13 percent of the Americans sitting in prisons. But today, the United States remains nowhere close to racial equality. African Americans make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population. These are racial inequities, older than the life of the United States.
Even before Thomas Jefferson and the other founders declared independence in 1776, Americans were arguing over racial inequities, over why they exist and persist, and over why White Americans as a group were prospering more than Black Americans as a group. Historically, there have been three groups involved in this heated argument. Both segregationists and assimilationists, as I call these racist positions in Stamped from the Beginning, think Black people are to blame for racial inequity. Both the segregationists and the assimilationists think there is something wrong with Black people and that’s why Black people are on the lower and dying end of racial inequity. The assimilationists believe Black people as a group can be changed for the better, and the segregationists do not. The segregationists and the assimilationists are challenged by antiracists. The antiracists say there is nothing wrong or right about Black people and everything wrong with racism. The antiracists say racism is the problem in need of changing, not Black people. The antiracists try to transform racism. The assimilationists try to transform Black people. The segregationists try to get away from Black people. These are the three distinct racial positions you will hear throughout Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You—the segregationists, the assimilationists, and the antiracists, and how they each have rationalized racial inequity.
In writing Stamped from the Beginning, I did not want to just write about racist ideas. I wanted to discover the source of racist ideas. When I was in school and first really learning about racism, I was taught the popular origin story. I was taught that ignorant and hateful people had produced racist ideas, and that these racist people had instituted racist policies. But when I learned the motives behind the production of racist ideas, it became obvious that this folktale, though sensible, was not true. I found that the need of powerful people to defend racist policies that benefited them led them to produce racist ideas, and when unsuspecting people consumed these racist ideas, they became ignorant and hateful.
Think of it this way. There are only two potential explanations for racial inequity, for why White people were free and Black people were enslaved in the United States. Either racist policies forced Black people into enslavement, or animalistic Black people were fit for slavery. Now, if you make a lot of money enslaving people, then to defend your business you want people to believe that Black people are fit for slavery. You will produce and circulate this racist idea to stop abolitionists from challenging slavery, from abolishing what is making you rich. You see the racist policies of slavery arrive first and then racist ideas follow to justify slavery. And these racist ideas make people ignorant about racism and hateful of racial groups.
When I began writing Stamped from the Beginning, I must confess that I held quite a few racist ideas. Yes, me. I’m an African American. I’m a historian of African Americans. But it’s important to remember that racist ideas are ideas. Anyone can produce them or consume them, as this book shows. I thought there were certain things wrong with Black people (and other racial groups). Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people. I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people. There are lazy, hardworking, wise, unwise, harmless, and harmful individuals of every race, but no racial group is better or worse than another racial group in any way.
Committed to this antiracist idea of group equality, I was able to discover, self-critique, and shed the racist ideas I had consumed over my lifetime while I uncovered and exposed the racist ideas that others have produced over the lifetime of America. The first step to building an antiracist America is acknowledging America’s racist past. By acknowledging America’s racist past, we can acknowledge America’s racist present. In acknowledging America’s racist present, we can work toward building an antiracist America. An antiracist America where no racial group has more or less, or is thought of as more or less. An antiracist America where the people no longer hate on racial groups or try to change racial groups. An antiracist America where our skin color is as irrelevant as the colors of the clothes over our skin.
And an antiracist America is sure to come. No power lasts forever. There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that they think something is wrong with Black people. There will come a time when racist ideas will no longer obstruct us from seeing the complete and utter abnormality of racial disparities. There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity, knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves. There will come a time. Maybe, just maybe, that time is now.
Ibram X. Kendi
The Story of the World’s First Racist
BEFORE WE BEGIN, LET’S GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT. This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book. At least not like the ones you’re used to reading in school. The ones that feel more like a list of dates (there will be some), with an occasional war here and there, a declaration (definitely gotta mention that), a constitution (that too), a court case or two, and, of course, the paragraph that’s read during Black History Month (Harriet! Rosa! Martin!). This isn’t that. This isn’t a history book. Or, at least, it’s not that kind of history book. Instead, what this is, is a book that contains history. A history directly connected to our lives as we live them right this minute. This is a present book. A book about the here and now. A book that hopefully will help us better understand why we are where we are as Americans, specifically as our identity pertains to race.
