STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You is an important novel for young readers.
By Journalism II Student Ellie Crespo.
Unlike most of my peers, I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books. Whenever I’d go to the Scholastic Book Fairs in elementary school, the only time I’d pick up a fantasy novel was if there was a dog on the cover, and still, I didn’t read it. My nose was always in a nonfiction or historical fiction book. I didn’t dream about riding dragons or flying with fairies, I visualized myself marching with the suffragettes or shaking hands with Martin Luther King Jr. So, when I heard of this Columbus’s “Community Book” for 2020, STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You, I was eager to get my hands on it.
Introduced just months after the killing of George Floyd and the recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement, Columbus announced its new initiative: “Let’s Talk About Race: One Book—One Community.” Such a program was created in an effort to create one of the largest community book clubs, and so they did, welcoming everyone in the Columbus area to read STAMPED and join them for virtual book talks.
STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You is Jason Reynolds’s remixed-version of Ibram X. Kendi’s original Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Reynolds, an author of young adult and middle-grade novels, created this remix specifically with young people in mind. It’s clear by the book’s “cool history teacher just chatting with you about systematic racism” tone, that Reynolds wants kids and teens to read this.
In the book, Reynolds breaks down complex political, physiological and biblical narratives about racism for the reader, simplifying but never dumbing-down the material discussed and never sounding patronizing in the process. It’s evident that he thoughtfully picked out the theories and historical events that he wanted to share with the readers, and though there’s an abundance of them, every fact and historical theory feels necessary to include.
Though Reynolds makes it known early on that this is “NOT a history book, this is a book about the here and now,” the history buff in me still adores his retelling of our nation’s past. Oftentimes, if someone wants to learn how every racial group contributed to our America’s development, they’d have to seek out that information themselves. That’s why this book feels like a breath of fresh air, mentioning the forgotten history of America’s past actions that we’ve actively tried to erase, like Thomas Jefferson’s self-contradictions regarding slavery or our government’s smear campaign against black activist, Angela Davis.
And, though the influx of new information may sound daunting, Reynolds does an incredible job appealing to the young adult audience. As I previously mentioned, Reynolds wrote this book keeping kids and teens in mind. He utilized slang and informal language to connect with readers, even making present-day cultural references to engage his younger audience. When discussing Thomas Jefferson he writes that he “might’ve been the world’s first White person to say, ‘I have Black friends,’”, strategically forcing the reader to envision a seemingly unreachable figure in our present-day world. He somehow makes Thomas Jefferson… relatable. At least in the sense that it makes us go “yeah, I know someone like Thomas Jefferson”, even though we obviously don’t.
Reynolds’s novel is an exceptional retelling of our nation’s history of racism. Reynolds’s inclusion of a variant of theories, analysis of historical events from a black perspective, and stories of unsung black heroes is what sets this book apart from any other American History piece of work. Happy reading!