Over the past few years, an illiberal orthodoxy has infected schools across our country, including the private institutions which my daughters have attended. According to its tenets, we can all be neatly categorized according to our immutable characteristics (such as skin color, ethnicity, and gender) and hierarchically organized based on the “power and privilege” these characteristics supposedly entail. In this system, there is no room for individual spirit, unique attributions, or even thoughtful dissent.
Many parents have noticed the regressive themes of this ideology in the materials and assignments that their kids bring home from school. One of the books that is most commonly encountered by parents is Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped (For Kids), which is currently being taught in elementary and middle schools across the country, both public and private. My daughter was assigned it as part of her sixth grade curriculum, prompting me to read it for myself. In short, this book introduces young children to race essentialism, skewed history, reductive or biased analysis of social trends, and the lionization of radical political figures, all under the guise of “anti-racism.”
Stamped (For Kids) opens with Kendi proclaiming that “[t]his is not a book of my opinions. This is a book about America, and about you. This book is full of truth. It’s packed with the absolutely true facts of the choices people made over hundreds of years to get us to where we are today.” From there, young readers are provided an overtly partisan history of the world, and America in particular.
The book begins with Kendi’s version of the origins of chattel slavery. The European slave trade between 1415 and 1619 is presented as the precursor to slavery in America, driven by the writings of the Portuguese chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara, whom Kendi identifies as the first person to connect slavery to skin color. Slavery is portrayed as a uniquely European institution, despite its rampant existence in regions elsewhere at the time including China, India, and the Middle East. Significantly, Kendi neglects to mention that slavery today is outlawed in all countries that subscribe to Enlightenment values of individual human rights, but still unfortunately exists in India, China, Pakistan, North Korea, and multiple African countries. Likewise, Kendi describes the American Revolutionary War as an attempt to break free of England in order to preserve slavery, even though Britain continued the practice of slavery for several decades longer than some U.S. states. The Founding Fathers (especially Thomas Jefferson) are also depicted as avaricious and racist, without any context whatsoever.
Stamped then proceeds to Jefferson Davis’ quote that inequality between the races was “stamped from the beginning,” which serves both as the book’s title and its fundamental portrayal of America writ large (the fact that a young America soundly rejected Davis’ wretched vision for the nation by way of a bloody Civil War is apparently lost on this thesis.) President Lincoln is shown as a spineless figure of only marginal influence: “Like a rope tied to a kite, he seemed to sway in different directions depending on where the wind blew.”
Simplistic analogies are interwoven throughout the book in sections called “Let’s Pause.” In these sections, history is presented as merely a “rope” on which people pull on one side for freedom and on the other for oppression. There are no multiple stakeholders with numerous layers, alternatives, resources, and reasonings—only binary actors making binary decisions.
Kendi proclaims that books and movies like Curious George, Aladdin, and Pocahontas have “racist ideas baked into them,” though not a single example is cited. Black intellectuals like W.E.B. Du Bois are presented as “assimilationists,” and therefore “racists” and “cowards.” In regards to Du Bois, however, Kendi encourages us to “remember, also, that people aren’t just one way; they can be complicated and full of contradictions.” It is revealing that Kendi includes this (correct) observation in his treatment of Du Bois, but not other figures in American history such as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
Stamped (For Kids) hits its stride in its treatment of the 1960s Civil Rights era, where Kendi fails to acknowledge any progress whatsoever. For example, on the landmark legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Kendi laments, “Who was going to make sure the laws would be followed if the law, lawmakers, and law enforcers were all racist?” Though by no means perfect, these laws put the entire apparatus of the federal government in motion for racial equality—which most people would agree was a significant positive change.
Kendi presents the Black Panther Party as the highlight of the 1960s-1970s, explaining that all the Black Panthers wanted was “Fair housing, antiracist education, an end to police brutality, and peace.” Kendi fails to mention the other elements of the Black Panthers’ published Ten Point Plan, which include a racially segregated legal system, socialism, communism, and the abolition of prisons.
Kendi also extensively celebrates Angela Davis as “an antiracist who understood that freedom means freedom for all, not for one.” Indeed, at the peak of her fame in the 1960s and 1970s, Angela Davis jet-setted between East Germany, Cuba, and the U.S.S.R. to receive awards and praise from dictators, consistently ignoring the brutal oppression of minorities including women, Jews, and LGBTQ+ people under those regimes. She ran as the Communist Party U.S.A.’s Vice Presidential nominee in 1980 and 1984. In 2014, she rallied to the defense of convicted murderer Rasmea Odeh, who, as a member of the U.S.-designated terrorist group “Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine,” helped to orchestrate a bombing which killed two Jewish students in Jerusalem in 1969. In 2019, Davis was denied the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award in Birmingham, Alabama for her series of antisemitic statements and actions over the years. But a prepubescent child reading Stamped (For Kids) would only know her as an “activist, educator and influential advocate for political and social change.”