Uh-oh. The R-word. Which for many of us still feels rated R. Or can be matched only with another R word—run. But don’t. Let’s all just take a deep breath. Inhale. Hold it. Exhale and breathe out:
See? Not so bad. Except for the fact that race has been a strange and persistent poison in American history, which I’m sure you already know. I’m also sure that, depending on where you are and where you’ve grown up, your experiences with it—or at least the moment in which you recognize it—may vary. Some may believe race isn’t an issue anymore, that it’s a thing of the past, old tales of bad times. Others may be certain that race is like an alligator, a dinosaur that never went extinct but instead evolved. And though hiding in murky swamp waters, that leftover monster is still deadly. And then there are those of you who know that race and, more critical, racism are everywhere. Those of you who see racism regularly robbing people of liberty, whether as a violent stickup or as a sly pickpocket. The thief known as racism is all around. This book, this not history history book, this present book, is meant to take you on a race journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable, whether it’s a scream or a whisper, just won’t go away.
This isn’t the be-all end-all. This isn’t the whole meal. It’s more like an appetizer. Something in preparation for the feast to come. Something to get you excited about choosing your seat—the right seat—at the table.
Oh! And there are three words I want you to keep in mind. Three words to describe the people we’ll be exploring:
Segregationists. Assimilationists. Antiracists.
There are serious definitions to these things, but… I’m going to give you mine.
Segregationists are haters. Like, real haters. People who hate you for not being like them. Assimilationists are people who like you, but only with quotation marks. Like…“like” you. Meaning, they “like” you because you’re like them. And then there are antiracists. They love you because you’re like you. But it’s important to note, life can rarely be wrapped into single-word descriptions. It isn’t neat and perfectly shaped. So sometimes, over the course of a lifetime (and even over the course of a day), people can take on and act out ideas represented by more than one of these three identities. Can be both, and. Just keep that in mind as we explore these folks.
And, actually, these aren’t just the words we’ll be using to describe the people in this book. They’re also the words we’ll be using to describe you. And me. All of us.
So where do we start? We might as well just jump in and begin with the world’s first racist. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, How could anyone know who the world’s first racist was? Or you’re thinking, Yeah, tell us, so we can find out where he lives. Well, he’s dead. Been dead for six hundred years. Thankfully. And before I tell you about him, I have to give you a little context.
Europe. That’s where we are. Where he was. As I’m sure you’ve learned by now, the Europeans (Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, British) were conquering everyone, because if there’s one thing all history books do say, it’s that Europeans conquered the majority of the world. The year is 1415, and Prince Henry (there’s always a Prince Henry) convinced his father, King John of Portugal, to basically pull a caper and capture the main Muslim trading depot on the northeastern tip of Morocco. Why? Simple. Prince Henry was jealous. The Muslims had riches, and if Prince Henry could get the Muslims out of the way, then those riches and resources could be easily accessed. Stolen. A jack move. A robbery. Plain and simple. The take, a bountiful supply of gold. And Africans. That’s right, the Portuguese were capturing Moorish people, who would become prisoners of war in a war the Moors hadn’t planned on fighting but had to, to survive. And by prisoners, I mean property. Human property.
But neither Prince Henry nor King John of Portugal was given the title World’s First Racist, because the truth is, capturing people wasn’t an unusual thing back then. Just a fact of life. That illustrious moniker would go to a man named neither Henry nor John but something way more awesome, who did something not awesome at all—Gomes Eanes de Zurara. Zurara, which sounds like a cheerleader chant, did just that. Cheerleaded? Cheerled? Whatever. He was a cheerleader. Kind of. Not the kind who roots for a team and pumps up a crowd, but he was a man who made sure the team he played for was represented and heralded as great. He made sure Prince Henry was looked at as a brilliant quarterback making ingenious plays, and that every touchdown was the mark of a superior player. How did Zurara do this? Through literature. Storytelling.
He wrote the story, a biography of the life and slave trading of Prince Henry. Zurara was an obedient commander in Prince Henry’s Military Order of Christ and would eventually complete his book, which would become the first defense of African slave trading. It was called The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea. In it, Zurara bragged about the Portuguese being early in bringing enslaved Africans from the Western Sahara Cape, and spoke about owning humans as if they were exclusive pairs of sneakers. Again, this was common. But he upped the brag by also explaining what made Portugal different from their European neighbors in terms of slave trading. The Portuguese now saw enslaving people as missionary work. A mission from God to help civilize and Christianize the African “savages.” At least, that’s what Zurara claimed. And the reason this was a one-up on his competitors, the Spanish and Italians, was because they were still enslaving eastern Europeans, as in White people (not called White people back then). Zurara’s ace, his trick shot, was that the Portuguese had enslaved Africans (of all shades, by the way) supposedly for the purpose of saving their wretched souls.
