I recently read Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds for a young adult literature course. Stamped is a self-described “not-history history book” that focused on the evolution of racist thoughts and actions that have shaped American history, as well as defined what it means to be truly antiracist. As someone who has mixed European and Asian heritage, this book opened my eyes to a massive history of ignorance. In the past, I regarded myself as someone who is antiracist and well-informed on important topics — this book challenged those beliefs. Stamped forced me to acknowledge my own lack of knowledge, and to accept that simply being “not racist” is not enough.
One of the biggest challenges I face as someone dedicated to being antiracist is combating my own ignorance. I have always prided myself on being relatively intelligent, someone who enjoys learning and succeeds at it. In my junior year of high school, I took an AP US History class; I was under the impression that I learned everything about America, which instilled a sense of satisfactory pride…I then allowed that confidence to fuel my ignorance. I was astounded at some of the things I learned while reading Stamped; I had never learned about the racist roots of the Puritan witch hunts or Abraham Lincoln’s economical support of slavery. I felt as though my ignorance was screaming its existence in my ear. There is so much that students are not taught in schools, and I truly believe that this censored education is harming any chance of abolishing racist structures and systems. This system has blinded me and skewed my opinion, however, that is no excuse for my ignorance. I have to be willing to educate myself, to teach myself how I have exhibited and internalized bias in my daily life, and that comes from learning.
I am also learning to not just support Black people and be content with being “not racist” — I need to put effort into being antiracist. One of the most striking quotes in the novel was when the authors described the difference between assimilationists — “not racists'' — and antiracists: it said, “Assimilationists are people who like you, but only with quotation marks.” The authors described assimilationists as people who allow racist acts to happen for the sake of avoiding confrontation. I felt incredibly convicted as I was reading this because, for the first time, I was being forced to acknowledge that my comfort is to the detriment of the people whose voices are being ignored. I have never been the type of person to speak up or make waves. After reading Stamped, I realize that I cannot let myself be silent and complicit in others’ oppression — I have to start being actively antiracist. I know that I have a long way to go and that my work will never really be finished, but I want to put effort into being someone who makes a difference.
Reading Stamped brought my ignorance and silence to my attention, and I have no intention of contenting myself to just being “not racist.” I want to keep learning and growing so that I can lift up the voices of change and create a better future. Kendi once gave a speech asking students to “make history, not be history” — in order to break away from the mistakes of the past, we need to educate ourselves about the root of ignorance and hatred so as to not repeat it.
By Kendall Putnam, Contributor