I just finished reading a book titled Stamped from the Beginning: a Definitive History of Racist Ideas. It took me a long while, perhaps longer than it takes most people to finish audiobooks. I listened mostly on the commute to and from work, and sometimes during work, if my current task allowed me.
Yes, I realize I used the verb "read" in conjunction with "audiobook", but, it felt like reading, and for many folks, it's the main way they consume books. Let me back up a little to explain why I didn't pick up a paper book: for one, about a month, six weeks ago, I was having trouble reading and finishing certain books, and two, I wanted to increase my audio comprehension skills. I'm not sure where I am on the second point; I think I need to keeping listening! I discovered that it takes a lot for me to focus on an audiobook, and I can rarely do something else that requires focus if I am to really listen. Even something like scrolling Twitter will take my focus away.
I haven't read anything else by Ibram X. Kendi, so please don't read this as an enthusiastic endorsement of all his work. That being said, I think Stamped from the Beginning is a must read, especially if one is to understand the racist ideas that rule today in the US. Those ideas don't just occur in a vacuum, and after reading this book, it will become very apparent (if it wasn't already), that it takes WORK to undue centuries of racist ideas. The main thing I took away from this book, if you'll forgive the analogy, is that racism is an evil, shape shifting monster. It isn't gone just because it isn't readily visible to everyone. It just took another shape, like language about "law and order."
The book read well, and was engaging. I appreciate history books that carry a good narrative, and I think I've said that about a few other books on here. I was also grateful for the reminder at the epilogue of the book that knowledge isn't going to solve racism. That's what W.E.B. DuBois thought for a while, according to Kendi, and that's what I have thought: "if people were just presented with the facts, they would change their minds!" Kendi argues that, since the 18th century or before, people have known that racist ideas were evil. But because those ideas, when worked out, afforded a good amount of power, they weren't easily released. Folks do anything to hold onto power.
That leads me to the second part of this blog post. I didn't watch the DNC last week. I figured I knew the kinds of things they would say, and I'm tired of milquetoast neoliberalism. I did, however, watch bits (I do mean bits) of the RNC, as an exercise in knowing the opponent, so to speak. Even though I was not surprised at most of the content, I was appalled at the glaringly obvious rhetorical tactics being used to drive propaganda. The same phrases were repeated over and over, the same stories were told, even false ones. The message basically was this: be afraid of what happens if the incumbent loses his powerful role, because you'll lose power, too! This message is especially concerning when it is geared at those who call themselves Christians, and Christians absorb and repeat it. This is concerning, because one cursory read through the Christian Scriptures will indicate that Jesus did not advise his followers to attain political power, and he in fact did the opposite.
I'm not up to speed on the rhetorical devices used by historical fascist dictators, so I won't go there. I wouldn't be surprised if someone more knowledgeable than I told me that this rings of fascist rhetorical devices, but that isn't the point of this post.
Power is strongly addictive. And we can look back on history and see that empires crumble eventually, and power wielded in the name of religion results in unspeakably evil deeds. Self-described Christians are aligning themselves to empire in the name of power, and knowledge will not save. That doesn't mean I'll hold back from trying to educate anyone who will listen, but it takes transformation that is not merely intellectual. It takes action, it takes a (at the risk of sounding trite here) change of heart.
So, if you're as concerned as I am, I hope you'll join me, in knowledge if you need a place to start (I have more recs besides Stamped from the Beginning!), but also in action, and in praying if you're the praying kind. We need all hands on deck to exercise love for God and neighbor.