Stamped a Remix: A Partial List of Errors

Many high schools and middle schools are assigning this 'antiracism' book; besides being ideologically pernicious, it's bad history

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The "hot" book to "spur discussion" about racism or teach about "antiracism" for young adults is Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi's book, Stamped a Remix, which is a dumbed-down version of Kendi's book Stamped from the Beginning.

Kendi's antiracism ideology is pernicious. He divides the world into racists, assimilationists, and antiracists. The assimilationists include almost everyone prominent who has ever worked for civil rights, including Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois (at least until he became a Communist), MLK, and more. The hero of the last third of the book is Angela Davis. For some reason, even though she was Communist who devoted most of her life to advancing Communism in general rather than civil rights specifically, and was an over-the-top apologist for every brutal action ever taken by the USSR, she becomes the exemplar of antiracism. Not incidentally, she was and remains [link has her engaging in a modern version of blood libel by ridiculously linking Israel to police violence against blacks in the U.S.] an antisemite, and it's rather difficult to see how a racist against Jews can be an antiracist heroine.

But plenty of other people have taken on Kendi's ideology. I had occasion to read the book, and made a running list of errors, which is undoubtedly incomplete. The list is extensive enough that no reputable academic institution should assign the book. As a resource for teachers, parents, and students I am going to list the errors I found in the last 1/3 of the book. I focus on that part because the errors seem more numerous and glaring; I'm not sure if that's because I'm more familiar with the relevant history, or the book simply isn't as bad until it gets to modern times. Along with gross errors, I'm including examples of where the authors gloss over reality when it suits their agenda. Some of these errors go to the heart of Kendi's project, some are minor. But together they reflect authors who are indifferent to fact.

Readers should feel free to use this information, with or without attribution, to oppose assigning this book to their kids. Here we go:

Page 162: Malcom X and the Nation of Islam. The book's description of NOI's philosophy makes it sound rather benign, ignoring the both racist and crazy elements of it. Here is what NOI actually believes (though Malcom himself at the end of his life renounced these beliefs in favor of Orthodox Islam): over 6,000 years ago, the black race lived in a paradise on earth that was destroyed by the evil wizard Yacub, who created the white "devil" through a scientific process called "grafting." Fard and his disciple preached of a coming apocalyptic overthrow of white domination, insisting that the dominion of evil was to end with God's appearance on earth in the person of Fard. Following this, NOI predicts an epic struggle in which the Nation of Islam will play a key role in preparing and educating the Original People, who ruled the earth in peace and prosperity until Yacub's "blue-eyed devils" came along to gum things up. The Nation of Islam teaches that intermarriage or race mixing should be prohibited.

On page 173, the books states as fact that the 1964 Civil Rights Act caused a racist backlash. In fact, racism was declining before the Civil Rights Act, and has continued to decline ever since.

Page 170: Angela Davis. The books suggests that she was unhappy with the "white activism" she found at Brandeis, and created her own Afrocentric ideology after the Birmingham bombing. In fact, she was mainly influenced by the white, Jewish, Communist Herbert Marcuse her professor at Brandeis. The authors need to distort the history because Davis adopting ideas she learned from a white Communist wouldn't fit with the Afrocentric theme of the book.

Page 174: The book states that Senator and 1964 presidential candidate's Barry Goldwater's opposition to federal spending was because it was going to black people for the first time ("This racist epiphany hit Goldwater once Black people were receiving government assistance, too.") This is utter and pernicious nonsense. There is no evidence that Goldwater's views on government spending had anything to do with black people, and they reflect a longstanding American libertarian tradition of being in favor of limited government that has existed independently of whether black people were potential beneficiaries (or victims) of the government.

Page 191: Authors write that Nixon believed the segregationist approach was a good one. More nonsense. Nixon was no angel in a variety of ways, but it was his administration that first challenged white craft unions that excluded blacks (the Philadelphia Plan) and instituted the first major affirmative action programs.

