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Education Without Limits

Book Review: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

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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 Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped is an updated and abbreviated version of Kendi’s 2016 award-winning book Stamped from the Beginning.

While Kendi excels at journalism, Reynolds 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.

In fact, I discovered Stamped via my 12-year-old daughter. She loved it and saw it as an essential resource.

Meanwhile, 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 beyond 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.

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 makes an excellent complement to EWL’s flagship unit American Rebels, as well as others that will be available via EWL’s resource EducatorHQ.

Meanwhile, I recommend teaching Stamped alongside excerpts from Kendi’s more adult works, or perhaps alongside clips of Kendi’s interviews, like this one by Amy Goodman.

Finally, students of all ages will likely enjoy Reynolds’ award-winning poetry and his graphic novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man, which inspired the animated feature film Into the Spiderverse.

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