Archive for June, 2017

Review: Stamped From The Beginning

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning has a lot to say about how Americans view Black Americans, and I’m impressed by his comprehensive research, analysis, and application. He has clearly walked American history carefully, broken down the ideas he’s found there and analyzed them thoughtfully.  He applies the understanding that he distills from all that work powerfully and without prejudice.

One of the most striking features of the work is that Kendi is unflinching.  I was surprised how critical he is of Lincoln, for example. In my sphere, the worst one commonly hears is that Abe was excessively practical in his approach to abolishing slavery.  Kendi remains fair and compassionate without giving any slack on Lincoln’s enduring opinions that the two races could not live together. That was a powerful reminder to me of my own biases and the biases of the media I consume.

Perhaps more striking – again from my perspective – is that Kendi is similarly clinical and sweeping in his analysis and criticism of Black leaders. Black Americans are Americans so he covers their thinking, too. He assesses the bodies of Booker Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass’s  thoughts and writings equally objectively. That objective application served me as a stark reminder that humans all make distinctions and take sides and underscores the difficulty of an objective analysis of such ideas.  Kendi’s proof by example that such an understanding is possible is quite remarkable.

He is an academic – and something of an, ugh, Aristotelian – so much of Stamped is about generating categories of though he believes are a basis for analysis and placing people’s evolving positions into them. I confess that I often had to check his definitions to track his analysis.  I’m not a pigeonhole fan, but I have to admit that Kendi’s analysis from that perspective gave me much to think about.  I think it does make for some dry reading in places.

Overall, a quite enlightening academic analysis of some explosive topics.  Recommended.