‘All history’, declared the renowned Italian scholar Benedetto Croce, ‘is contemporary history.’ Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram Kendi’s absorbing account of racism in America, is no exception. As the author acknowledges early on, ‘this book’s moment … coincides with the televised and untelevised killings of unarmed human beings at the hands of law enforcement officials’ and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the course of five hundred pages, Kendi shows how racist practices and racist ideas (which he defines as ‘any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way’) have been woven from the very beginning into the fabric of the USA.
This is, of course, not a revelation. But the details still have the power to shock. Standing opposite the Academy of Medicine in New York, at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, is an imposing bronze and granite statue dedicated to J Marion Sims, the founding father of American gynaecology.