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Education Without Limits

Book Review: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You offers a compelling look at the origin and evolution of racism, particularly against Black Americans. Released in 2020 by authors Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, Stamped is an updated and abbreviated version of Kendi’s 2016 award-winning book Stamped from the Beginning.

While Kendi excels at journalism, Reynolds has a background in creative writing and shines at simplifying complex ideas and capturing the attention of his audience with humor and authenticity. As a result, Stamped reads less like a book and more like a series of engaging history lessons from a wise and funny professor.

This makes it perfect both for younger readers in grades 6 -12 and for their parents and teachers, who may be resistant to delving into more dense works about racism but will find reading Stamped to be a genuinely engaging experience.

A Student’s Take

Honestly, I discovered Stamped via my 13-year-old daughter, Kyra, when her 6th grade teacher assigned it this year.

According to Kyra, Stamped is “an insightful book about racism that teaches you how not to be a racist.”

While she admits that some of her classmates disliked it because it made them feel sad, Kyra says, “The whole point of school is to learn, and I think I actually learned something. More people need to read it, even if they feel guilty.”

In particular, Kyra says the book went beyond explaining racism’s history and illustrating how the United States is built on a foundation of slavery. Even more important to her today, she says it gave her a better understanding of what it means to be an assimilationist, or someone who supports Black individuals as long as they fit neatly within the confines of white culture.

For example, assimilationist culture may praise Black students who earn acceptance to Harvard while failing to equally celebrate the achievements of students who attend historically Black colleges and universities.

After reading Stamped, Kyra says she recognized just how assimilationist US popular culture can be in its efforts to whitewash traditionally Black narratives--either by recasting some characters as white, or by changing some details to be more relatable to a white audience. “It feels nice, when watching media, to point that out,” she says.

An Educator's Take

Personally, I often felt as though Reynolds and Kendi were speaking directly to me--a fellow Xennial (or elder millennial). As a white American woman, it was fascinating for me to see two Black American men actively deconstruct the exact stereotypes that permeated the overarching culture within which the three of us came of age.

Within Stamped, Reynolds and Kendi use clear language and examples to explain the differences between segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists. However, they go a step further by emphasizing how a single individual can embody traits that align with multiple categories at once.

For example, while I’d pictured W.E.B. DuBois as a stalwart Black diplomat and founder of the NAACP, Stamped reveals him to be a much more dynamic person whose views on race moved between being assimilationist and antiracist over time, and not always in a straight line.

The decision against force fitting historical figures into archetypes allows them to be human.

This approach works particularly well for Stamped since one pillar of being an antiracist is recognizing our shared humanity.

Meanwhile, the other pillars are recognizing, and then actively fighting against, the systems set in place to oppress, harm, and sometimes kill Black Americans and other marginalized populations.

Even though Reynolds and Kendi make it clear they envision Stamped being taught in school, they also repeatedly state that Stamped isn’t a history book. I think the distinction they’re making is that Stamped isn’t just something for people to study when they want to know about the past.

Rather, it’s an active guide to better understanding the present and shaping the future.

Bringing Stamped into the Classroom

Stamped earned a place on 2020’s list of frequently banned books, and co-author Reynolds has even been named inaugural Honorary Chair for Banned Books Week 2021, a weekly celebration of the right to read, taking place September 26 - October 2 this year.

Personally, I find Stamped to be every bit as eye-opening and essential as Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States.

It’s detailed profile of contemporary activist Angela Davis also makes it an excellent complement to EWL’s flagship unit American Rebels.

Available via EWL’s forthcoming resource EducatorHQ, American Rebels highlights historical figures selected by unit creator and EWL co-founder Rhi Alyxander. However, it’s also customizable to allow for the study of additional rebels selected by the educator. As such, it can change from year to year, or classroom to classroom.

This level of flexibility is a cornerstone of EWL’s philosophy, as well as a key feature of both EducatorHQ and ResourceHQ.

With EducatorHQ, you can easily construct and customize unit plans to both meet Common Core learning standards and to integrate specific, sometimes controversial, resources like Stamped.

Meanwhile, ResourceHQ is a professionally vetted compilation of free websites, guides, and learning programs that can either stand on their own or complement both newly planned and existing units and lessons.

ResourceHQ addresses all 4 core subjects areas, as well as provides health and wellness resources, plus professional development resources. Our diverse selection of history resources, available here, all share one common goal: To generate meaningful discussion of historical events.

Whether you read Stamped with your students, share excerpts, or simply add it to your classroom library, it will infuse these discussions with added depth, humor, nuance, accountability, and hope for a more just world.

To get started utilizing both Stamped and ResourceHQ in your classroom, check out our featured resource Learning for Justice’s interview with co-author Ibram X. Kendi here.

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