Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” examines the history of racism in the United States and reveals to readers the racist ideas that have stemmed from and been embedded into every facet of American society throughout its history, thus explaining many of the racial disparities that still exist today. Perhaps the most intriguing concepts discussed by Kendi are those of the climate and curse theories, and how those ludicrous concepts have come to influence racism in America through not only religion, but also politics. While these theories were created in order to explain the “causes of Blackness”, the purpose of their utilization was more for the enforcement of racial stereotypes and the subsequent oppression of Black peoples. By looking closely at how each of these theories carried out their purposes, we can find saddening instances of those theories still holding influence today.
Climate theory has been a prominent theory among both assimilationists and segregationists since racist ideas first originated. This idea, that those of a darker skin complexion have such a complexion because of their location, and that by being in a place commonly inhabited by White peoples could turn those complexions lighter (and thus better to Europeans and Americans), can be found enforcing racism throughout many periods of American history. For example, not only did climate theory convince many that Black peoples had to be made more like White peoples, it went so far as to connect science and religion, for those who laid eyes on or read about Black peoples whose skin became lighter due to pigment mutations in their DNA became convinced that climate theory could be a prevailing one. And because of climate theory’s persistence throughout history, a stereotype still exists today that lighter skin tones correlate with higher degrees of beauty and intelligence.
Curse theory, which claims all Black peoples are inferior because of the biblical story of Ham, has also had a negative impact on ideals of racism and race issues throughout United States history. Because of the shift from climate to curse theory that takes place during the beginnings of the American slave trade (discussed in chapter 3), an “individualizing of White negativity and generalizing of Black negativity” (42) takes place. This meant that racism was able to flourish on the premise that negative behaviors were typical of Blacks as a group, but only applicable to Whites that were considered uncommon or outside of the social norm. Unfortunately, that is still a stereotype seen throughout the United States today, Black peoples being generalized as a criminal and inferior (or cursed) group rather than the principle of individuality being considered.
One message of Kendi’s is outlasting throughout his work: the theories that established slavery and racist ideas have persevered into the religion, politics, and culture of today’s society. Even assimilationists and abolitionists throughout United States history have implicitly upheld the racist ideals established by the progression of the climate and curse theories throughout our nation’s history. With this particular message of Kendi’s in mind, we must ask ourselves; how do we truly shed the preconceptions created by these historically racist concepts?