Stamped from the Beginning: Ibram X. Kendi on the History of Racist Ideas in U.S.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,
The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined today by historian Ibram X.
Kendi, professor of history and international relations, founding director of the Anti-Racist
Research and Policy Center at American University. He just left the University of Florida at
Gainesville. He is the author of the National Book Award-winning
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. If you could take us through your thesis,
Professor Kendi, as you raise the profile of five figures through history, right through
today, Angela Davis, and talk about their role in our history? IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. And so, the thesis for the book actually came
about through researching for the book, which I think is a good thing. And that was, I ended up entering into this
history of racist ideas believing this common idea that, really, the sort of origins, the
cradle, of racist ideas is ignorance—are ignorance and hate, and that ignorance and
hate leads to racist ideas, and it’s these people who have these racist ideas who are
the people who institute racist policies, like slavery, segregation and even massive
incarceration. And so, the more I sort of studied this history,
the more I contextualized the development of these ideas in their historical moment,
and, more importantly, the more I distinguished between the producers of racist ideas and
the consumers, and decided to study the producers, the more I found that people were producing
racist ideas to justify existing racist policies. In other words, racist policies were becoming
before racist ideas. And those racist policies were emerging out
of self-interest. And so, you had economic, political and even
cultural self-interest driving the creation of racially discriminatory policies, and then
the need to justify those policies led to the development of racist ideas, and then
those racist ideas and their circulation—or, more so, consumption—led to our ignorance
and hate. And so I chronicle this history through five
major characters. And the first character is Cotton Mather,
who was a Boston theologian, who, at the time—he lived from the 1660s to the 1720s—race or
racial ideas were largely theological ideas, because theological ideas were largely scientific
ideas. And so, he was involved in popularizing many
of the early theological ideas justifying or making the case for black inferiority. By the emergence of the United States, the
racial discourse became more secular, and particularly through the role of Thomas Jefferson. And Thomas Jefferson died on the eve of the
abolitionist movement—Thomas Jefferson being the second major character in the text—and
that abolitionist movement was largely spearheaded by William Lloyd Garrison, who of course was
the third major character. And W.E.B. Du Bois was the fourth major character. He, of course, was one of the sort of fathers
of civil rights and black power. And the last major character, that covers
the last 50 years, where mass incarceration, in particular, became front and center, was
Angela Davis. AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about, from Cotton
Mather to Angela Davis, how they embodied your idea of how racist policies and ideas
develop. IBRAM X. KENDI: So, in the case of Cotton
Mather, Cotton Mather was involved in probably the first great American debate over race,
which was whether black people could become Christians. And slaveholders who were also Christian made
the case that black people were too barbaric. Cotton Mather, being a major Boston theologian,
being a major minister wanting to have a new group of people to proselytize to, made the
case that they can be Christianized, because their souls have the capacity to be white,
even though their bodies are black and inferior and worthy of enslavement. And so, this debate, he made this case for
this debate because he wanted to open up the sort of reins on the church to be able—particularly
the Puritan church, to be able to proselytize to black people. So he had this sort of hidden self-interest,
this hidden cultural self-interest, that led to his idea. And, you know, Thomas Jefferson, as many of
you would understand, I mean, he was a slaveholder who, of course, wanted to create ideas that
allowed him to continue slaveholding. And, you know, all the way up to sort of Angela
Davis. Angela Davis, I chronicle as, you know, this
major anti-racist theorist, because I really sort of show the debate, really, between racist
and anti-racist ideas. And I show, particularly within the realm
of criminal justice, that, you know, all of these ideas justifying law and order, justifying
the war on drugs, justifying tough on crime, and now justifying police being exonerated
for killing black lives, that Angela Davis was long at the forefront of challenging those
ideas by challenging the racist ideas that were underlying them. AMY GOODMAN: You write very poignantly in
the prologue to Stamped from the Beginning, “I somehow managed to write this book between
the heartbreaks of Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd and Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and
the Charleston 9 and Sandra Bland, heartbreaks that are a product of America’s history
of racist ideas as much as this history book of racist ideas is a product of these heartbreaks. Young Black males were twenty-one times more
likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according
to federal statistics.” And you go on to say, “The under-recorded,
under-analyzed racial disparities between female victims of lethal police force may
be even greater. Federal data show [that] the median wealth
of White households is a staggering thirteen times the median wealth of Black households—and
Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.” Talk more about this. IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. Well, Amy, this is—I mean, since the beginning
of the United States, since the beginning of colonial America, there has been what’s
called racial disparities, as you just outlined, racial disparities where black people were
more likely to be poor, black people were more likely to be killed by the police, black
people were more likely to be imprisoned. And so the question becomes: Why? Why is it that black people are on the lower
end of these racial disparities? Why does racial inequality exist in this country? And really, the racial debate has largely
been trying to answer that question. And really, Stamped from the Beginning chronicles
that long racial debate trying to answer that question. And really, there’s been three positions,
and those positions still persist to this day. The first position states that it’s because
black people are inferior. The reason why so many more black people are
being killed by the police is because black people keep acting recklessly before the police. If black people would act better, then this
would not be a problem. So they principally state that there’s something
