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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Stamped’ co-author cites racial equality as goal of book challenged by NHCS parent

“Stamped” co-author Ibram X. Kendi spoke with PCD on Aug. 7, 2023, about the recent challenges of the book.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — At a still unspecified date this month, the New Hanover County Board of Education will decide whether to remove a book that details America’s systemic racism from an A.P. course. 

READ MORE: Parents debate what and how NHCS students should learn about racism, removal of ‘Stamped’

Since December, the inclusion of “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” in Ashley High School’s AP Language and Composition has been challenged by one parent. 

Katie Gates objected to the book and her daughter was given a different reading assignment; not satisfied, Gates requested the book be removed altogether. After the school’s media review committee upheld the book’s place on the shelves, Gates appealed the decision to the district, who agreed with the review committee. 

After appealing again, Gate’s objections will be heard before the school board, an unprecedented event in NHCS history. 

Written by children’s fiction author Jason Reynolds, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You” is based on the work of Ibram X. Kendi. The antiracist author and professor was the National Book Award winner in 2016 for “Stamped: from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

In 2020, Reynolds and Kendi adapted it to market to ages 12 and up, it chronicles the lives of key individuals — Angela Davis, Thomas Jefferson, Cotton Mather — to help readers reach the origins of racist ideas and to differentiate between segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist positions. 

The American Library Association noted it was one of the most challenged books of 2020. Three years later, it continues to spur concerns in school districts across America, from Sarasota, Florida, to Somerset County, Maryland, Clark-Pleasant, Indiana, to Round Rock, Texas. 

Last week, the New Hanover County Board of Education tacked on an additional 30 minutes to its public comment period just to receive feedback on book selection. The majority of speakers addressed “Stamped” directly.

Some echoed Gates’ sentiments, calling the book anti-American, claiming it endorses Marxist ideology and Critical Race Theory. Others have argued in favor of the book’s inclusion, labeling attempts to ban the book as minimizing Black history and America’s wrongdoing.

One of those arguing to keep the book was Hazel Eyles, a 10th-grader who spoke in favor of it. 

“If you are upset about a book that discusses racism, then you should ask yourself, why?” she said. “It challenges me and allows me to think; please do not deny me and my classmates a quality education.”

Kendi highlighted the student’s comments on his Twitter page, along with coverage of the “Stamped” saga by Port City Daily and WHQR.

Kendi agreed to an interview with Port City Daily, and in the following conversation addressed some of the parents’ concerns and stressed the importance of children’s exposure to great books.

Below is a Q&A with Kendi regarding the book; it’s been lightly edited for clarity.

Port City Daily: Were you surprised at seeing New Hanover County’s challenge of “Stamped?”

Ibram X. Kendi: ​I was not surprised, unfortunately, because “Stamped” has been one of the most banned books over the last few years. I think it’s been a book that’s been challenged or banned because, unfortunately, there are people who don’t want our children to learn about the history of anti-Black racism.

PCD: Both in the writing process and the publishing process with Mr. Reynolds, did you two discuss the perception of this book and how it would be received? Did that play any role in its creation?

IXK: So, thinking about the perception, we actually did not think about the adult reception for this book. We thought specifically about how young people in particular would receive the book, which is why we spent so much time — Jason spent so much time — ensuring the way the book was written would be accessible and interesting and fascinating for young readers. And we thought that if young readers were excited to read this history book, then teachers and their parents and community members would rally around this book because we thought that people want our young people to be reading books — specifically, serious books about this nation’s history.

PCD: A small but very vocal group of parents and community members have lodged complaints against the book. They claim it’s inappropriate for young adults, that it’s anti-American, spreads Marxist ideology, disparages the Bible, advances critical race theory. Can you talk about where you think those misconceptions come from and how damaging that can be for young readers?

IXK: Unfortunately, as an educator, and even as a parent, I am constantly trying to model for my students and model for my children reading and reading comprehension by allowing them to see me reading books and allowing them to see me talk accurately about books that I’ve read. 

By contrast, many of the critics of “Stamped” haven’t read the book and have spent their time reading talking points that political actors have created about the book — or even about me — and many of those talking points are simply false. And so to me, what are they modeling for their children that they’re reading talking points as opposed to the book itself?