Zurara made Prince Henry out to be some kind of youth minister canvassing the street, doing community work, when what Prince Henry really was, was more of a gangster. More of a shakedown man, a kidnapper getting a commission for bringing the king captives. Prince Henry’s cut, like a finder’s fee: 185 slaves, equaling money, money, money, though it was always framed as a noble cause, thanks to Zurara, who was also paid for his pen. Seems like Zurara was just a liar, right? A fiction writer? So, what makes him the world’s first racist? Well, Zurara was the first person to write about and defend Black human ownership, and this single document began the recorded history of anti-Black racist ideas. You know how the kings are always attached to where they rule? Like, King John of Portugal? Well, if Gomes Eanes de Zurara was the king of anything (which he wasn’t), he would’ve been King Gomes of Racism.
Zurara’s book, The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, was a hit. And you know what hits do—they spread. Like a pop song that everyone claims to hate, but everyone knows the words to, and then suddenly no one hates the song anymore, and instead it becomes an anthem. Zurara’s book became an anthem. A song sung all across Europe as the primary source of knowledge on unknown Africa and African peoples for the original slave traders and enslavers in Spain, Holland, France, and England.
Zurara depicted Africans as savage animals that needed taming. This depiction over time would even begin to convince some African people that they were inferior, like al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, a well-educated Moroccan who was on a diplomatic journey along the Mediterranean Sea when he was captured and enslaved. He was eventually freed by Pope Leo X, who converted him to Christianity, renamed him Johannes Leo (he later become known as Leo Africanus, or Leo the African), and possibly commissioned him to write a survey of Africa. And in that survey, Africanus echoed Zurara’s sentiments of Africans, his own people. He said they were hypersexual savages, making him the first known African racist. When I was growing up, we called this “drinking the Kool-Aid” or “selling out.” Either way, Zurara’s documentation of the racist idea that Africans needed slavery in order to be fed and taught Jesus, and that it was all ordained by God, began to seep in and stick to the European cultural psyche. And a few hundred years later, this idea would eventually reach America.
OKAY, SO BY NOW HOPEFULLY YOU’RE SAYING, WOW, THIS really isn’t like the history books I’m used to. And if you aren’t saying that, well… you’re a liar. And, guess what, you wouldn’t be the first.
After Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s ridiculous, money-grabbing lie, there were other European “race theorists” who followed suit, using his text as a jumping-off point for their own concepts and racist ideas to justify the enslavement of Africans. Because if there’s one thing we all know about humans, it’s that most of us are followers, looking for something to be part of to make us feel better about our own selfishness. Or is that just me? Just me? Got it. Anyway, the followers came sniffing around, drumming up their own cockamamie (best word ever, even better than Zurara, though possibly a synonym) theories, two of which would set the table for the conversation around racism for centuries to come.
Those theories were:
1. CLIMATE THEORY:
This actually came from Aristotle (we’ll get back to him later), who questioned whether Africans were born “this way” or if the heat of the continent made them inferior. Many agreed it was climate, and that if African people lived in cooler temperatures, they could, in fact, become White. And,
2. CURSE THEORY:
In 1577, after noticing that Inuit people in northeastern (freezing-cold) Canada were darker than the people living in the hotter south, English travel writer George Best determined—conveniently for all parties interested in owning slaves—that it couldn’t have been climate that made darker people inferior, and instead determined that Africans were, in fact, cursed. (First of all, could you imagine someone on the Travel Channel telling you that you’re cursed? Like… really?) And what did Best use to prove this theory? Only one of the most irrefutable books of the time: the Bible. In Best’s whimsical interpretation of the book of Genesis, Noah orders his White sons not to have sex with their wives on the ark, and then tells them that the first child born after the flood would inherit the earth. When the evil, tyrannical, and hypersexual Ham (goes HAM and) has sex on the ark, God wills that Ham’s descendants will be dark and disgusting, and the whole world will look at them as symbols of trouble. Simply put, Ham’s kids would be Black and bad, ultimately making Black… bad. Curse theory would become the anchor of what would justify American slavery.
It would branch off into another ridiculous idea, the strange concept that because Africans were cursed and because, according to these Europeans, they needed enslavement in order to be saved and civilized, the relationship between slave and master was loving. That it was more like parent and child. Or minister and member. Mentor, mentee. They were painting a compassionate picture about what was certainly a terrible experience, because, well, human beings were being forced into servitude, and there’s no way to spin that into one big happy family.
But the literature said otherwise. That’s right, there was another piece of literature, this one written by a man named William Perkins, called Ordering a Familie, published in 1590, in which he argued that the slave was just part of a loving family unit that was ordered a particular way. And that the souls and the potential of the souls were equal, but not the skin. It’s like saying, “I look at my dog like I look at my children, even though I’ve trained my dog to fetch my paper by beating it and yanking its leash.” But the idea of it all let the new enslavers off the emotional hook and portrayed them as benevolent do-gooders “cleaning up” the Africans.
