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Takeaways from Stamped from the Beginning

Kevin Gordon, Director of Camp Kupugani in Leaf River, IL–located two hours west of Chicago–recently read Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning (Nation Books, 2016). Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand racism in the United States. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, this book offers tools we need to expose them—and in the process, gives us reason to hope. Check out the book here. See below for some excerpts. A book cover.

What is racism?

  • Racism is…any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. – p.5

  • [In 1997] “Color-blindness” rhetoric—the idea of solving the race problem by ignoring it—started to catch on. “Color-blind” segregationists condemned public discussions of racism, following in the footsteps of Jim Crow and slaveholders. – p. 467

  • To say that a people have no culture is to say that they have no common history which has shaped and taught them. And to deny the history of a people is to deny their humanity. – p. 403

  • The country had not yet come close to achieving the status of “post-racial.” …after the election of Obama. – p. 498

What is anti-racism?

  • When you truly believe that the racial groups are equal, then you also believe that racial disparities must be the result of racial discrimination. -p.11

  • Preserving racial hierarchy simultaneously preserves ethnic, gender, class,sexual, age, and religious hierarchies. Human hierarchies of any kind…oppress all of humanity. – p. 502

  • [We should strive for] multiracial pluralism, where differences [are] acknowledged, embraced, and equalized in antiracist fashion, not graded, suppressed, and ignored. – p. 321

  • A truly multicultural nation ruled by multiculturalists would not have Christianity as its unofficial standard religion…suits as its standard professional attire…English [as] its standard language or be assessed by standardized tests. No cultural group would be directly and indirectly asked to learn and conform to any other group’s cultural norms in public in order to get ahead. – p. 469

Who benefits from anti-racism?

  • Supporting … prevailing bigotries is only in the intelligent self-interest of a tiny group of super rich, Protestant, heterosexual, non-immigrant, White, Anglo-Saxon males. Those are the only people who need to be altruistic in order to be antiracist. The rest of us merely need to do the intelligent thing for ourselves. – p. 504

  • Slavery kept the vast majority of southern Whites poor. …More White Americans thrived during the antiracist movements from the 1930s to the early 1970s than ever before or since.

Racist ideas have consistenly individualized White negativity while generalizing Black negativity.

  • In the mid-18th century, the American mind was accomplishing that indispensable intellectual activity of someone consumed with racist ideas: individualizing White negativity and generalizing Black negativity. -p.42-43

Racist ideas have consistently portrayed Blacks as criminals.

  • The Salem witch hunt [of the 1690s] ascribed a Black face to criminality—an ascription that remains to this day. -p. 61 Racist White newspapers…tended to depict the Black victims as criminals, and the White criminals as victims. – p. 314

  • When asked in 1995 to “close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me,” 95 percent of the respondents described a Black face, despite Black faces constituting a mere 15 percent of drug users that year. – p. 461

Racist ideas have consistently portrayed Blacks as animals.

  • Jesse Owens’s golden runs deepened the color line, and especially the racist ideas of animal-like Black athletic superiority. …athletic racists served up an odd menu of anatomical, behavioral, and historical explanations for the success of Black sprinters and jumpers in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. – p. 340-341

  • [Presidential nominee and Arizona senator Barry Goldwater’s 1960 chart-topper, The Conscience of a Conservative inspired] millions of Democrats to turn Republican, including Hollywood movie star Ronald Reagan[;] Goldwater’s tract deeply massaged those Americans who had outgrown (or never needed) government assistance. Welfare “transforms the individual from a dignified, industrious, self-reliant spiritual being into a dependent animal creature without his knowing it,” Goldwater wrote without a shred of evidence. …After looking at White mothers on welfare as “deserving” for decades, these Goldwater conservatives saw the growing number of Black mothers on welfare as “undeserving”–as dependent animal creatures. – p. 387 – 388.