wrong and inferior about black people. This is what I call the segregationist position. On the other side of the debate has been the
anti-racist position. The anti-racist position states that the racial
groups are equal. There’s nothing wrong or right about black
people or any other racial group of people. So, because the racial groups are equal, it
must—these disparities, these inequities must be the result of racial discrimination. So they spend their time challenging racial
discrimination. And then the third position, which is called
the assimilationist position, actually argues both. Typically and historically, they’ve stated
that, yes, there is racial discrimination, but there’s also something wrong and inferior
about black people. And so, they’ve sought to civilize and develop
black people at the same time they were challenging racial discrimination. AMY GOODMAN: So talk about where Black Lives
Matter fits into this picture, the organizing from the grassroots up, and where you see
it going. IBRAM X. KENDI: Yeah, I think it fits precisely
into this picture, because I think Black Lives Matter activists have made the case that the
problem is the criminal justice system, that the problem is racist policing, that the problem
is the laws that are being created that make the case that there’s something wrong with
the people as opposed to the environment that these people—the lack of jobs and resources
these people are being faced with. And so, I’m hoping, and I’m sure many
people are hoping, that Black Lives Matter and many other activists, anti-racist activists,
who have been inspired by Black Lives Matter, and other types of activists will recognize
the anti-racist position, which is that either the racial groups are equal or they’re not. And if you believe that the racial groups
are not equal, that there’s something wrong or inferior about black people, that that’s
a racist idea. And so you cannot continue to imagine that
this nation is post-racial at the same time that you don’t believe that the racial groups
are equal, that you’re championing policies that actually discriminate against black people. AMY GOODMAN: Talking to historian Ibram X.
Kendi. His book won the National Book Award, Stamped
from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. And you talk about overall racial inequities,
from everything from wealth to health. Certainly, when we look at what’s happening
right now in the Senate, though the healthcare bill has been put off for the moment, now
opposed by nine Republicans, who run the political spectrum, feeling that regulations—like,
what, Senator Paul of Kentucky—have to be stricter, that Medicaid and other healthcare
policies and safety nets have to be dismantled, to those who feel that this is way too stringent. But always at the bottom of this you have
the most vulnerable in society. So talk about from wealth to health, Professor
Kendi. IBRAM X. KENDI: So, I mean, from wealth, I
mean, the Great Recession, some have made the case, was one of the largest losses of
black wealth in American history, one of the largest losses of Latino wealth in American
history, that when we have these major economic catastrophes, you know, those people who are
the most sort of underprivileged are most likely to lose out. But I think the healthcare debate and, really,
argument, I think, is even more indicative, you know, of what we’re talking about. I mean, the Affordable Care Act led to 11
percent more black and Latino people becoming insured, which is a dramatic sort of development
within black America, within Latino America. And so, more—it eliminated these massive
disparities—or, I mean, eliminated—reduced these disparities between racial groups that
are uninsured. And so, you know, to think about a new healthcare
bill that’s going to reduce the number of people who—I’m sorry, increase the number
of people who are uninsured, I mean, many of those people are probably going to be black
or Latino, and then, therefore, we’re going to have an increase in these disparities. And then what racist ideas will say is, “Well,
it’s those black people’s fault. It’s those Latinos’ fault. You know, they should be working harder. There’s something wrong with them.” And so, they’ll create racist ideas to justify
those disparities. And I should also say that, you know, I think
one of the most consequential manifestations in this country that black life does not matter
is the disparity between how long black people live. I mean, white people are more like three-and-a-half—have
a lifespan of three-and-a-half years in this country. And I think, you know, many of these things
sort of result in that, including people having access to healthcare. AMY GOODMAN: You’re writing a new book on
how to be an anti-racist, which will be released next year. Can you give us a little preview? IBRAM X. KENDI: So, you asked about the—Amy,
ask the question again? I’m sorry. AMY GOODMAN: I was just saying, you’re writing
a new book, How to Be an Anti-Racist. IBRAM X. KENDI: Oh, yes. AMY GOODMAN: Give us a preview. IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. So, I mention in the prologue of Stamped from
the Beginning that, you know, before I could chronicle anyone else’s racist ideas, I
first had to come to grips with my own. And so, really, in How to Be an Anti-Racist,
I want to sort of chronicle my journey, my personal journey, of really, you know, being
raised and consuming many racist ideas to seeking to become somebody who is an anti-racist. And so I begin the book with a speech that
I gave in high school, in which I uttered all of these racist ideas, all of these things
stating that there’s something wrong with black people. And I take readers through my own personal
journey, while simultaneously revealing many of the concepts of what it means to be an
anti-racist. AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ibram X. Kendi, can
you tell us the origins of your name? IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. So, Ibram is—was given to me by my parents. It means “exalted father.” It’s a derivative of Abraham. Came up in a Christian church—I mean, a
Christian family. My parents were part of the black theology
movement in the early ’70s. And my last name, Kendi, my wife and I, when
we wed in 2003, we decided to choose a name together. And so, Kendi is a Meru, in Kenya, name that
means “loved one.” AMY GOODMAN: And you unveiled this at your
wedding to your family and friends? IBRAM X. KENDI: Yes. Yes. AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ibram X. Kendi, I want
to thank for you being with us, professor of history and international relations and
founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University. He’s just leaving the University of Florida
at [Gainesville]. He’s the author of Stamped from the Beginning:
The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which is winner of the 2016 National
Book Award. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at a lawsuit in
Washington against the Washington, D.C., police for their treatment of protesters at the inauguration
of President Trump. Stay with us.

