Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Book Review: STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING by Ibram X. Kendi
This non-fiction survey of racism in American history is well worth the read. It is a good introduction to racism in American history and the winner of the National Book Award. The explanations and descriptions of early 16th to 18th racist leaders are seldom written about, so few people know of that era other than brief descriptions of the murderous Middle Passage.
Kendi has a deep passion for what he writes, and he gives new readers a handy way to break down and to remember all of the complex events, leaders, and crises that took place over hundreds of years. His handy key history sheet reduces all humans into about 4 or 5 categories related to the topic of racism--there are racists, or assimilators, or accommodators (not his term, can’t remember, but something like it), and a small number are anti-racists.
So this popular book in a simple basic sense at first, is helpful, especially for those who don't know racism's history.
And, despite his skimming across the surface of most of American history, Kendi does go a bit more deeply into the horrific tragedy of Reconstruction and its racist aftermath when the racist Redeemers took over all Southern governments between 1865 and 1879 (and the U.S. government let them; indeed, the Hays government helped them!:-()
His book was a good review for me of that time period since I read Foner’s Reconstruction, a scholarly tome about 7-10 years ago.
HOWEVER by midpoint Kendi’s basic schematic for categorizing all of humankind begins to show signs of distortion, misleading claims, down-wrong falsehood, and confusion. He obsesses to make everyone fit into his ideological biases, into his few cookie-cutter stereotypical categories.
Cutting every human to fit into one of his 4 or 5 Procustrian beds. He, especially does this when he attempts to blame almost everyone for holding racist views, even calls nearly all abolitionists and Civil Rights workers “racist” including Garrison, Douglas, and Martin Luther King! And then his book gets worse.
#1 Kendi confuses inherent worth of all humans with thinking that all humans essentially have the same immediate achievement ability. He thinks American leaders who thought that illiterate, abused ex-slaves weren’t immediately ready for voting, leading, and achieving were racists because of that. Maybe some of them were.
Contrary to what Kendi asserts, American leaders seeking to help ex-slaves become literate before they were allowed to vote (and become full citizens) weren't "racist," weren't denying their inherent worth. Rather it was an acknowledgment that despite the Blacks' human inherent worth, enslavement had hindered them, had kept them from achievement in many areas, and that therefore, the ex-slaves needed to be given the means and finances and education to work toward achieving what had been previously denied them.
Most of ex-slaves, especially the field workers, weren’t as capable as educated Whites and free Negroes, just like at-risk teens raised in dysfunctional abusive families aren’t immediately capable of the same achievements as teens raised in high-achieving positive, loving families.
Kendi goes onto to claim that unless all Africans were immediately given total control of their nations in Africa in the post-colonial era, then the leaving European leaders were just as racist and oppressive as their forebears who had committed so much evil. Not so.
This shows a severe lack of historical understanding, anthropology, etc. OR more likely, since Kendi is a brilliant individual with a PhD., his claims show how ideological-driven his book is.
He repeatedly commits either/or fallacies, blames all human horrors on only whites, excuses all POC from any responsibilities, and so forth.
A quick cursory glance at African nations, as they are now, 50-100 years later shows that Kendi’s view is delusionary, confused, and wrong.
No African nations, not a single one—at least none that I can think of--have rational, civil, democratic, balanced leaders. YEt most of the the nations have amazing natural resources and great potential. And millions of worthy humans who could accomplish much if given the chance.
But instead these nations' resources have been squandered by a succession of corrupt, often brutal dictators, autocrats, even mass murderers!
Some of these immoral horrors can be blamed on the abuse, misuse, racism, and massive theft of colonialism, but not all, or even most. Think of Uganda under Idi Amin, the Rwanda genocide, the former Congo, Zimbabwe under Mugabe (who has turned the former bread-basket of Africa into a failed malnourished state), Mozambique, Egypt, Algeria, Somalia, etc.
The few somewhat better functioning nations such as Kenya still have much poverty, suffer many killings during violent elections, engage in plenty of irrational behaviors, and lots of unnecessary suffering.
Even mostly democratic South Africa (probably the best example of a modern state in Africa) has since the end of Apartheid, been poorly governed, and even worse run, by the corrupt leader, Jacob Zuma, a polygamist, who built a mansion while millions of citizens still live in shacks and poverty, etc.
Though S.A. has had about 30 years to start making huge changes, restructuring and opening up the nation to ALL of its citizens, Black leaders (with the exception of the elderly Mandela) have failed miserably.
It’s true that many years of racist ruling by the white supremacist Dutch Reformed leaders left behind many severe problems, but Black leaders for the most part haven’t solved those and, instead, have created more problems of their own.
Nor does Kendi deal with horrific African leaders of the historic past such as Shaka and the Zulu. Nor does he engage with the tribal slaughters by Blacks that occurred in Africa for centuries and that still happen.
