Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

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Stamped, a version of Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning for young readers, is an appealing but one-sided picture of American racism in the past.

Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Little, Brown, 2020, 294 pages, including notes and index.

Reading level: Intermediate, 10-12 years

Recommended for: Teenagers aged 15 and over

Stamped from the start: The final history of racist ideas in America was published in 2017 and this year won a National Book Award for non-fiction. The subject of author Ibram Kendi in this book and in his current best-selling # 1, How To Be An Anti-Racist, is that racism is so pervasive in the United States that virtually no political figure, politics, or person remains unaffected. To prove his point of view, he delves into the historical records for relevant quotes and events. Stamped (the book we are reviewing today) is the same story that has been "remixed" for younger readers. Kendi provides the material and Jason Reynolds, an extremely popular and award-winning children's book author, writes the story.

"This is not a history book," says Reynolds on the first page, repeating this claim throughout. What he means (and what Kendi probably means after the title of the original book "Definitive History") is that the past is very present and we haven't really got beyond it. Racist ideas (and presumably racism itself) may look a little different now, but they don't differ much from 1618, the fateful year when the first African slaves were bought in Virginia. In the preface, Kendi defines a racist idea as "any idea that suggests that something is wrong or right, superior or inferior, better or worse in a race group". The "first racist in the world" is identified in Chapter 1 as Gomes Eanes de Zurara, biographer of Prince Henry the Navigator, who wrote the first defense of the African slave trade in the 15th century. He defended it for religious as well as mercenary reasons in order to Christianize the “savages”.

The reader should immediately recognize that Zurara was not the first man to consider a particular race or nationality to be inferior and enslaved. And this slavery was not unknown in Africa itself. But that's not the point: The First Racist wrote the first consistent rationale for African slavery, laying the foundation for the next 500 years in the western hemisphere. From there, the Puritans are inserted because they bought into the inferiority myth (you, Richard Baxter and Cotton Mather), then the founding fathers. Jefferson is recognized for his contradictions, as is Abraham Lincoln for his complexity, but both are ultimately complicit. From there, the story continues through the civil war (one page) and reconstruction (six pages), early black intellectuals like W.E.B. DuBois, the different visions of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. and the failure of every white president. (Barak Obama was a brilliant runaway, but he didn't quite deliver and it wasn't his fault.) The historical figure who appears to represent the absolute ideal of anti-racism is Angela Davis.

Stamped lights up because it tells the story from a perspective that most of us don't share. Is it exactly? Mostly exactly what it contains, although the rhetoric sometimes gets a little hyperbolic. For example, "(Rev. Jeremiah Wright) officiated at Obama's wedding and spoke honestly (in sermons at Trinity Church in Chicago) about his feeling for a country that had worked overtime to kill him and his people." Okay, maybe the author doesn’t literally mean killing, but Rev. Wright, who is now retired, is doing pretty well, and he can voice his opinion without any official disability.

Where Stamped can be really misleading, it leaves out. The only mention of the Bible is the spinner theory of an obscure 16th-century travel writer about Noah's son Ham. However, the Bible is the original source of the "anti-racist" idea that people of all colors are created uniquely in the image of God and are therefore of equal value. In the section on Phyllis Wheatley, her poem "On the Transport from Africa to America" ​​is omitted, which begins: "It was my compassion that brought me out of my pagan country. . . ”Admittedly, the poem would upset anyone outside of a Christian context and would be reasonable for anyone within that context. Although it is not explicitly stated that the American Revolution was conducted solely for the purpose of preserving slavery (a main claim of the 1619 project), the narrative leaves this impression. And gives little indication of the revolutionary principles for which the war was actually waged.

There are other perspectives. Martin Luther King struck the nation's conscience by calling them to their highest ideals, but Stamped said there were no higher ideals. The history of America is racism that ends from beginning to end, and at the end of the book the question is: "Whether you as a reader are a segregationist (a hater), an assimilationist (a coward) or an anti-racist (someone who really does is) want to be). "But without a basis for true love and the forgiveness of Christ, what can prevent anti-racism from turning into hostility, if not complete hatred, towards someone who cannot cope with the program?

Stamped is a readable and rather concise representation of current anti-racist thinking. Also because it will soon be required for reading in most American schools. BUT don't use the argument without reading another story for balance. Wilfred McClays Land of hope is an excellent choice to bring the whole image back into focus.

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