Stamped from the Beginning

Stamped from the Beginning

by

Ibram X. Kendi

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Themes and Colors
Discrimination, Racist Ideas, and Ignorance Theme Icon
Segregationists and Assimilationists vs. Antiracists  Theme Icon
Media, Institutions, and the Transmission of Knowledge Theme Icon
The Invention of Blackness and Whiteness Theme Icon
The Illogic of Racism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Stamped from the Beginning, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Segregationists and Assimilationists vs. Antiracists  Theme Icon

Instead of dividing ideas about race into a binary between racism and antiracism, Kendi splits the category of racism into two further subsections. The first is segregationist ideas, which assert that Black people are inherently and permanently inferior to white people. The second is assimilationist ideas, which assert that Black people can achieve equality by becoming more like white people. In making this distinction, Kendi highlights how anti-racist theorists and activists have faced the challenge of fighting these two contradictory arguments at the same time. Moreover, Kendi indicates that although segregationist ideas are often assumed to be more concerning because of their severity, assimilationist ideas are actually more dangerous because they are insidious and superficially “acceptable.” While it might seem that assimilationist ideas are a reasonable compromise between two extremes, in fact they are arguably the most harmful form of racist thinking and thus should be as vehemently opposed as segregationist thought.

For Kendi, ideas about race exist on a binary: they can only be racist or antiracist, without any kind of “compromise” in between. Yet by distinguishing between two types of racist ideas—assimilationist and segregationist—Kendi highlights the extent to which racist thinking has endured because people mistake assimilationist ideas as a reasonable compromise between racist and anti-racist views.

Kendi provides several examples to show that while assimilationist ideas can seem like a more reasonable compromise than segregationist ideas, ultimately both are forms of racist thought. Kendi gives the example of 18th-century Europeans who would forcefully train and compel Black people to act like white people in order to prove that Black people could be “improved” by molding themselves after white people. Kendi explains: “Throughout the eighteenth century’s race for Enlightenment, assimilationists galloped around seeking out human experiments—'barbarians’ to civilize into the ‘superior’ ways of Europeans—to prove segregationists wrong, and sometimes to prove slaveholders wrong.” This attempt to “prove segregationists wrong” could be mistaken for an anti-racist move, when in fact it was simply a dispute between two different strains of racist thought.

One of the most dangerous aspects of assimilationist thinking is that it often falsely suggests that segregationists and anti-racists are equivalent to each other, meaning that it is “just as bad” to be antiracist as it is to be racist. Despite how illogical this sounds to many, this idea has been espoused throughout American history—and, as Kendi points out, it’s still frequently voiced in the present.

Time and again, Kendi shows that just because there were disputes between segregationists and assimilations—disputes that were often won by assimilationists—didn’t mean that racism was decreasing. Indeed, the book makes the important point that although there is a lot of internal contradiction within racist thought, this doesn’t make it any less racist overall. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is a major figure whose life and beliefs were deeply contradictory. Jefferson “did not pick sides between polygenesists and monogenesists, between segregationists and assimilationists, between slavery and freedom,” Kendi explains. “But he did pick the side of racism.” This last sentence is extremely important: just because there might be contradictions between assimilationist and segregationist ideas doesn’t mean that people should lose sight of the fact that both are racist.

Another reason why assimilationist ideas can be seen as a greater threat to anti-racism that segregationist ones is because people who take assimilationist positions are often generally committed to the cause of antiracism. Assimilationist ideas thus threaten the progress of antiracism by jeopardizing it from within. Kendi points out that it is common to frame abolitionists as champions of antiracism because they were fighting against a severely racist institution (slavery). However, the unfortunate truth is that most abolitionists still had racist ideas, some of which were segregationist but the majority of which were assimilationist. For example, William Lloyd Garrison—a white abolitionist who is one of the five main figures in the book—wrote the preface to the formerly enslaved abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in what was supposed to be a gesture of solidarity. However in reality, the preface “was a compellingly racist counterweight to Douglass’s Narrative.” Garrison committed his life to abolition but still ended up producing and expressing racist thought. “Though starting at different places and taking different conceptual routes, Garrison kept arriving in the same racist place as his enslaving enemies—subhuman Black inferiority,” Kendi writes.

However, it is not just white historical figures who’ve held assimilationist views. Part of what makes assimilationist thinking so sinister is that many of the most important Black antiracist figures in history—including Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—have held and espoused assimilationist ideas. (Indeed, Kendi admits that he has had to come to terms with the reality that he himself—despite being a professor of Africana studies focused on the history of racist ideas—has held assimilationist views.) As a result, racist thinking has acquired and sustained legitimacy via assimilation, and it is therefore vital that people realize that both assimilation and segregation harm the cause of anti-racism.

