Ibram X. Kendi Quotes (Stamped From the Beginning)

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In Stamped From the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi argues that racist ideas don’t give rise to racist policies. Policies come first, and racist ideas are invented and perpetuated to justify them. Kendi, an African American Studies scholar, develops this claim by analyzing the history of racist ideas in the United States and offering readers a better understanding of how to combat contemporary racism. 

Below is a selection of Ibram X. Kendi’s quotes with explanations.

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement and more than 14 years after electing its first Black president, why is the United States still divided along racial lines?

That’s the central question of Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, which argues that contrary to common wisdom, racism doesn’t begin with prejudice and hatred. It begins with self-serving policies whose proponents justify their actions by inventing racist ideas.

The following Ibram X. Kendi’s quotes highlight some of the key points of the book.

“Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America. And this fact becomes apparent when we examine the causes behind, not the consumption of racist ideas, but the production of racist ideas.”

Kendi argues that racist ideas don’t result from ignorance. Rather, they have been invented to serve a function. In order to describe Black people as an inferior race, enslavers had to explain what a race was in the first place. This led to the idea that there is something inherently wrong with Black people.

Because racist policies—not racist ideas—come first, the solution is to defeat racist policies themselves—and keep them from coming back. To do so will require antiracists to achieve political power, enact antiracist policies, and hold on to their power (and policies) long enough for antiracist thought to become the new public common sense.

“For nearly six centuries, antiracist ideas have been pitted against two kinds of racist ideas: segregationist and assimilationist.”

While we might assume that ideas are either racist or nonracist, Kendi’s other major theoretical argument is that there are three types of thoughts on race: segregationist, antiracist, and assimilationist. When we think about racist ideas, we tend to think about openly hateful, hostile, or discriminatory rhetoric. But as we’ll see, Kendi’s three positions show that racist thinking can take subtler forms and even disguise itself as nonracist:

1) Segregationist ideas blame racial disparities on Black people by proposing that they’re inferior or defective in some way. These are the kinds of ideas we’d typically identify as racist. For example, a segregationist explanation for the low number of Black Fortune 500 CEOs might be that Black people lack the intelligence and motivation to be business leaders.

2) Antiracist ideas blame racial disparities solely on racism and maintain that all races are equal. An antiracist explanation for the lack of Black Fortune 500 CEOs might be that hiring and promotion procedures discriminate against Black candidates and employees.

3) Assimilationist ideas blame racial disparities on Black people and on racism. Assimilationist ideas can take two forms—they can maintain that both Black people and racist whites are at fault, or they can propose that Black people are defective as a result of racism. 

Ibram X. Kendi Quotes (Stamped From the Beginning)

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Here's what you'll find in our full Stamped from the Beginning summary:

  • How enslavers convinced themselves that slavery benefited slaves
  • Why most antiracist reformers harbored racist thoughts
  • How to achieve an antiracist society

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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