Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi | Book Review

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in       America. New York: Nation Books. 

Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas In America by Ibram X. Kendi is a phenomenal read. It was originally published in hardcover and ebook by Nation Books in 2016; furthermore, the First Trade Paperback Edition was released in August of 2017. The book is 515 pages in length. I have not read anything similar to the text before. Kendi breaks down the origination of racism in five parts. He does so through five people – Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis. The preface and prologue focus primarily on current day activity and then Kendi immediately dives into the first of the five parts. Having not known exactly what the book had to offer before turning the pages, the transition (or lack thereof) into the first part came quite abruptly. Too abruptly. But before I offer my assessment, let’s look into a few others and how they detail the strengths and weaknesses of the read.                                                                                   

 “Stamped from the Beginning, which won a National Book Award, is a thoroughly documented work on the history of racial bigotry in the United States.” The first reviewer we peak into is T. Owens Moore. Owens Moore is an interdisciplinary scholar who teaches African-Centered Psychology at Clark Atlanta University where he is Chair of the Department of Psychology. He has reviewed this book through The Black Scholar Journal of Black Studies and Research. The review was published online, July 11, 2018. Moore believes this book is a must read and has nothing negative to say about any portion of the text. As a basis T. Owens Moore reviews the book through the lens of each ‘module’ as he refers to them and details what Kendi provides for each of the five main characters discussed in the text. I found this to be very organized and a great way to analyze the read. Moore provides the reader with the main themes of the text as well – segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. He also delivers some insight as to where the title is derived which I found very helpful. 

“Where does the book’s title come from? It comes from a speech that Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis gave on the floor of the US Senate on April 12, 1860. As presented by Kendi, this future president of the Confederacy objected to a bill funding Black education in Washington, DC. “This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes,” but “by white men for white men,” Davis lectured his colleagues. The bill was based on the falsenotion of racial equality, he declared. The “inequality of the white and Black races,” up to the founding of North America in the Davis concluded, was “stamped from the beginning” (3).

        As he wraps his review up, the following is said,

“Stamped from the Beginning is a must read in order to find healing in American society. We must seriously examine our delusion that all men/women/groups of people are valued equally. Without dealing with the nature of any system, one cannot change it, but is likely to be fooled by it.”

That can sum up how he feels towards the book, but this last sentence kind of stumps me. “Read this book and continue with the struggle!” Maybe he meant to include, ‘and continue to fight the struggle.’ I believe the goal is to end the struggle, not continue with it. I could be looking into this to harshly. Nonetheless, the review was accurate in detail, organized efficiently and very much in favor of Stamped From The Beginning.                                                                  

The next review of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning that we will be examining comes from Laura C. Chávez-Moreno who has a background in ethnic studies and languages/literacies; furthermore, her work interacts with dealings about Chicanx/Latinx education, critical literacy, and racial equity. Chavez- Moreno is a Postdoctoral Scholar in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. She reviews Kendi’s work through the platform of the Education Review/Resenas Educativas and did so on October 31, 2018. She immediately addresses the three major themes of the book which Moore touched on as well – assimilationist, anti-racist, and segregationist. She exclaims that the direct point of the book is racial progress. “American racial progress and the progression of racism have advanced simultaneously throughout U.S. history.”                                                                   

What I enjoyed about the review Chavez-Moreno provided is that she focused on several of the key terms of the book. Those terms include uplift suasion, educational persuasion, and self-sacrifice. As she discusses each of these themes are discussed consistently throughout the book and in regards to each of the five main individuals the book is directed around. While I enjoy how T. Owens Moore organized his review better, what I am more fond of in the Chavez-Moreno review is that she offered actual critique of the text. 

“In the epilogue, Kendi reasserts that the subject of the book is anti-Black racist ideas – a necessary reminder to any reader left wanting to learn a history of racist ideas in America. This spotlights one limitation of the book. At times, this hefty tome reads as if Kendi framed anti-Black racist ideas as the quintessential racism.”

         Chavez-Moreno goes onto to exclaim that Kendi missed an opportunity in not tying in non-Black people of color.  While early on in the text Kendi explains that Stamped From The Beginning is a timeline of “anti-Black racist ideas” (p. 5), her argument is that the title of the book is to vague giving off the impression that it would incorporate the history of racism in regards to other ethnicities as well. I believe this is a valid argument. I wonder why Kendi did this or if it is even something that crossed his mind. To wrap up her review, Chavez-Moreno leaves us with the following.