Overall, Kendi shows that it is possible—and in fact common—for a single person to harbor segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist ideas. However, through his depiction of the final two central figures in the book—W. E. B. Du Bois and Angela Davis—Kendi also proves that not everyone is condemned to harbor racist ideas. While Du Bois initially held assimilationist (and even some segregationist) views, over the course of his life he eventually shed these and became steadfast and consistent in his antiracist mentality. Meanwhile, Angela Davis is the only one of the five main figures featured in the book to have rejected all racist ideas (including assimilationist ones) from very early on in life. This is because her parents raised her to have antiracist and anti-capitalist ideas from the beginning, a fact that indicates that racist ideas—while extremely widespread—are not totally inescapable.

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Segregationists and Assimilationists vs. Antiracists Quotes in Stamped from the Beginning

Below you will find the important quotes in Stamped from the Beginning related to the theme of Segregationists and Assimilationists vs. Antiracists .
Chapter 1: Human Hierarchy Quotes

All in all, ethnic and religious and color prejudice existed in the ancient world. Constructions of races—White Europe, Black Africa, for instance—did not, and therefore racist ideas did not. But crucially, the foundations of race and racist ideas were laid. And so were the foundations for egalitarianism, antiracism, and antislavery laid in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7: Enlightenment Quotes

[…] whenever ethnic racism did set the natural allies on American plantations apart, in the manner that racism set the natural allies in American poverty apart, enslavers hardly minded. They were usually willing to deploy any tool—intellectual or otherwise—to suppress slave resistance and ensure returns on their investments.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Actually, most of the leading Enlightenment intellectuals were producers of racist ideas and abolitionist thought.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8: Black Exhibits Quotes

All the vices attributed to Black people, from idleness to treachery to theft, were the “offspring of slavery,” Rush wrote. In fact, those unsubstantiated vices attributed to Black people were the offspring of the illogically racist mind. Were captives really lazier, more deceitful, and more crooked than their enslavers? It was the latter who forced others to work for them, treacherously whipping them when they did not, and stealing the proceeds of their labor when they did. In any case, Rush was the first activist to commercialize the persuasive, though racist, abolitionist theory that slavery made Black people inferior. Whether benevolent or not, any idea that suggests that Black people as a group are inferior, that something is wrong with Black people, is a racist idea.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Benjamin Rush
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9: Created Equal Quotes

As a holder of nearly two hundred people with no known plans to free them, Thomas Jefferson authored the heralded American philosophy of freedom. What did it mean for Jefferson to call “liberty” an “inalienable right” when he enslaved people? It is hard to figure out what Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and indentured White servants meant when they demanded liberty in 1776. But what about Jefferson and other slaveholders like him, whose wealth and power were dependent upon their land and their slaves?

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Thomas Jefferson
Related Symbols: Declaration of Independence
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

The ambitious politician, maybe fearful of alienating potential friends, maybe torn between Enlightenment antislavery and American proslavery, maybe honestly unsure, did not pick sides between polygenesists and monogenesists, between segregationists and assimilationists, between slavery and freedom. But he did pick the side of racism.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Thomas Jefferson
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12: Colonization Quotes

On July 2, 1826, Jefferson seemed to be fighting to stay alive. The eighty-three-year-old awoke before dawn on July 4 and beckoned his enslaved house servants. The Black faces gathered around his bed. They were probably his final sight, and he gave them his final words. He had come full circle. In his earliest childhood memory and in his final lucid moment, Jefferson rested in the comfort of slavery.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14: Imbruted or Civilized Quotes

Presenting slaveholders as evil, the literature challenged some racist ideas, such as the Black incapacity for freedom, yet at the same time produced other racist ideas, such as Africans being naturally religious and forgiving people, who always responded to whippings with loving compassion. The movement’s ubiquitous logo pictured a chained African, kneeling, raising his weak arms up to an unseen heavenly God or hovering White savior. Enslaved Africans were to wait for enslavers to sustain them, colonizationists to evacuate them, and abolitionists to free them.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19: Reconstructing Slavery Quotes

Southern Blacks defended themselves in the war of re-enslavement, lifted up demands for rights and land, and issued brilliant antiracist retorts to the prevailing racist ideas. If any group should be characterized as “lazy,” it was the planters, who had lived in idleness on stolen labor,” resolved a Petersburg, Virginia, mass meeting. It had always been amazing to enslaved people how someone could lounge back, drink lemonade, and look out over the field, and call the bent-over pickers lazy. To the racist forecast that Blacks would not be able to take care of themselves, one emancipated person replied, “We used to support ourselves and our masters too when we were slaves and I reckon we can take care of ourselves now.”