193-97: Discussion of Angela Davis' arrest and acquittal for smuggling guns used in a kidnapping and murder. The book spins a fictional tale. The truth: "Eventually, she was acquitted in 1972, despite her proven ownership of the murder weapons and a cache of letters she wrote to George Jackson in prison expressing her passionate romantic feelings for him and unambivalent solidarity with his commitment to political violence."

199-200 "Rocky." Hardly the worst thing in the book, but to depict Rocky as a racist movie simply because it depicted a white boxer against a black boxer is silly. Apollo Creed's circle of accomplished black advisors seem much more desireable than Rocky's working class white friends and neighbors, Rocky himself is a hood working for a loan shark, Rocky loses the match, and the arc of the story is that he and Apollo become good friends.

203-04 "Angela Davis was running against him, for the vice-president seat, and couldn't get any coverage." This is technically true, she didn't get much coverage. But the book implies that this was because of racism. In fact, it was because she was running as the candidate of the USSR-controlled Communist Party, and the Communists were a very, very fringe party that got much less than one percent of the vote every election.

203-05 The Drug War. I am against the Drug War, and have been my whole adult life. But to reduce it to a product of racism is ridiculous, if for no other reason than it was supported by liberal black legislators as much as anyone else.

206 "Reagan's economic policies caused unemployment to skyrocket." Unemployment went up at the beginning of the Reagan administration, then went down for the rest of it to lower levels than when he started.

207 "Crack baby." There were serious medical people at the time who sincerely believed that babies born to crack-addicted mom's were never going to catch up development-wise. They fortunately turned out to be wrong. To make this into a racist plot is silly, if anything, concern for the fate of these babies was "antiracist" as it reflected concern of primarily white physicians for the fate of primarily black children. The authors blame Charles Krauthammer for making up this phrase. I looked it up. Krauthammer used it in July 1989. The New York Times used in several months earlier.

214: Re Clarence Thomas: "his work as an activist got him into fancy schools." This is just false. He grew up very poor, got a scholarship to a non-fancy Catholic college that I've otherwise never heard of, then did well enough to get into Yale Law. What "work as an activist" they are talking about is beyond me. He didn't become a conservative political activist until after he graduated Yale Law and read the works of Thomas Sowell.

14: The authors suggest that Davis left the Communist Party in 1991 because it wasn't doing enough to address racism. In fact, as a tool of the USSR, the Party collapsed with the USSR.

215: Authors refer to the LA riots as a "rebellion" by black people. In fact, while there was undoubtedly some violence that was a direct response to the Rodney King verdict, most of those arrested in the riots were Mexican-American criminals who took the opportunity to loot. Much of the violence was aimed at small businesses, especially those owned by Korean immigrants. These victims had nothing to do with Rodney King, and to call such violence a rebellion is romaniticizing thuggery.

216: The authors criticize a Black women's organization being "racist" for being opposed to misogynistic "gangsta rap."

216-17: The author grossly exaggerates Angela Davis' influence and "antiracist" credentials. She was primarily a Communist activist for much of her career, and was otherwise a fringe figure who did little to advance civil rights.
General comment: The entire discussion of crime and related matters fails to note that between the 1960s and 1990, violent crime in the U.S. skyrocketed to unprecedented levels, and perhaps the biggest victims were black residents of urban areas where violence was at its peak. This crime wave and not racism is the primary explanation as to why harsh, sometimes overly harsh, criminal laws were enacted.

220 Charles Murray never "rallied for Republicans." He did favor welfare reform and wrote a controversial book about that, and he did write a very controversial book on IQ, and then some other controversial books later, including a book about social problems in the white working class. But he's never been a political activist of the sort that "rallies" for a party.

221 "Angela Davis was still a threat." No, she really wasn't. She was a fringe nobody except in far-left activist circles.

222 OJ Simpson trial, with whites rooting for conviction and blacks for acquittal. There was a racial split on this, but plenty of black people thought he was guilty, and some whites did not. "Rooting" is a ridiculous word here. Some people who thought Simpson was guilty still thought he should be acquitted either because of prosecutorial incompetence in proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt, or because they thought the trial revealed racism among local cops and acquittal would send a message that this was not acceptable.

