Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped

Information

Goodreads: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: March 2020

Official Summary

A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism–and antiracism–in America

This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

Star Divider

Review

Popular middle grade and young adult author Jason Reynolds offers a “remix” of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s  Stamped from the Beginning for the teen crowd. Essentially, the book is a distillation of Kendi’s, a focus on some of the key moments and figures in the history of racism and antiracism in Europe and the U.S. Although assured that they are not reading a history book, teens, will, in fact, learn a history of ideas, starting with the “world’s first racist” and ending with the election of President Barack Obama and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. The book is a succinct, accessible overview and it is no surprise that educators and librarians have been eager to pick up and share this stunning new release.

Some readers may fear nonfiction or worry about picking up a book that is meant to be “educational.” Jason Reynolds expertly seeks to engage these readers, promising them that he is not writing them a history book (although he clearly is–maybe just not the kind they expected) and crystallizing ideas into easy-to-understand images and concepts. Readers can power through what is not really a lengthy book, by any means, and still close the pages feeling like they have learned a lot–a lot they certainly never learned in school. Though the book is marketed as young adult, it will appeal to anyone looking for a history book that feels accessible and relevant.

Because the book is really just an overview, some readers may be disappointed by what appear to be possibilities for lengthier discussion. For instance, the book’s treatment of Abraham Lincoln is one I have seen cropping up more regularly in recent history books. This is the announcement that–surprise, surprise!–Lincoln isn’t the hero you think he was. He did not set out to end slavery when he was elected president, it took him a long time to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, and the proclamation was largely powerless since it only applied to states in rebellion, over which the U.S., at the time, had no control. Newer history books try to shock readers with these “revelations.”

However, Lincoln’s complexities and seeming contradictions are no secret. Any decent biography acknowledges all this. The interesting part of the story is possibly not so much that Lincoln was not the ardent abolitionist some people assume, but the political machinations of his day. For instance, Lincoln did run on a platform that was anti-expansionist (against the expansion of slavery into any of the new territories) and not one that was abolitionist (a promise to end slavery everywhere), but why? Despite Lincoln’s personal beliefs that slavery was wrong, he also recognized that, even in the North, abolitionism was seen as a fringe movement. He probably would not have won by promoting abolitionism. So, a more interesting question might be something along the lines of: Is it okay to compromise some of your beliefs in order to achieve some good rather than zero good? Additionally, Reynolds talks about how some people can hold racist, assimilationist, and antiracist views throughout different periods of their life, or even at the same time. How can we understand Lincoln and his political choices more fully through these definitions? Unfortunately, because the book tries to hit so many key points so quickly, readers are not going to get this type of discussion out of it, and will have to do more research on their own.

Another area readers might wonder about in terms of expanded information might be the War on Drugs and how both Democrats and Republicans participate in it. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness argues that “felon” has become synonymous with “Black” and is society’s last/most recent acceptable way to impose racial order by incarcerating unprecedented numbers of black and brown men in a country that “does not see color.” Alexander argues that even Barack Obama failed to act meaningfully to end to the system, and suggests that even he at times fell into the pitfall of accusing Black communities for their incarceration problems. In contrast, Reynolds’ account of Obama’s presidency is largely positive, and he argues that Obama spoke out against “uplift suasion”–the idea that Black people must act a certain way in order to be accepted by white people. These are competing views of Obama’s legacy that the book does not address, again probably because it does not have the space. But also, probably, partially because the book wants to end in a message of hope, not a critique of the nation’s only Black president. It is a book written for teens, however, so I can understand the motivation. People generally expect YA books to have positive endings.

I also, despite the glowing reviews about how Reynolds speaks so to this new generation, found the tone of the book a little distracting. To appeal to teens, the narrative voice takes on the tone of a “friend,” a guy who’s just giving it to you straight. It also seeks to connect to the youth by making comparisons to things like football and Nike sneakers. Some might argue that teens really love these things and the book is just trying to be relatable. However, even as a teen, I always wondered why teachers thought everyone loved football and wished they would stop trying to be hip by making allusions I didn’t care about. This is just my personal preference, however. The football and Nike lovers of the world might really find the book’s tone appealing. And if talking about football convinces more people to read history, why not?

These critiques are, of course, minor. Stamped has rightly received national attention because it teaches history many people probably were previously unaware of. And it does so by making that history easy to understand and easy to read. Most reviewers have given the book glowing reviews without any negative mentions, probably because the content and the effort to teach antiracism outweigh any quibbles over how relatable the average teen finds any specific sport allusion. Because the book is an overview, it will not cover the complexities of every topic it raises. But it does serve as an excellent starting point for individuals to start learning more.