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 235-236
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21: Renewing the South Quotes

Controlled by White philanthropists and instructors, Fisk was one of the nation’s preeminent factories of uplift suasion and assimilationist ideas. Du Bois consumed these ideas like his peers and started reproducing them when he became the editor of Fisk’s student newspaper, The Herald.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), W. E. B. Du Bois
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23: Black Judases Quotes

Blacks in the early twentieth century would joke that the first English word immigrants learned was “nigger.”

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

Uplift suasion had been deployed for more than a century, and its effect in 1903? American racism may have never been worse. But neither its undergirding racist ideas, nor its historical failure, nor the extraordinary Negro construction ensuring its continued failure had lessened the faith of reformers. Uplift suasion had been and remained one of the many great White hopes of racist America.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Related Symbols: Talented Tenth
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24: Great White Hopes Quotes

“North American negroes… in culture and language,” Boas said, were “essentially European.” Boas was “absolutely opposed to all kind of attempts to foster racial solidarity,” including among his own Jewish people. He, like other assimilationists, saw the United States as a melting pot in which all the cultural colors became absorbed together (into White Americanness). Ironically, assimilationists like Boas hated racial solidarity, but kept producing racist ideas based on racial solidarity.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Franz Boas (speaker)
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26: Media Suasion Quotes

The Talented Tenth’s attempt at media suasion was a lost cause from the start. While “negative” portrayals of Black people often reinforced racist ideas, “positive” portrayals did not necessarily weaken racist ideas. The “positive portrayals could be dismissed as extraordinary Negroes, and the “negative” portrayals could be generalized as typical. Even if the racial reformers managed to one day replace all “negative” portrayals with “positive portrayals in the mainstream media, then, like addicts, racists would then turn to other suppliers.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Related Symbols: Talented Tenth
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27: Old Deal Quotes

Beginning around 1940, Columbia anthropologist Ruth benedict, a student of Franz Boas, dropped the term “racism” into the national vocabulary. “Racism is an unproved assumption of the biological and perpetual superiority of one human group over another,” she wrote in Race: Science and Politics (1940). She excused her class of assimilationists from her definition, though […] As assimilationists took the helm of racial thought, their racist ideas became God’s law, nature’s law, scientific law, just like segregationist ideas over the past century. Assimilationists degraded and dismissed the behaviors of African people and somehow projected the idea that they were not racist, since they did not root those behaviors in biology, did not deem perpetual, spoke of historical and environmental causes, and argued that Blacks were capable of being civilized and developed.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas
Page Number: 342
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 30: The Act of Civil Rights Quotes

And so, as much as the Civil Rights Act served to erect a dam against Jim Crow policies, it also opened the floodgates for new racist ideas to pour in, including the most racist idea to date: it was an idea that ignored the White head start, presumed that discrimination had been eliminated, presumed that equal opportunity had taken over, and figured that since Blacks were still losing the race, the racial disparities and their continued losses must be their fault. Black people must be inferior, and equalizing policies—like eliminating or reducing White seniority, or instituting affirmative action policies—would be unjust and ineffective. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 managed to bring on racial progress and the progression of racism at the same time.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 385-386
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Chapter 35: New Republicans Quotes

The campaign for California’s Proposition 209 ballot initiative displayed the progression of racist ideas in their full effect: its proponents branded antiracist affirmative action as discriminatory, named the campaign and ballot measure the “civil rights initiative,” evoked the “dream” of Martin Luther King Jr. in an advertisement, and put a Black face on the campaign.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Martin Luther King, Jr.
Page Number: 465-466
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

Months into Obama’s presidency, the postracialists slammed down their new ground rules for race relations: Criticize millions of Black people whenever you want, as often as you want. That’s not racialism or racism or hate. You’re not even talking about race. But whenever you criticize a single White discriminator, that’s race-speak, that’s hate-speak, that’s being racist. If the purpose of racist ideas had always been to silence the antiracist resisters to racial discrimination, then the postracial line of attack may have been the most sophisticated silencer to date.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker), Barack Obama
Page Number: 499
Explanation and Analysis:

The history of racist ideas tells us what strategies antiracists should stop using. Stamped from the Beginning chronicles not just the development of racist ideas, but the ongoing failure of the three oldest and most popular strategies Americans have used to root out these ideas: self-sacrifice, uplift suasion, and educational persuasion.

Related Characters: Ibram X. Kendi (speaker)
Page Number: 503
Explanation and Analysis: