Stamped is Jason Reynolds’s “remix” of Stamped From the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi’s book about the history of racist ideas. Throughout history, Kendi and Reynolds argue, three groups have fought over Black people’s status in the United States. Segregationists are the racist “haters” who think that Black people don’t deserve equal status in society because they’re inherently inferior to white people. Assimilationists are a bit more subtly racist: they agree with segregationists that Black people are inferior to white people, but they think that Black people can change in order to become equal. Finally, in line with all the available scientific and historical evidence, antiracists believe that all racial groups are inherently equal. They see that racism causes the inequities between racial groups, so they dedicate themselves to fighting it. Everyone gets to choose if they want to be a segregationist, assimilationist, or antiracist. In other words, they can decide to hate people who aren’t like them, try to change those people, or love those people and fight for equality. Kendi and Reynolds think that antiracism is the right choice, both scientifically and morally. Therefore, they encourage readers to become antiracist in both their thinking and their actions.
Segregationists believe that certain racial groups are naturally better than others and therefore deserve to get more power, privilege, and wealth. But Reynolds and Kendi argue that this is an unscientific, harmful, and self-serving worldview. The classic segregationist idea is the human hierarchy. For instance, the Puritan minister Cotton Mather believed that God made white Puritan men superior to everyone else. In the 1800s, racist scientists pushed versions of the same idea—they argued that white people have bigger brains or are more evolved than non-white people. Even though they had no legitimate scientific evidence for their claims, their point was the same: white people are better, so they should rule over everyone else, and policies like slavery are justified. But modern segregationists have become much less forthcoming about their racist ideas. For instance, since the 1960s, segregationist politicians have used the “southern strategy”: instead of saying “white” and “Black,” they talk about the need to protect respectable middle-class (white) people from the “urban” (Black) “thugs,” “criminals,” and “super-predators” who live in “ghettos.” They really want the same thing as old-school segregationists like Cotton Mather: an unequal system in which white people rule over Black people, based on the unscientific and antiquated idea that white people are inherently superior.
Next, assimilationists also wrongly blame Black people for inequality—they argue that Black people just have to improve themselves, work harder, or imitate white people if they want to achieve equality. Like segregationism, this is a misguided and racist mindset. The classic assimilationist idea is that Black people are inherently equal to white people but have become savages because of some external factor like slavery, poverty, or even Africa’s hot climate. They believe that Black and white people can become moral and intellectual equals, but aren’t yet. That’s why they’re racist: they still argue that Black people are inferior to white people and blame them for inequality. Throughout history, many celebrated Black leaders and civil rights policies have actually been assimilationist, not antiracist. For instance, Booker T. Washington believed in “uplift suasion,” the assimilationist idea that Black people ought to imitate white people in order to improve their status (rather than fighting racism). This shows why assimilationism is so morally complicated: unlike segregationists, assimilationists often care about fixing racism and believe that they’re helping Black people. Sometimes they do help. But Reynolds and Kendi believe that the antiracist alternative is always better, because attacking inequity at the root requires attacking racism, not telling Black people to try harder. Assimilationist ideas and policies tend to mostly benefit the Black elite, who have the resources and education necessary to better fit into white society. Fortunately, when they realized this, many activists—like William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr.— turned from assimilationism to true antiracism. For instance, while Dr. King is best remembered for fighting segregation, he actually spent his last years working on the Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice, because he realized that desegregation only benefited a minority of Black people. This shows why anti-segregationism isn’t necessarily antiracism—but also how assimilationists can become antiracists.
Finally, antiracists believe that all racial groups are equal, which means that any differences between them have to be caused by racism. Reynolds and Kendi argue that this view is morally, scientifically, and historically correct. In fact, they present evidence virtually every religious and philosophical theory of morality agrees with antiracism’s basic principle: all people are naturally equal. Scientists agree that race has no biological or genetic reality; it’s impossible for one race to be better than another because there’s simply no measurable difference between them. Therefore, while racists run from the truth about human nature in order to hold onto their own advantages, antiracists embrace the truth and try to create an equal world for everyone. Whereas racism is essentially based on self-interest, antiracism is essentially based on love and empathy. Antiracists believe that everyone deserves the same rights and opportunities in life. So, historical antiracist activists like the Pennsylvania Quakers (who published the first American antislavery pamphlet in 1688) as well as contemporary Black leaders like Angela Davis and the women who founded the #BlackLivesMatter movement actively fight to create those rights and opportunities for others. Stamped suggests that this is the right way forward, from both a scientific and moral standpoint.
Kendi and Reynolds attest that everyone gets to choose whether to be a segregationist, assimilationist, or antiracist, every day. Segregationism and assimilationism let powerful people enjoy their privileges and avoid acting to help others. But Kendi and Reynolds are adamant that the most courageous, ethical, and scientifically accurate choice is antiracism. It’s not easy: it requires love, and love requires vulnerability. Antiracists have to take action, even when it means putting themselves on the line for justice. Nevertheless, Kendi and Reynolds hope that their readers will make the right choice.
