This book fits the “How to” square by teaching me how to be a better anti-racist. It is not enough to be against racism, one must be actively anti-racist, which is different. I am a white woman and in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, came to realize that I was woefully under educated about the problem of racism in America. At the time all sorts of recommended reading lists came out and Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was on many of them. Stamped has been favorably reviewed by several Cannonballers so it went into my June book order. Due to printing demand I didn’t get it until July and have been slowly reading and processing it since then. I have a habit of using small sticky notes to mark things that stand out to me. Twenty-three pages into the book I already had four notes and almost 500 pages to go. Realizing I might use up my supply of notes, I switched to highlighter to the horror of everyone in our house. I had to explain to my kids that Stamped is like a history text book and that come college they too would be marking text books.
To say this is the most important book I’ve ever read sounds like hyperbole but it isn’t. Stamped opened my eyes to a history that I had never known. I was reading about events that I already knew but through a new lens, which made it a different learning experience.
One of my first biggest awakenings was how religion was used to justify slavery and that blew my mind. How could you use the teaching of “love they neighbor as thyself” to justify slavery?! But they did for a couple hundred years, it was taught from New England pulpits (and beyond) that slavery brought these poor, heathen African souls to Christ and therefore was worth it. There is more nuance than that but you should read the book to get the full story.
Another awakening was how racist ideas changed and morphed over time. As science progressed, instead of bringing about the reality that we are all the same, it brought forth new reasons for why African people were inferior, and therefore it was best for them to be slaves, as they could then be overseen by their superiors (ie white, rich, European, men). Then later to justify why they are worse off economically, etc. than whites. And this evolution has continued through history into the present age. Every time new evidence comes to light that *gasp* Black and White people might be the same, new racist ideas came into play to dissuade Americans of that possibility.
There are so many things I could talk about in this review, like how I was stunned that the vast majority of white abolitionists were also segregationists. They didn’t think Black people should be enslaved but they also didn’t think they should live with White people, hence the strong push for Black people to move back to Africa, regardless of the fact that depending on the point in history when this idea was brought up (because it was brought up multiple times), many Black people had been born in America and had no connection to Africa. A more modern example was when my mind was blown about how/when standardized tests were developed. The answer is much earlier in than I expected and for racist reasons (which at this point in the book wasn’t a surprise anymore).
This book lays out the ways in which Black people have been dehumanized to maintain White superiority throughout the past 500 years of history bringing the reader to present day, and how racist ideas themselves produced racism. It was demoralizing to realize how far back in history racist ideas were planted that continue to this day. One example being that Black people experience less pain and therefore do not need the same level of anesthesia or pain medication that White people do. This idea goes back several hundred years but still affects the level of medical care that Black people receive today. Another being the hyper-sexualization of Black people that began in the 1500s and still persists, which grew along the racist thinking that Black women covet White men and Black men similarly desiring White women enough to rape them (the idea of which has led to all sorts of nasty history).
I can keep giving examples but you should really read this for yourself and discover all the gaps in history that you may have, as I did. I think this book has been beneficial to my being a better anti-racist but I recognize that much racism is so deeply coded in American society that it is going to be a constant work for me to become truly anti-racist.