Stamped from the Beginning Themes
The main themes in Stamped from the Beginning are racism through science, uplift suasion and black excellence, and racism in popular culture and the media.
- Racism through science: One consistent thread in the history of American racism is the use of pseudoscience to justify and explain racist ideas.
- Uplift suasion and black excellence: Black Americans have struggled over the question of whether to combat racism by proving their own excellence according to white standards.
- Racism in popular culture and the media: The clash between racist and anti-racist ideas has always been reflected in popular cultural venues and the media.
Racism Through Science
The idea that races are biologically distinct is, as Kendi explains in the opening section of the book, a fairly recent one. In the Aristotelian view, some groups of people are meant to be slaves, while others are intended to be masters. But the masterstroke of modern racism was in creating the idea that this division fell along color lines. In order to justify slavery, then, it was necessary to prove that Black people, who made up the slave workforce of early America, were biologically fit for this sole purpose.
Science as a justification for racist behavior and ideas is a thread that runs throughout this narrative history. Blackness was viewed at times as a disease; indeed, theories abounded as to whether it was a curse or whether it was related to the climate in which people were brought up. One racist scientific theory used to justify the inferiority of Black Americans was that of polygenesis, which posited that Black and white people represented fundamentally separate species. The heads of Black people were measured and compared to those of white people in order to prove that white people had greater cranial capacity and were therefore more intelligent. In some cases, Black people were characterized as being stronger, more fit for manual labor; in other cases, they were described as weak and corruptible. But no matter the argument they employed, racists sought to support the central thesis that the enslavement of Black people was justified.
Today it has been shown definitively that racist science has no basis in reality. After it was proven that 99.9% of all humans are genetically alike, racists still insisted that the remaining 0.1% must be racially influenced. Standardized testing geared against Black people was used to demonstrate that Blacks were less intelligent, even though Black students have proven as intelligent as their white peers. As Kendi illustrates, racist science seeks desired outcomes in order to support pre-drawn conclusions and justify racist practices.
Uplift Suasion and Black Excellence
Connected to the racist idea of Blackness as a disease is the long-running idea that it might be possible to ameliorate Black people by making them more like white people. Many early proponents of desegregation acted not because they were anti-racist but because they felt that Black people needed to be exposed to white people in order to improve morally. From the early days of Puritanism in America, attempts were made to Christianize slaves in order to bring them closer to whiteness. This led to debate around the question of whether the use of Christians as slaves was morally acceptable.
This idea grew into “uplift suasion,” or the idea, internalized by many Black people, that it would be possible to deprogram...
(The entire section is 747 words.)