The founders of Black Lives Matter (Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors) are also lauded as heroes: “Like antiracist daughters of Angela Davis,” Kendi gushes, “the activists of this new generation are symbols of hope, taking potential and turning it into power.”
Indeed, Davis and the founders of BLM do seem to share many of the same views. For example, in 2015, Opal Tometi visited Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro and praised his brutal regime: “In these last 17 years, we have witnessed the Bolivarian Revolution champion participatory democracy and construct a fair, transparent election system recognized as among the best in the world.” That same year, in an interview with SF Weekly, Alicia Garza explained, “Black lives can’t matter under capitalism. They’re like oil and water.” While on a panel at Harvard Law’s Human Rights Program in 2015, Patrisse Cullors explained that “…unless we step up boldly and courageously to end the imperialist project that’s called Israel, we’re doomed.” A self-proclaimed “trained Marxist,” Cullors stepped down from BLM leadership in May 2021 after the organization became embroiled in scandal for squandering tens of millions of dollars in donations. As investigative journalists were trying to figure out where the money went, Patrisse Cullors was on a real estate buying binge, personally purchasing four high-end homes for $3.2 million in the U.S. alone, and doling out almost $1 million each to her brother and to her child’s father for alleged services rendered, all while BLM itself spent over $12 million on swanky mansions in California and Toronto with donated funds.
Yet despite all of this (and much more), Stamped (For Kids) concludes with a plea to its impressionable young audience of potential activists to “keep talking about race,” and to model themselves on “people like Angela Davis. And Patrisse Cullors.”
The biases of Stamped (For Kids) and the figures that it celebrates are crystal clear: Heaping praise upon the authoritarian police states of Brezhnev, Castro, Honecker, and Maduro, yet finding unbearable racial oppression within Pocahontas and Curious George. Selectively judging figures from centuries ago according to the sensibilities of today. Continually dividing people based on innate differences, rather than seeking to unite people based on our common humanity. Preaching the virtues of Marxism and denigrating capitalism, while using the free market to become fabulously wealthy.
The teachers and administrators who subscribe to Kendi’s perspective will tell parents that forcing kids to read Stamped (For Kids) is merely to foster their capacity for “difficult conversations.” The difficulty, however, is not in having the conversations per se—but in the expectation that we all must unthinkingly adopt Kendiism wholesale. They ask parents to accept it despite our knowing in our core that it is wrong to judge people based on skin color; despite our knowing that people are complex, not one dimensional; despite many of us coming from mixed backgrounds, making us difficult to classify according to group identity; despite many of us being in an interracial marriage, or having adopted children of a different race; despite knowing that societies which have hyper-focused on immutable differences have always imploded into violence of the worst kind. Despite these myriad blaring red alerts going off in our consciences as we read books like Stamped (For Kids), we’re expected to swallow it anyway. And worse, we’re expected to stand idly by as our kids are commanded to swallow it, too.
We absolutely must teach the ugly side of history, an understanding of which is necessary for a functioning democracy. To truly learn from the past, students need to learn factual history, warts and all. But despite Kendi’s claims to the contrary, Stamped (For Kids) is a political manifesto, not a factual history book. Parents must have the courage to stand up tall, and respectfully ask questions that can expose this regressive ideology for what it truly is. True, you cannot convert the partisans—but you can still reach the teachers, students, and administrators who are willing to think for themselves. There are some who simply haven’t considered the radical and inevitable conclusions of Kendiism—but asking the right questions can help provide clarity.
We parents must speak honestly about this whenever Stamped (For Kids) is included in curriculum materials, so that our children can get the history education they need and deserve.
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One of the worst things about Kendi’s brand of antiracism is that you can either be Antiracist per his definition or—according to him—racist by default, since he claims there is not such thing as middle ground (i.e., you cannot be “not racist”). This kind of trap is very frustrating to me because it is based on a false dichotomy and because it manipulates individuals into feeling that they have to think a certain way.
It is the equivalent of assigning Mein Kampf in order to teach how to treat Jews!