4 stars

13 thoughts on “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi

  1. Laurie says:

    Stamped is, indeed, a very accessible book. However, I still had trouble grasping everything, but that mainly has to do with English not being my native language. I hope Stamped will get translated into many different languages, so many teens/adults who aren’t privileged with the ability of reading in English can read this book.

    Like

  2. Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

    I’m actually literally listening to this RIGHT NOW while I blog hop haha. So I was excited to see this pop up! I looked at Stamped From the Beginning, and my brain immediately died out of spite, so I figured I’d check out this book instead, and it’s much more manageable and enjoyable to get through, I think.

    I LOVE that he touched on Lincoln’s true character, and that’s actually what makes me want to get it for my library, because the people around here literally just don’t know that history. They know the propaganda that’s been pushed and taught of all these historical white heroes. Especially since Lincoln was born not far away from here. x.X

    I’m actually curious about how this reads, since you mentioned the tone. Since I’m listening to it, the conversational tone actually makes it work really well, and it’s like being talked to by a friend, which is really neat. I’m not sure how that translates to the page. I normally can’t do audiobooks, especially not nonfiction ones, but I’m enjoying this, partially because of the tone.

    As always, love your review!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I saw on Goodreads someone asked if they should read Stamped from the Beginning and the answer was basically this touches on all the main points, so that makes me think it is a good read for people who maybe don’t have as much time for the longer work! Which is great! I love that it’s making this history more accessible!

      I read a lot about Lincoln, so I’m always confused by the people who are all, “DID YOU KNOW THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION ONLY FREED SLAVES IN STATES IN REBELLION?!!! LINCOLN IS THE WORST.” Me: Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what the document says, why are you so surprised? Lincoln wasn’t hiding this. He didn’t want the border states to leave the Union.

      But…maybe the school textbooks are glossing over this? I don’t know! It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen one! But I think that’s a great point you raise about local history. Where I live, there is a man who has I guess a questionable background but he’s like the only local “celebrity” available I guess so no one seems to mind?

      That’s interesting about the audio! I can imagine it would work very well in that medium since the tone is so conversational!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

        Yeah, but for real … you would be astounded by how many people DON’T know that. It drives me bonkers. I almost just want to make cards that say, “Lincoln was a jerkface,” and a bunch of sources and just pass them out to people whenever he comes up. Of course, most people in my state don’t know that they weren’t a part of the Union, either, so maybe I’m getting my hopes up that they’d actually check the sources. xD

        I definitely think it’s an education thing. I went to school in a top state for education, so it’s weird talking to people who were educated in other states. Like here? There are so many things I learned in elementary and high school that these kids just … don’t. Most of them dealing with diverse cultures and minority groups.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          In my mind, I see it like there’s this clickbait headline going, “The Secret Lincoln Doesn’t Want You to Know!” haha. I guess it is one of those cases where historians are aware, but somehow it doesn’t filter down to schools or the general public, and that needs to change.

          I do know many teachers and some are pretty resistant to teaching inclusively. And I don’t think it’s because they’re “bad people” or they’re intentionally trying to NOT be inclusive. But when I bring up stuff like, hey your classroom library needs more books about diverse cultures and people of color, they say stuff like, “But I only have one Black student.” Um…So she doesn’t need books with Black characters? The white students don’t need to read books about characters who aren’t white? They don’t think they’re being harmful, but they are, and it’s hard to get them to see why it matters when they weren’t exposed to the same sort of diversity growing up.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Sammie @ The Bookwyrm's Den says:

            Aw man, someone should do that! it should be a campaign. Sneakily teach people history by pretending it’s just juicy gossip that people just found out. xD

            That’s the argument I’ve been running into, too. “Well, we don’t have many black people, and white kids aren’t going to read these books.” Ummm … since when? I’ve been reading books with white characters since I was born and it never stopped me? Seems like the whole “kids won’t read something different than them” argument only applies when it’s white kids (I mean, it’s false regardless lol).

            Like

  3. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    Amazing review. I will admit, the size and scope of Stamped from the Beginning intimidates me. I didn’t realize that Reynolds paired with Kendi to create a version for younger readers. This greatly appeals to me. Your review has inspired me to pick this up first. And, if like you point out above, I find the lack of depth to be unappealing, then I know I will dig reading Stamped from the Beginning.

    I’m still early in my anti-racist reading list and understanding. Too much too fast and I feel like I’m drowning!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, even though it’s written for teens, I’ve seen a great many adults reading it because it’s such an accessible introduction! I think it’s easy to dive into heavier tomes once you have some background knowledge, and this book will definitely help with that!

      Like

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