Saturday, March 18, 2023

Stamped for all readers

"Dad, you talk about race too much," my daughter said. "Not everything is a race issue!"

OK, fine. I'll believe my daughter on that. But what's a Polish-American guy to do, when he soaks in a bunch of books that give a fuller history of the United States from a non-white perspective? Who am I suppose to tell that historians say Thomas Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime and had at least six children with Sally Hemings?

Today, I recommend Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. I also highly, highly recommend Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016) by Ibram X. Kendi.

I have a self-imposed rule only to recommend one of any author's books in my 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend project, but today the rule is broken. I already recommended How to be an Antiracist by Kendi. So I officially give the record-keeping recommendation to the remix of Stamped because it gives some props to Jason Reynolds. The remix is marketed to teens, and if you're a non-reader, it's surprisingly entertaining and easier to handle than the 511 pages of the original Stamped from the Beginning.

Stamped, the remix, perhaps makes the subject matter more palpable for fragile or skeptical whites. The original Stamped delivers on being the definitive history of racist ideas in America that it sets out to be. Stamped is an absolute tour de force. I read the teen book first then the masterpiece. Honestly, I guess I was experiencing a bit of white fragility for not just jumping first into Stamped

Simply put, the fabric of the United States structure is systemically racist. Kendi walks us through this history in a compilation of hardcore facts structured as a narrative. Whereas the definitive Stamped has five major chapters titled and focuses on key figures in America's racial history — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Angela Davis, the remix doesn't call the chapters by those leaders, and it condenses the points.

Both versions provide history lessons that would benefit anyone. In the original, I respond most to the sections on Thomas Jefferson and Angela Davis. I believe that is because I've learned about Jefferson throughout my lifetime, here and there, and his relationship with slavery rarely, if ever, came up.
With the Angela Davis section, we're talking about exploring a gluttony of racist policies, rhetoric and Supreme Court rulings during my lifetime. One takeaway from this section is how television and common narratives fail with truth and often promote overt, or covert, racist messages. I remember hearing about crack babies, for example, in the 1980s. It turns out there were no such babies, and it was just racist rhetoric.

One of Stamped's goals is to point out strategies antiracists should stop using. The three oldest and most popular strategies are white self-sacrifice, uplift suasion and educational persuasion. It turns out that when whites sacrifice their own privilege on behalf of black people that does not work. What it does is perpetuate the myth that whites benefit from racism. They do not.

Uplift suasion is the idea that black people can teach whites not to be racist by behaving exceptionally. Not only is in ineffective, but it suggests that black people have to be perfect or play some sort of role. It takes away any responsibility of changing racist beliefs from whites.

Educational persuasion is the idea that if facts are presented, then we could eradicate racism. Well, W.E.B. Du Bois tried that as early as 1894 and quickly found out it doesn't work and gave up. Racism education has been founded on a false construction of the race problem, that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas. But in reality, self-interest leads to racist policies, which then lead to ignorance and hate. 

At the end of the day, there is no simple answer, but working on a local, neighborhood level is the best tactic. We can hope that lawmakers and people in power will push an effective antiracist agenda. However, that happens so rarely that it is hard to be optimistic.

Stamped overflows with so much information that I feel limited with this brief review. Please take the time to read the book, or at least the remix, if you haven't yet.

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