Instead, Kendi acts like only white Europeans are racist and engage in all manners of evil.
It's tragically true that hundreds of years of oppression, persecution, abuse, enslavement, and slaughter were caused by white Europeans. Kendi is correct there.
Where he misleads is that he fails to identify and deal with the hundreds of years of Black and Brown people's evil actions.
Further, Kendi defends the horrific criminal riots of the late 1960’s in the U.S. calling them anti-racist “rebellions”!
Any quick overview of U.S. history shows this to be completely untrue. Arson-burnings of many blocks of businesses including Black ones, massive lootings, vandalism, killings, etc. aren’t anti-racist “rebellions”! They are criminal riots.
He goes onto support the criminal Black Panthers and other violent Black racists who committed crimes including many killings.
Kendi also seems to defend ‘gangsta rap with its endless obscenities, calls for lethal violence, injustice, and so forth. He defends such rappers as Tupac.
About the only Black leader for civil rights that Kendi thinks gets good marks for anti-racism is Angela Davis! Yet she is a doctrinaire communist! Davis, allegedly, refused to condemn the Soviet Union and other communist nations for their imprisonment of millions of innocent protesters, writers, and scientists, and for their state-murder of millions.
Good grief, Davis admires Lenin, one of the worst leaders of the 20th century, guilty for the death of millions of humans!
Davis even accepted the Lenin Prize. Etc.
While her direct involvement in the kidnapping and murders of people by the Jacksons, and the attempt to help George Jackson to break out of San Quentin was rejected by the jury in her trial, the fact that she allowed the younger Jackson to use her own guns shows negligence. Heck, allegedly, she employed Jonathan as her bodyguard.
What had happened to the Black nonviolence of great leaders like Bayard Rustin who convinced a wavering King to not even have a gun in his home?
Davis also supports South African Winnie Mandela as a woman of "courage"! Sick!..Read about that immoral, unjust leader who advocated murder of others by burning tires around their bodies!
Kendi appears to admire Chairman Mao, one of the worst mass murderers of human history!
Kendi speaks positively of W.E.B. Du Bois going to meet Mao in the late 1950’s. That’s about the time Mao caused the starvation deaths of millions of innocent Chinese. Then there are the millions Mao intentionally slaughtered.
Further, Kendi claims that even Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, Dubois, King, Obama, etc. held racist views. I kid you not.
He doesn’t mention the great Civil Rights leader, Bayard Rustin, who began protesting back in the 1940’s! Then advised King and others in the 1950's Please read the powerful biography, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin.
Nor in all of his over 500 pages does Kendi speak of the huge influence of heretical and liberal Christianity as the source and standard bearer of anti-racism, abolition, civil rights, etc, (except for a few comments on Woolman and Quakerism).
And the further the book goes, the more obsessed, Kendi becomes in his simplistic ideological claims. As Kendi says in a recent interview, he thinks all humans are either racist or anti-racist. Another case of the either/or fallacy.
Worst of all Kendi thinks that the solution for racism is power and self-interest, not altruism or spiritual elevation or moral realism. Forget about King, John Lewis, and so many others who emphasized that the answer to racism and all other evils is altruism.
The central basis of Kendi’s book appears to be Critical Race Theory, though I don’t remember him actually writing about that overtly.
In the 3rd section of the book (an era that I know well), I started skimming for key names and actions because his commentary is superficial and a distortion of 20th century history and leaders. I do agree with his condemnation of the unjust actions of the famous racist leaders.
In conclusion, I am glad I read Stamped, despite its distortions and failures and ideological fanaticism.
I do agree that racism is still with us, and that the long evil shadow of the enslavement past still distorts American culture and society, and that all of us need to work to alter all that is wrong, and that intensive help needs to be given to Blacks and others who have suffered from structural racism of the past.
But the HUGE glaring chasm in Kendi’s book is that he blames only Whites for racism.
He never deals with the fact that Blacks were the ones in Africa who sold millions of other Blacks into slavery, or that long before Europeans came down the coast and started the Middle Passage, Brown Muslims were enslaving millions of Blacks for centuries, etc.
And, most, negligently, Kendi dismisses any Black responsibility for immorality, injustice, and killings. He never deals with Black crime, including the horrific slaughter by Blacks in Chicago, including many children. Instead, he blames everything on white racism!
Kendi also denies that Blacks are responsible for vandalism, abuse, drug-use, prostitution, broken families, missing fathers, illegitimate children, promiscuity, etc. OR sometimes he does even worse, Kendi justifies immoral and the unjust actions by Blacks claiming that those wrong actions aren’t really wrong!
I was tempted to next write that Kendi has done a “white-wash” of American history, but, heck, he would no doubt accuse me of racist speech.
EVALUATION: D+ (B-F)
In the Light of Justice, Goodness, and Equality,