18 Replies to “Stamped from the Beginning: Ibram X. Kendi on the History of Racist Ideas in U.S.

  1. Melanin. A pigment in skin.  If you have more, your skin is darker.  I'm supposed to think if I have less melanin in my skin, you are inferior?  What an incredibly stupid idea.

  2. The white archetype$ have been there since the getgo! Think of the primal cultures and the broken treaty's!

  3. Married black couples have incomes equal to married white couples. The economic disparities are not racial, they are marriage issues. More than 70% of black children are born to single mothers and just like children born to white single mothers they are much more likely to be poor.

  4. Do I see the black community asa part of American society? Yes absolutely. American society has many parts and that is the problem. You are not only divided in poor, good earners and rich, you are also divided along the skin color and ethnicity. Racism and xenophobia is an expression of the fear of those who still have something to lose, or assigns attributes to these groups, which makes them inferior in their eyes. Unfortunately, the excluded groups also behave as marginalized. Everyone acts for themselves, hates the other and is hated. To end this exclusion, this 'racism', it requires all oppressed groups. Voluntary separation leads to nothing. MLK spoke to everyone and found hearing by all. Today I hear/read comments from black haters, as of white haters. Absurd and counter-productive. You should take back the legacy of the 60s and fight together for the same goals you have.Excuse my mistakes in English. I hope you understand what I wanted to say.