“Overall, Stamped from the Beginning is an important work of public scholarship that succeeds in teaching a general education or non-academic audience about the continuing significance of race and racism. As a Chicana scholar, I recommend Kendi’s history to anyone with an interest in American racism as a readable page-turner of how anti-Black racist ideas have influenced the past and continue to impact our lives.”               

The next and final review of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning we will look into is that of Mark Anthony Neal who published “Stamped from the Beginning review – a timely history of racist ideas in America” through The Guardian on August 24, 2017. “Mark Anthony Neal is Chair of the Department of African & African American Studies and the founding director of the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship (CADCE) at Duke University where he offers courses on Black Masculinity, Popular Culture, and Digital Humanities, including signature courses on Michael Jackson & the Black Performance Tradition, and The History of Hip-Hop, which he co-teaches with Grammy Award Winning producer 9th Wonder (Patrick Douthit).”

Neal does something that the other two reviewers we’ve discussed did not do. He gives a little background information on the author himself. “Kendi, a professor of history and international relations at American University, Washington DC, subtitles his book “the definitive history of racist ideas”, and while some might quibble with such a description, his research is exhaustive and his conclusions will surprise many.” He includes the five parts of the book as well as the three major themes just as the other two reviewers did. Neal does offer critique in his review of Stamped From The Beginning. “Readers might find that Kendi spends a little too much time with Mather – a noted witch whisperer – and his merry band of Puritans.” In conclusion, Neal offers these words,

         “This book’s ultimately hopeful analysis doesn’t seem to hold sway at this moment, as the president, and much of the population, defends memorials that historians agree were put in place as symbols of white supremacy. But the struggle over these symbols might finally represent a slow recognition that something has changed, and perhaps it’s now the white supremacists who need to be “assimilated” into an anti-racist future that is still beyond the nation’s grasp.”

         Overall, Mark Anthony Neal seems to be a fan of Kendi’s work; however, he does not feel that the public is necessarily ready for it. I believe this was just as a solid a review as the others we have discussed above.                                                                                            

As we conclude this review on reviews of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning, I shall provide my assessment as well. Kendi’s research and analysis of the roots of racism are incredible. Race and racism are not only daily thoughts of mine but also daily struggles. With that being said I have never once thought or looked at them through this kind of lens. I learned quite a bit from the text such as the origination of the word ‘slave’ from ‘slav’ which comes from Slavic captives. I love Kendi’s organization and breakdown of each of the main individuals and the roles they played into the five parts he laid out for us as readers. It is also easy to spot the three main themes in anti-racist, assimilationist, and segregationist. The only critique I had prior to reading the reviews was that of the abrupt transition from the preface/prologue to part one. However, after reading the reviews I could also agree that he may have spent to much time discussing Cotton Mather and that the title could also be more specific. He did spend quite a bit of time on Thomas Jefferson throughout the text; however, I believe he had to as Jefferson played a big role in what was happening throughout the course of those time periods.                                                                                                            

The book was somewhat exhausting due to all it was packed with and had to offer, but I also read it in a very short period of time. Furthermore, there isn’t one thing I believe he should have left out. In comparing my thoughts with those of the three reviewers above I feel we are all in the same frame. Each grasped the main points and themes, seemed to enjoy the organization as well as the content and only had minor critique. As a student (especially one who is interested in this area), this is one of the most educating and informing books I have ever read. If you happen to be reading this paper I’m typing and haven’t read Stamped From The Beginning yet, I urge you to do so now! 


Works Cited

Chávez-Moreno, L. C. (2018, October 29). Review of Stamped from the beginning: The        definitive history of racist ideas in America by I. X. Kendi. Education Review, 25. 

“English Department.” Mark Anthony Neal | Duke English Department, Duke University,

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in       America. New York: Nation Books. 

Moore, T. Owens (2018) Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in    America, by Ibram X. Kendi, The Black Scholar, 48:3, 71-74, DOI:    10.1080/00064246.2018.1475843 

Neal, Mark A. “Stamped from the Beginning Review – a Timely History of Racist Ideas in America.” Mark Anthony Neal | Duke English Department, 24 Aug. 2017,

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