222 Mumia Abu Jamal: Not a political prisoner as the book says, but a murderer duly convicted by a jury after full due process.

224: Attack on "Color-blindness." Why shouldn't we be blind to color? Why, if someone white looks at a black person or a white person, should they see a black person or a white person, not just a person? The authors take hostility to color-blindness as a given, but readers should not.

228-29: "Science says the race are biologically equal. So if they're not equal in society, the only reason why can be racism." This is the heart of Kendi's ideology, and it's simply false. There is no society on earth with more than one ethnic group where the two groups are exactly equal. Sometimes, the group that is the victim of racism actually is "better off" economically than the majority group. This has been true of Lebanese immigrants in Africa, Chinese immigrants to other countries in Asia, and Jews in various places. In our own country, Indian-Americans, Jews, and Greeks have the highest median incomes. Is that because of racism? That's not to deny that racism in the U.S. has had a negative effect on African American well-being. It is to deny that any disparities among groups are inherently a product of racism. Indeed, there are signficant disparities in average socioeconomic status within the various "racial" categories in the U.S., including between, e.g., African immigrants and descendants of American slaves.

230: President Bush promoted "anti-Islamic and anti-Arab sentiments." False. He went out of his way to not blame Islam or Arabs, to the chagrin of some of his more chauvinistic fans.

231: Discussion of No Child Left Behind (which I opposed). The book says it put the blame on black parents, and black teachers, and public schools. I don't follow the logic of why it blamed black parents. Or black teachers. It did blame undperfoming public schools for not ensuring that all children, particularly minority and poor children, succeeded in school. Exactly why would you not blame the public schools?

237: "It was rumored that the Bush Administration directed FEMA to delay its response in order to amplify the destructive reward for those who would benefit. Whether or not this is true, they were delayed." This is a nonsense conspiracy theory that any respectable author would reject out of hand.

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  1. I find one error here. Study the origins of the war on drugs, in the last half of the 19th century, and attributing it all to racism is not at all an exaggeration. The initial anti-drug efforts were all aimed at immigrant minorities who wouldn’t give up cultural habits that made them unique, and drugs were sometimes among those habits. But of course there were several of these target groups, not just blacks. Chinese migrants were the first targets, which is why opium was the first drug banned. (Arguments about the health consequences of using drugs didn’t even come up until after most of the drugs were banned.)

    I haven’t looked at “Stamped a Remix,” but if the book is Afro-centric then it probably omits the scapegoating of all those other races to concentrate on blacks, and that’s an error in the book. But the drug laws were always racist. Just not always aimed at them.

    1. The origins of the Reagan-era War on Drugs are much more mundane. Nancy Reagan was an unpopular first lady, and she was looking for a signature issue that would make her more popular. She hit on “just say no to drugs.” That, along with the fact that, as anyone who grew up in the era will tell you, drug use was very common among teens, led to a sudden burst of public pressure to “do something.” It’s likely true that that exact contours of the “war” and how it was fought were impacted by implicit racist ideas, but that’s a far cry from Kendi’s claim, which is that the entire motivation was racist, as a war on black people.

      1. The war on crack came out of the democratic process and activist Black Ministers and Black Grandmothers who organized and lobbied for the draconian laws. They used the model that MADD had done with OUI a decade earlier.

        It was a mistake, but they were Black and trying to improve Black neighborhoods.

      2. Why would you start with Reagan though? Original drug prohibition (starting with the rhetoric and propaganda leading to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1918 through at least the Marijauna Tax Act of 1937) was blatantly and thoroughly racist.

        While the Reagans might not have been racist on this subject, society had inherited a racist drug prohibition regime.

        And of course the crime bills in the 80s and 90s created racist double standards which ended up treating nearly identical offenses as worse for blacks than whites. (ie, crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparities).