Racist ideas have consistently portrayed Blacks as helpless.or inferior

  • [In 1961’s very popular To Kill a Mockingbird] African Americans come across as spectators, waiting and hoping and singing for a White savior, and thankful for the moral heroism of lawyer Atticus Finch. There had been no more popular racist relic of the enslavement period than the notion that Black people must rely on Whites to bring them their freedom. – p. 370

  • Eugenicist ideas also became part of the fledgling discipline of psychology and the basis of newly minted standardized intelligence tests….based on the dubious theory that a standardized test could actually quantify and objectively measure something as intricate and subjective and varied as intelligence across different experiential groups….Standardized tests became the newest “objective” method of proving Black intellectual inferiority and justifying discrimination, and a multi-million dollar testing industry quickly developed in schools and workplaces. – p. 311 In the job industry, in education, and in many others of society, officials could justify their racial disparities by pointing to test scores and claiming they were not intending to discriminate. And to racist Americans, the racial gaps in the scores—the so-called achievement gap—said something was wrong with the Black test-takers—not the tests. – p. 386

  • Assimilationists and segregationist intellectuals…looked down on the new field [of Black Studies] for the same racist reasons they had looked down on historically Black colleges, institutions, businesses, groups, neighborhoods, and nations. Anything created by Black people, they thought, must be inferior. – p. 407

Black Americans’ history of oppression has made Black opportunities—not Black people—inferior. -p.11

Here’s a brief selected timeline of the economic impact of racist ideas:

  • 1705: The legally or illegally seized; the resulting Black destitution blamed on Black inferiority; the past discrimination ignored when the blame was assigned. Virginia’s 1705 code mandated that planters provide freed White servants with fifty acres of land. The resulting White prosperity was then attributed to White superiority. -p. 68

  • 1933-38: …[FDR’s] “New Deal”, the flurry of government relief programs, job programs, labor rights bills, and capitalism-saving bills passed from 1933 to 1938…[were crafted] such that…segregationists were given the power to locally administer and racially discriminate the relief coming from these federal programs. And segregationists made sure that farmers and domestics—Blacks’ primary vocations—were excluded from the laws’ new job benefits, like minimum wage, social security, unemployment insurance, and unionizing rights. – p. 337

  • Next to employment, there may have been no more devastating area of discrimination than housing…preventing Black renters from purchasing a home and acquiring wealth. But, of course, discrimination was ignored or discounted, and the fiscal habits of Black people were blamed for the growing fiscal inequities and segregation created by the policies. – p. 337-338.

  • 1944-1971: To buy new [suburban] homes, Americans used wartime savings and the benefits of the GI Bill, passed in 1944. It was the most wide-ranging set of welfare benefits ever offered by the federal government in a single bill. …Between 1944 and 1971, federal spending for former soldiers in this “model welfare system” totaled over $95 billion. …however, Black veterans faced discrimination that reduced or denied them the benefits. Combined with the New Deal and suburban housing construction (in developments that found legal ways to keep Blacks out), the GI Bill gave birth to the White middle class and widened the economic gap between the races. – p. 358

  • 2006: The Great Recession reduced the median annual Black household income by 11 percent, compared to 5 percent for Whites. – p. 498

  • [A]ccording to United for a Fair Economy researchers[, the] racial “parity date” at the existing pace of gradual equality was not twenty-five years, but five-hundred years, and for some racial disparities, thousands of years from 2003. – p. 478– 479

There has been legal / political implementation of racist ideas, when focusing on “Intent” vs. Impact

  • 1896: The Plessy decision legalized what was already assumed by the New South and America: separate but unequal, and branded it equal for courts and consciences to stop antiracist resistance. – p. 279

  • 1964: The most transformative verbiage of the 1964 [Civil Rights] act was the wording that legislated against clear and obvious “intention to discriminate,” such as southern “Whites only” public policies. …By not principally focusing on outcome, discriminators had to merely privatize their public policies to get around the Civil Rights Act. – p. 386

  • 1991: Clarence Thomas joined a US Supreme Court that had gutted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, compelling Congress to pass the Civil Rights Restoration Act over Reagan and Bush vetoes. The teeth of the bill bit down on provable “intentional discrimination,” hardly touching the octopus arms of discrimination that had privately grown in the past three decades, causing very public racial disparities up and down the job market, from Black professionals receiving less pay than their White counterparts to Black workers being forced into the dead-end service industry..- p. 448-9

There has been legal / political implementation of racist ideas, when focusing on race “neutrality”

  • 1964: Congress chose not to explicitly bar seemingly race-neutral policies that had discriminatory public outcomes through racial disparities. On the urgings of segregationists, in fact, Congress actually provided the means for the progression of racism…allow[ing] employers “to give and to act upon the results of any professionally developed ability test.” – p. 386