PCD: I wanted to go back to the fact this book was written for young adult readers, ages 12 and up. Can you give insight into what your intent was to fashion a young adult version of “Stamped” and what you hoped young readers would gain or be able to do after reading it?

IXK: So when I was 14, 15, 16 years old, growing up in New York City, I thought there was something wrong with me. I also know there were other non-Black teenagers who had been misled into believing there was something wrong with Black people. So I wanted teenagers, young readers, to be able to come to this book, and realize that those ideas about what’s wrong with Black people are false — and for them to see the origins of those ideas, for them to see that there was nothing superior or inferior about them because of the color of their skin. And for them to recognize racial equality. I mean, that was the goal of the book.

I didn’t have a book like that when I was 16 years old — that taught me that no racial group was superior and inferior and that we’re all equals. And that’s what we wanted for this book.

PCD: I’m curious about the reception and the feedback you’ve received from those young adult readers. What have they told you that they’ve gained out of it?

IXK: I think one of the reasons why I think we have been able to withstand the small but loud opposition to the book has been because a large and vocal number of young people around the United States — and really around the world — have told us, personally, how much the book has transformed them, personally transformed the way that they understood the world. Transformed the way they understood history, but most importantly, better connected them to humanity. 

And because that’s the damaging thing about racist ideas: It divides us when we start thinking certain groups are better or that there’s something to fear about Black people. It divides us. So you know, I think young people have conveyed to us how much the book has helped them connect to other people. 

And I should say the book came out of older people, coming to me and saying, ‘I wish I would have learned this history when I was 12 years old, and I was 14 years old, so that I didn’t spend so much of my youth and in my adult years, thinking that there was something inferior about about Black people.’

So then I thought that to myself: Wow, I wish I would have learned that when I was younger, too. So, the young people who are gaining that, they have expressed that very clearly. And they also, for me, have been very vocal about that. We didn’t want to just write a book that was accessible; we also wanted to respect young people, respect their  brilliance. And so we wanted to write a book that tackled the complexities — right? Tackled them in ways that were developmentally appropriate, but tackle them nonetheless. And I think young people show respect to adults when adults show them respect, and we tried to show them respect in this book.

PCD: In the case of “Stamped” going under a hearing in New Hanover County Schools: The book is part of the AP Language and Composition class in high school. The teacher has stated this book is included for the purpose of analyzing the arguments within it. So, I was curious: What are a few major ideas that you thought it was important to impress upon young readers and make that argument for?

IXK: First, there is such a thing in our time as anti-Black racist ideas and anti-Black racist ideas are any notion that suggests there’s something wrong or inferior about Black people. Thirdly, who created these ideas and when they created these ideas and what type of impact they had on American history. And, finally, over the course of time, there were people who were challenging these ideas with anti-racist ideas of racial equality.

PCD: Sort of zooming out a little bit, do you think that here in New Hanover County schools and also nationwide, the banning of “Stamped” or removing it from curriculum is indicative of what’s going to be allowed in schools in the future, as far as reading material? How do you think we should ensure students have access to a range of ideas and stories?

IXK: I think it is incredibly important for our young people to learn about not only history, but all of the different elements of history — and you can’t really understand American history without understanding the history of racism. So, to me, young people should have access to serious books that try to document that history. 

And let me just say, “Stamped” is one of the best selling non-fiction, history books of our time. And why is it best-selling? Because we finally were able to create a highly accessible, narrative history that reads like a novel that young people actually really enjoy reading. And so it is just difficult for me knowing that this is a book that young people love, and have expressed their appreciation for the book … Each book is like a door, it opens the door to another book right, and can then generate our young people to want to learn more, and learning more could not necessarily be learning more about racism. They may want to learn more about anti-semitism. They may want to learn more about sexism. They may want to learn more about history. They may want to learn more about the founding fathers, but when they read a great book, it causes them to want to learn more, and that’s what’s important to me, ensuring that we have great books in front of our kids. 

Jason Reynolds and I are similar in that we both did not read that many books when we were younger. We both thought it was because there was something wrong with us. And we realized it’s because people could keep putting boring books in front of us. They weren’t putting great books in front of us.

So to me, that’s what’s most important is putting great books in front of young people, which will then quench their thirst to read.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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