    2. This is false and frankly ridiculous. It is obviously an exaggeration to attribute it all to racism. Even in the early 20th/late 19th many of the concerns with growing opium and cocaine addiction were about crime, unemployment, and health effects. I can’t believe anyone could believe such a caricature of history to believe that the illegality of drugs was entirely due to racism. It’s also a genetic fallacy to impute that modern drug prohibition is motivate by racism (any honest observer would it that generally isn’t); right or wrong it makes as little sense as arguing that labor unions and minimum wage laws are racist because of racist motivations for their original existence.

      1. I think the closest it could get to racist is to note that drugs scared whites most when their kids started using them, and before that, when it was just Chinese, blacks, Mexicans, or other non-whites, legislators, lobbyists, and others didn’t see any votes to scrounge from worrying about drugs. But it might just as easily be attributed to not caring about the poor.

        Politicians are pretty primitive creatures. All they care about is votes. If they can get votes from being racist, that only reflects society, not politicians.

      2. Gin Alley was in (then) all-White working class England.

      3. Have you read any of the drug prohibition rhetoric from the early 20th century? It’s pretty blatantly racist.

    3. Don’t forget “Rum, Romanism, & Rebellion.” Alcohol is a drug and Prohibition was aimed at working-class Irish & Italian neighborhoods.

  2. People who believe this garbage aren’t interested in a reasoned debate, or facts.

    Those things are racist and White Supremacist.

  3. Q: “Why shouldn’t we be blind to color? Why, if someone white looks at a black person or a white person, should they see a black person or a white person, not just a person?”

    A: Because it is physiologically impossible.

    “For example, Cunningham et al. (2004) found that when Caucasian participants watched Black and White faces that were presented very briefly (i.e., 30 ms, so that they were barely a flash on the screen), they showed increased activation in the amygdala in response to the Black faces (which was interpreted as an increased emotional response for outgroup faces). However, this effect disappeared when the pictures were presented for a longer time so that they were clearly visible (i.e., 525 ms).”

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6174241/

    1. You’re familiar with metaphors, right? Yes, it’s physiologically impossible for me not to notice that someone is a different color or very short or whatever. The idea is to not let that affect how I treat them. Using brain scans as evidence of racism is a pretty frightening though.

      1. What’s the metaphor?

        1. There was a time not that long ago, when many Americans would have looked at me, thought I looked Jewish, and then treated me differently because of it. Nowadays, their brain may register that I look Jewish, but the vast majority of people would just ignore that and see “another white guy.” What the goal should be would be to extent “another white guy” to “another American guy” in the case of African Americans. Yes, their brain would be aware that he has different skin color and facial features, but it wouldn’t be something that would register as sufficiently important to affect one’s behavior.

          1. Not what the data says.

            1. Pardon me, but screw your data. Used to be that “race” meant country, and people swore they could differentiate French, Italians, Irish, Slavs, Russians, Scandinavians, Germans, and every other European “race” imaginable. I would not be surprised to think Arabs (and Iranians!) used to think they could tell their races apart. Chinese? Japanese? Okinawans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Thais, Burmese, Philippinos, how many other Asians do you want to throw into this guessing game? How many North American Indians think they can tell their tribes apart, and how many non-Indians think they can match them? How many African tribes think they see differences which others don’t?

              Your data sucks if it denies this kind of history.

              1. You think you can differentiate white ethnicities in under 30 milliseconds? You’re not being serious.

                1. You didn’t answer a single objection. You can move goal posts all you want, but people notice.

                  1. Just because some people think they can differentiate doesn’t mean they can differentiate.

                  2. You described your own comment as a guessing game.

              2. The difference is literally black and white.

                1. Oh, really?!?

                  Any idea how many Black people have freckles from their Irish ancestry? So which are they?

                  Is Kamala Harris Jamaican or Indian? What about Tiger Woods?

                  If you can draw a binary axis, it is you who id the racist.