  • 1996: Antiracists suffered a crushing loss in California on election night in 1996. California voters banned affirmative action, or “preferential treatment,” in public employment, contracts, and education. Neither funding allocation policies for public colleges and K-12 schools nor standardized tests—both of which preferentially treated White, rich, and male students—were banned. The percentage of African Americans at University of California campuses began to decline. – p. 465

There has been legal / political implementation of racist ideas, when implementing “Law and Order” non-neutrality

  • Law and order” rhetoric was used as a defense for police brutality, and both the rhetoric and the brutality triggered urban rebellions that in turn triggered more rhetoric and brutality. Eldridge Cleaver [explained] “The police are the armed guardians of the social order. The blacks are the chief domestic victims of the social order.” – p. 401

  • 1968: The president [Johnson] created a second presidential commission on civil disorders, but this time, he selected the members more carefully. This commission recommended sharp increases in federal spending on police weapons, training, and riot preparation. Washington had no problems following through. – p. 405

  • Even without the crucial factor of racial profiling of Blacks as drug dealers and users by the police, a general rule applied [in 1996] that still applies today: wherever there are more police, there are more arrests, and wherever there are more arrests, people perceive there is more crime, which then justifies more police, and more arrests, and supposedly more crime. – p. 436

  • The two millionth prisoner entered the system in American on February 15, 2000 and half of those prisoners are Black,” [Angela Davis] said in early 2000. Davis knew that most of these prisoners had been convicted of drug crimes. She also knew that Whites were found to be more likely to sell drugs than Blacks, as Human Rights Watch was reporting. – p. 470

  • While misbehaving White children have received compassion and tolerance—as they should—misbehaving Black children have been more likely to hear “No Excuses” and to be on the receiving end of zero tolerance and handcuffs. More than 70 percent of students arrested at school during the 2009-2010 school year were Black or Latina/o, according to Department of Education statistics. – p. 479

Uplift Suasion” has shaped the racist belief system of many.

  • This [1790s abolitionist] strategy of what can be termed uplift suasion was based on the idea that White people could be persuaded away from their racist ideas if they saw Black people improving their behavior, uplifting themselves from their low station in American society. The burden of race relations was placed squarely on the shoulders of Black Americans. Positive Black behavior, abolitionist strategists held, undermined racist ideas, and negative Black behavior confirmed them. – p. 124

  • It was the cruel illogic of racism. When Black people rose, racists either violently knocked them down or ignored them as extraordinary. When Black people were down, racists called it their natural or nurtured place, and denied any role in knocking them down in the first place. -p. 125

  • Americans held up Black firsts as extraordinary Negroes, or as signposts of racial progress…With every Black first, the blame shifted to those Black people who failed to break away. … If some could break away, the logic went, than all could, if they worked hard enough. … And so, as much as Black firsts broke racial barriers, the publicity around Black firsts …reinforced racist ideas blaming Blacks and not the remaining discriminatory barriers. – p. 303-304

  • Racist Americans have routinely despised those Black Americans the most who uplifted themselves, who defied those racist laws and theories that individuals employed to keep them down. So upwardly mobile Black folk have not persuaded away racist ideas or policies. Quite the contrary. Uplift suasion has brought on the progression of racism—new racist policies and ideas after Blacks broke through the old ones. – p. 505

  • Everyone who has witnessed the historic presidency of Barack Obama—and the historic opposition to him—should now know full well that the more Black people uplift themselves, the more they will find themselves on the receiving end of a racist backlash. – p. 505

  • Individual Blacks are not race representatives. They are not responsible for those Americans who hold racist ideas. Black people need to be their imperfect selves around White people, around each other, around all people. – p. 505

For a progressive future, we need to be mindful that:

  • Power will never self-sacrifice away from its self-interest. – p. 508

  • Racist policies were created out of self-interest. And so, they have usually been voluntarily rolled back out of self-interest. – p. 506

  • An antiracist America can only be guaranteed if principled antiracists are in power, and then antiracist policies become the law of the land, and then antiracist ideas become the common sense of the people, and then the antiracist common sense of the people holds those antiracist leaders and policies accountable. – p. 510

  • [There is a need for] grander legislation that re-envisions American race relations by fundamentally assuming that discrimination is behind the racial disparities…and by creating an agency that aggressively investigates the disparities and punishes conscious and unconscious discriminators. This agency would also work toward equalizing the wealth and power of Black and White neighborhoods and their institutions, with a clear mission of repairing the inequities caused by discrimination. – p. 507

Source: https://www.ibramxkendi.com/stamped-from-the-beginning

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