Historian sheds light on the origins of racial ideas

Carlynn Hickenbotham

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy invited black historian Ibram X. Kendi to discuss the history of racist ideas on Monday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. 

Kendi is an author and currently an assistant professor of African American history at the University of Florida. In his book, “Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” he chronicles the development of racism and studies its influence over the course of American history.

“I dedicated this book to the lives they said don’t matter,” Kendi said. “The ‘they’ in that phrase is racist ideas.”

While doing research for his book, Kendi discovered the motive for racist ideals in history was to protect certain racist policies that were set in place to benefit white citizens. 

“I came to realize that more times than not, these powerful producers of racist ideas were producing them to defend existing racist policies,” Kendi said. “Typically, those existing racist policies benefited them in some particular type of way.”

Kendi said there is a need for change, but advised against using commonly suggested methods, such as not conforming to certain stereotypes or simple persuasion, to reach the end goal of equality.

“These powerful producers are not producing [racist ideas] out of ignorance or hate,” Kendi said. “Therefore, education or love will not change them. It’s equivalent to trying to persuade a corporate executive of a company that sells harmful products that their products are harmful.”

Laurie Roberts, a public affairs graduate student, said she read Kendi’s book to gain a better understanding of racism and eventually work toward preventing it.

“Obviously to prevent something, you have to know what it is first,” Roberts said. “I think this book and the author does a very good job of helping us define the terms so that we can actually be effective in pursuing social justice.”

Roosevelt Neely, public affairs graduate student, said he was volunteering for the book signing after the event because he felt a need to understand what racism was, having experienced it himself as a black man.

“I wouldn’t say it’s harmful, I wouldn’t say it’s direct, but I definitely feel that there is a difference, being black,” Neely said. “I’m in graduate school, and I feel I should be a good representative to change the perspective that people have of blacks being lazy and underachieving. I do feel that there’s an added pressure, but for me that’s something I embrace.”