Racism vs. Antiracism ThemeTracker
Racism vs. Antiracism Quotes in Stamped
I don't think I'm a great writer like Jason, but I do think I'm a courageous writer. I wrote Stamped from the Beginning with my cell phone on, with my television on, with my anger on, with my joy on—always thinking on and on. I watched the televised and untelevised life of the shooting star of #Black Lives Matter during America's stormiest nights. I watched the televised and untelevised killings of unarmed Black human beings at the hands of cops and wannabe cops. I somehow managed to write Stamped from the Beginning between the heartbreaking deaths of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin and seventeen-year-old Darnesha Harris and twelve-year-old Tamir Rice and sixteen-year-old Kimani Gray and eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, heartbreaks that are a product of America's history of racist ideas as much as a history of racist ideas is a product of these heartbreaks.
The segregationists and the assimilationists are challenged by antiracists. The antiracists say there is nothing wrong or right about Black people and everything wrong with racism. The antiracists say racism is the problem in need of changing, not Black people. The antiracists try to transform racism. The assimilationists try to transform Black people. The segregationists try to get away from Black people. These are the three distinct racial positions you will hear throughout Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You—the segregationists, the assimilationists, and the antiracists, and how they each have rationalized racial inequity.
The first step to building an antiracist America is acknowledging America's racist past. By acknowledging American racist past, we can acknowledge America's racist present. In acknowledging America's racist present, we can work toward building an antiracist America.
This book, this not history history book, this present book, is meant to take you on a race journey from then to now, to show why we feel how we feel, why we live how we live, and why this poison, whether recognizable or unrecognizable, whether it’s a scream or a whisper, just won’t go away.
Segregationists are haters. Like, real haters. People who hate you for not being like them. Assimilationists are people who like you, but only with quotation marks. Like…“like” you. Meaning, they “like” you because you’re like them. And then there are antiracists. They love you because you’re like you.
Zurara was the first person to write about and defend Black human ownership, and this single document began the recorded history of anti-Black racist ideas.
Say it with me: All men are created equal.
But were slaves seen as “men”? And what about women? And what did it mean that Jefferson, a man who owned nearly two hundred slaves, was writing America’s freedom document? Was he talking about an all-encompassing freedom or just America being free from England?
This three-fifths-of-a-man equation worked for both the assimilationists and the segregationists, because it fit right into the argument that slaves were both human and subhuman, which they both agreed on. For the assimilationists, the three-fifths rule allowed them to argue that someday slaves might be able to achieve five-fifths. Wholeness. Whiteness. One day. And for segregationists, it proved that slaves were mathematically wretched. Segregationists and assimilationists may have had different intentions, but both of them agreed that Black people were inferior. And that agreement, that shared bond, allowed slavery and racist ideas to be permanently stamped into the founding document of America.
[Uplift suasion] would be the cornerstone of assimilationist thought, which basically said:
Make yourself small,
make yourself unthreatening,
make yourself the same,
make yourself safe,
make yourself quiet,
to make White people comfortable with your existence.
Black people didn’t want to go “back” to a place they’d never known. They’d built America as slaves and wanted to reap the benefits of their labor as free people.
America was now their land.
Mike didn’t always get it right, but he was always open to learning and was never afraid to try.
The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was like that—a man with power and privilege, not afraid to try.
On one hand, he wanted slavery gone. Black people liked that. On another hand, he didn’t think Black people should necessarily have equal rights. Racists loved that. And then, on a third hand (a foot, maybe?), he argued that the end of slavery would bolster the poor White economy, which poor White people loved. Lincoln had created an airtight case where no one could trust him (Garrison definitely didn’t), but everyone kinda… wanted to. And when Lincoln lost, he’d still made a splash as his party, the Republican Party, won many of the House seats in the states that were antislavery. So much so, that Garrison, though critical of Lincoln, kept his critiques to himself because he saw a future where maybe—maybe—antislavery politicians could take over.
Du Bois believed in being like White people to eliminate threat so that Black people could compete. Washington believed in eliminating thoughts of competition so that White people wouldn’t be threatened by Black sustainability. And there were Black people who believed both men, because, though we’re critiquing their assimilationist ideas in this moment, they were thought leaders of their time.
For racists, athletes and entertainers could be spun into narratives of the Black aggressor, the natural dancer, etc. Like, the reason Black people were good wasn’t because of practice and hard work but because they were born with it. […]
For Black people, however, sports and entertainment were, and still are, a way to step into the shoes of the big-timer. It was a way to use the athlete or the entertainer—Johnson being both—as an avatar. As a representative of the entire race. Like human teleportation machines, zapping Black people, especially poor Black people, from powerlessness to possibility.
But not everyone was kissing Du Bois’s assimilationist feet. There was a resistant group of artists that emerged in 1926 who called themselves the Niggerati. They believed they should be able to make whatever they wanted to express themselves as whole humans without worrying about White acceptance. […] They wanted to function the same way as the blues women, like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, who sang about pain and sex and whatever else they wanted to. Even if the images of Blackness weren’t always positive. W. E. B. Du Bois and his supporters of uplift suasion and media suasion had a hard time accepting any narrative of Black people being less than perfect. Less than dignified. But the Niggerati were arguing that, if Black people couldn’t be shown as imperfect, they couldn’t be shown as human.