  5. Everyone is a victim: that's the Democratic Party's story. Everyone except white Christian men. That is why the Democrats will keep loosing every single election because it's the pity party not the party for the working man like it used to be.

  6. Bravo Ibram X Kendi for trying to find the way of love. I am a racist by education, but have had circumstances in life that open my eyes a little to see how much we need to resist the racism. My sparring partner in Kung Fu was a black person, but he had the same blood type as me. When tragedy came into his life, i was too young and unseasoned and stupid and autistic to know how to comfort him at the time though i have lived through similar circumstances and now i wish i could find him to apologize as he was a very good friend when we were fighting with each other. My father was a missionary in a Polynesian state and taught seminarians there and my grandmother was a friend of the last Queen of Hawaii who was discriminated against by her New English mother in law, even though she was a perfectly lovely person and a head of the executive branch acknowledged by Queen Victoria. My parents helped me to resist a little of the ambient prejudice in my education here in the U.S. but it was really good to be in Indonesia in my youth to see how other cultures see things. Your book coming up sounds like a good read.

  7. Amy looked so excited hearing about his wedding – me too Amy, me too. That's an awesome little story to follow the discussion ❤️

  8. STFU ignorant Kneegro.
    100% of all St. Louis murder suspects for 2017 are black.
    http://narrative-collapse.com/2017/09/16/100-of-all-st-louis-murder-suspects-for-2017-are-black/

  9. So what's his excuse for why 75 percent of all newborn black babies are born into single parent families? To suggest black neighborhoods are no more dangerous than white neighborhoods is ridiculous beyond words. The fact anyone is taking this race hustler clown seriously is mind boggling. Black victimization is the greatest hoax and biggest LIE of this generation.

  10. Producers of racist ideas 101: Thinking we blacks are incapable of financially supporting ourselves. Dem. solution of providing welfare only results in incentivizing out-of-wedlock births with payout increases to women with more kids….on the condition there is no man in the household. Black men such as myself grew up like this. Section 8 gives the baby mamas the deeds to the home. They proceed to kick out the dads each month so they have to stay on my couch for a week. IBRAHM X. KENDI has both a mom & dad and can't speak for the real plight. He is PRIV-I-LEDGED!!! He suffers from guilt due to this priviledge. Therefore, he feels that he must perpetuate the myth that Mike Brown & T. Martin were innocent victims. He's trying to score cred with blacks and peddle his dumb books. His next publication "Anti-Racist" will surely prove him to be the exact opposite~ Good day!

  11. It's sad that rational, intelligent, progressive folks accept the complete bullshit this dude shills as absolute truth. "Ethnic studies" of any sort should be more correctly re-branded as neo-comunist, anti-intellectual, revisionist brainwashing.

  12. There is only one race and that has been proven time and time again by scientists. So any attempt to demonize one group or another is based on unadulterated ignorance. End of story.

  13. atleast if your gunna state statistics make true facts not just thoughts and feelings because all those things both people stated within the video are 100% wrong black people kill black people more than white men kill black men thats a true fact. white men kill more white men then they kill black men, thats a true fact. if you feel like black people keep going to jail then stop doing stupid things. im not white im hispanic and all i see is black people crying and going back to slavery like if they ever been through it not one black person marching has ever been inslaved so boohoo talk about something that you actually been through and give facts please.

  14. I get so discouraged when I try to talk to racist people. I feel like it's hopeless. I was trying to convince someone how the Starbucks incident in Philadelphia with the two black fellows was racism, and even when I presented all the facts, they still just deny that it's racism and they say that people just want to be victims. I just wanna give up sometimes

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