        2. Colorblindness was/is a metaphor, now demonized as racism due to ignorant arguments currently branded as ‘antiracist’. As for your contention that it’s ‘literally black and white,’ no, the in-group and out-group responses were also recorded for sports teams, political groups, Asian, and Middle Eastern people. White people having an amagdylaic reaction to a black silhouette or hands may fit your narrative, but your claim conveniently does not represent the findings of the multiple studies.

    2. I haven’t read TFA, so maybe you can clue me in. Were these audiences white or black? Did both whites and blacks trigger on blacks, or did they both trigger on opposites? How was the triggering with other races as both audience and triggers?

      If it only measured white audiences with black triggers, that’s pretty much guaranteed to get the reaction they got.

      1. Interesting, Mr Jordan Walter, that you responded to (but did not answer) other questions, yet not this one.

        1. I don’t have access to the full text of that article, but looking at a more recent summary below, there is
          “an overarching tendency for greater activity in response to black male faces, irrespective of a participant’s own race or gender.”

          The this article concludes
          “Rather than the dominant interpretation that amygdala activity reflects a racial or outgroup bias per se, we argued that this pattern of sensitivity is best considered in terms of potential threat.”

          Either way, people are anything but color-blind, black or white.

          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3973920/

    3. This can be dealt with in many ways.
      For example, orchestras now almost always use blind auditions… and now racial justice advocates are attacking this because it is color blind and they want racial preferences.

    4. And if you *do* notice that someone is a particular race, what then?

      What do you do with the knowledge you’ve gained?

      If the question under consideration is finding someone for a job, etc., then hopefully you do nothing with the information – certainly not use it as a reason to practice racial discrimination or racial preference.

  4. What a lot of references to Angela Davis!

    Or President Davis, as she’s known in SJW utopia.

  5. “There were serious medical people at the time who sincerely believed that babies born to crack-addicted mom’s were never going to catch up development-wise. They fortunately turned out to be wrong.”

    They were NOT wrong!!!

    Prenatal Cocaine use leads to: Microcephaly (abnormally small head); structural and congenital abnormalities of gastrointestinal and renal systems; internal organ systems being stunted; & neurodevelopmental delays.

    These often lead to a child — of any race — having SPED issues.

    It’s similar to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which is caused by the mother drinking during the pregnancy. It’s a real issue in rural areas such as upstate New England and Appalachia, it’s often White children who have this, I’ve had such students as a teacher.

    It’s the same issue as lead paint — these are toxins to the developing child, particularly at certain times in the pregnancy (I forget which).

    1. Your response is wrong. The distinction was not crack vs no crack, but crack vs powder.

    2. Prenatal Cocaine use leads to: Microcephaly

      Is that your excuse?

  6. Reality is that there are more White families on Welfare than there *are* Black families; while 76% of Black babies ate illegitimate, there are more White single mothers than Black ones.

    Hence everything from Barry Goldwaters attempts to reduce funding to NCLB and other Ed reform efforts actually addressed a cadre that was majority White, notwithstanding whatever the perception may have been.

    And while it was the NAACP that brought the Boston Busing suit in 1972, it was the Nixon & Ford Administrations that supported it, particularly when it got really ugly. So much for racism.

    And I believe it was Nixon who started the Title I migrant money — extra money to educate children of migrant farm workers.

  7. This Kendi fella really seems like someone dedicated to peaceful and understanding coexistence with others.

  8. I think I felt this one more than any of the others. Mostly for the substance, but also because there’s always at least one typo in every Bernstein moment I actually enjoy.

    199-200 “Rocky.” Hardly the worst thing in the book, but to depict Rocky as a racist movie simply because it depicted a white boxer against a black boxer is silly. Apollo Creed’s circle of accomplished black advisors seem much more desireable than Rocky’s working class white friends and neighbors, Rocky himself is a hood working for a loan shark, Rocky loses the match, and the arc of the story is that he and Apollo become good friends.

  9. The book also contains errors about the founding period.

  10. “Crack baby” appears in _The Guardian_ as far back as Dec 1986.

  11. Unsurprisingly given that it’s Bernstein, these aren’t errors, they’re differences of opinion and emphasis.

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