It was 1933. Du Bois’s life as an assimilationist had finally started to vaporize. He just wanted Black people to be self-sufficient. To be Black. And for that to be enough. Here he argued that the American educational system was failing the country because it wouldn’t tell the truth about race in America, because it was too concerned with protecting and defending the White race. Ultimately, he was arguing what he’d been arguing in various different ways, and what Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Marcus Garvey, and many others before him had argued ad nauseam: that Black people were human.
King closed the day with what’s probably the most iconic speech of all time—“I Have a Dream.” But there was bad news. W. E. B. Du Bois had died in his sleep the previous day.
Indeed, a younger Du Bois had called for such a gathering, hoping it would persuade millions of White people to love the lowly souls of Black folk. And, yes, the older Du Bois had chosen another path—the antiracist path less traveled—toward forcing millions to accept the equal souls of Black folk. It was the path of civil disobedience that the young marchers […] had desired for the March on Washington, a path a young woman from Birmingham’s Dynamite Hill was already traveling and would never leave.
[Malcolm X’s] ideological transformation, from assimilationist to anti-White separatist to antiracist, inspired millions. He argued that though White people weren’t born racist, America was built to make them that way. And that if they wanted to fight against it, they had to address it with the other racist White people around them. He critiqued Black assimilationists. Called them puppets, especially the “leaders” who had exploited their own people to climb the White ladder. Malcolm X stamped that he was for truth—not hate—truth and truth alone, no matter where it was coming from. His autobiography would become antiracist scripture. It would become one of the most important books in American history.
What Stokely Carmichael meant by Black Power:
BLACK PEOPLE OWNING AND CONTROLLING THEIR OWN NEIGHBORHOODS AND FUTURES, FREE OF WHITE SUPREMACY.
What (racist) White people (and media) heard:
And the media, as always, drove the stereotypes without discussing the racist framework that created much of them. Once again, Black people were lazy and violent, the men were absent from the home because they were irresponsible and careless, and the Black family was withering due to all this, but especially, according to Reagan, because of welfare. There was no evidence to support any of this, but hey, who needs evidence when you have power, right?
Angela Davis. She was the conference’s closing speaker. She was certainly the nation’s most famous Black American woman academic. But, more important, over the course of her career, she had consistently defended Black women, including those Black women who even some Black women did not want to defend. She had been arguably America’s most antiracist voice over the past two decades, unwavering in her search for antiracist explanations when others took the easier and racist way of Black blame.
What scholars were arguing is that intelligence is so relative, it’s impossible to actually measure fairly and without bias. Uh-oh. This notion virtually shook the foundations of the racist ideas that Black people were less intelligent than White people. Or that women were less intelligent than men. Or that poor people were less intelligent than rich. It shook the idea that White schools were better, and even poked at the reason White students were perhaps going to wealthy White universities—not because of intelligence but because of racism. In the form of flawed and biased standardized testing.
Personal responsibility… hmmm.
This was another one of those get-overs.
The mandate was simple enough: Black people, especially poor Black people, needed to take “personal responsibility” for their economic situation and for racial disparities and stop blaming racism for their problems and depending on the government to fix them. It convinced a new generation of Americans that irresponsible Black people, not racism, caused the racial inequities. It sold the lie that racism has had no effect. So Black people should stop crying about it.
Craig Venter, one of the scientists responsible, was more frank than Clinton in how he spoke about it. “The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis,” Venter said.
In the book, he claimed to be exempt from being an “extraordinary Negro,” but racist Americans of all colors would in 2004 begin hailing Barack Obama, with all his public intelligence, morality, speaking ability, and political success, as such. The “extraordinary Negro” hallmark had come a mighty long way from Phillis Wheatley to Barack Obama, who became the nation’s only African American in the US Senate in 2005. With Phillis Wheatley, racists despised the capable Black mind, but with Obama, they were turning their backs on history so that they could see him as a symbol of a post-racial America. An excuse to say the ugliness is over.
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founded #BlackLivesMatter as a direct response to racist backlash in the form of police brutality. From the minds and hearts of these three Black women—two of whom are queer—this declaration of love intuitively signified that in order to truly be antiracists, we must also oppose all the sexism, homophobia, colorism, ethnocentrism, nativism, cultural prejudice, and class bias teeming and teaming with racism to harm so many Black lives. […] In reaction to those who acted as if Black male lives mattered the most, antiracist feminists boldly demanded of America to #SayHerName, to shine light on the women who have also been affected by the hands and feet of racism. Perhaps they, the antiracist daughters of Davis, should be held up as symbols of hope, for taking potential and turning it into power. More important, perhaps we should all do the same.
[It all] leads back to the question of whether you, reader, want to be a segregationist (a hater), an assimilationist (a coward), or an antiracist (someone who truly loves).
Choice is yours.
Don’t freak out.
Just breathe in. Inhale. Hold it. Now exhale slowly:
N O W.