A generation later, slavery touched down in the newly colonized America. And the people there to usher it in and, more important, to use it to build this new country were two men, each of whom saw himself as a similar kind of do-gooder. Their names, John Cotton and Richard Mather.
About Cotton and Mather. They were Puritans.
About Puritans. They were English Protestants who believed the reformation of the Church of England was basically watering down Christianity, and they sought to regulate it to keep it more disciplined and rigid. So, these two men, at different times, traveled across the Atlantic in search of a new land (which would be Boston) where they could escape English persecution and preach their version—a “purer” version—of Christianity. They landed in America after treacherous trips, especially Richard Mather, whose ship sailed into a storm in 1635 and almost collided with a massive rock in the ocean. Mather, of course, saw his survival of this journey to America as a miracle, and became even more devoted to God.
Both men were ministers. They built churches in Massachusetts but, more important, they built systems. The church wasn’t just a place of worship. The church was a place of power and influence, and in this new land, John Cotton and Richard Mather had a whole lot of power and influence. And the first thing they did to spread the Puritan way was find other people who were like-minded. And with those like-minded folks, they created schools to enforce higher education skewed toward their way of thinking.
Praise for Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You:
#1 New York Times bestseller
#1 IndieBound bestseller
Wall Street Journal bestseller
2020 Kirkus Prize finalist
Best Teen Book of the Year, Kids’ Book Choice Awards Winner
A TIME Magazine Ten Best Children’s and YA Books of the Year
A Parents Magazine best book of the year
A Washington Post Best Children's Book of the Year
A Publishers Weekly best book of the year
An SLJ best book of the year
A 2020 New York Public Library Best Teen Book
A 2020 Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Teen Book
"An amazingly timely and stunningly accessible manifesto for young people....At times funny, at times somber but always packed with relevant information that is at once thoughtful and spot-on, Stamped is the book I wish I had as a young person and am so grateful my own children have now."—Jacqueline Woodson, bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming
- "Sheer brilliance....An empowering, transformative read. Bravo."—Jewell Parker Rhodes, New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Boys
"Teens are often searching for their place in the world, in Stamped, Reynolds gives context to where we are, how we got here, and reminds young people-and all of us-that we have a choice to make about who we want to be. This unapologetic telling of the history of racism in our nation is refreshingly simple and deeply profound. This is the history book I needed as a teen."
—Renée Watson, New York Timesbestselling and Newbery Honor-winning author of Piecing Me Together
- "Jason Reynolds has the amazing ability to make words jump off the page. Told with passion, precision, and even humor, Stamped is a true story-a living story-that everyone needs to know."—Steve Sheinkin, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of Bomb and Born to Fly
- "The R-word: Racism. Some tuck tail and run from it. Others say it's no longer a thing. But Dr. Kendi breaks it down, and Jason Reynolds makes it easy to understand. Mark my words: This book will change everything."—Nic Stone, bestselling author of Dear Martin
- "If knowledge is power, this book will make you more powerful than you've ever been before."—Ibi Zoboi, author of the National Book Award finalist American Street
"Reading this compelling not-a-history book is like finding a field guide to American racism, allowing you to quickly identify racist ideas when you encounter them in the wild."
—Dashka Slater, author of The 57 Bus
- "Reynolds's engaging, clear prose shines a light on difficult and confusing subjects....This is no easy feat."—The New York Times Book Review
- "the must-read book of the moment...potent and provocative"—--San Francisco Chronicle
* "Readers who want to truly understand how deeply embedded racism is in the very fabric of the U.S., its history, and its systems will come away educated and enlightened. Worthy of inclusion in every home and in curricula and libraries everywhere. Impressive and much needed."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- * "An epic feat... More than merely a young reader's adaptation of Kendi's landmark work, Stamped does a remarkable job of tying together disparate threads while briskly moving through its historical narrative."—Bookpage, starred review
- * "Required reading for everyone, especially those invested in the future of young people in America."—Booklist, starred review
- * "Reynolds and Kendi eloquently challenge the common narrative attached to U.S. history. This adaptation, like the 2016 adult title, will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact. Highly recommended for libraries serving middle and high school students."—School Library Journal, starred review
- * "Eye-opening...this engaging overview offers readers lots to think about and should spark important conversations about this timely topic."—School Library Connection, starred review
- * "Reynolds (Look Both Ways) lends his signature flair to remixing Kendi's award-winning Stamped from the Beginning...Told impressively economically, loaded with historical details that connect clearly to current experiences, and bolstered with suggested reading and listening selected specifically for young readers, Kendi and Reynolds's volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Thorough and educational…fresh and conversational...”—TIME Magazine
“A must-read for everyone…eye-opening.”—Seventeen Magazine
- On Sale
- Mar 10, 2020
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers