Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”
In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.
Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.
August 4th, 2020
Non-Fiction/Sociology of Class/Slavery & Emancipation History
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One of the most complicated parts of doing your own antiracist work is coming to terms with the fact that we were not taught many parts of America’s painful and violent history in school.
There were many moments when I would read something last spring and think “but no one ever told me that!” and it’s true, but it is also our own responsibility to reeducate ourselves. It is easy to get defensive, but instead of doing this, I have been trying to use it as an opportunity for growth and also understanding that if I am corrected, that is okay.
I remember having a profound conversation with one of my friends about Black Lives Matter, and how for so long it didn’t make sense to her, not because she was cruel or unkind, but because she just hadn’t really explored it. Learning more helped her realize that Black Lives Matter need to matter, not because other lives don’t, but because white lives (or “blue lives”) have ALWAYS mattered. And if this is still up in the air for you, take a better look at what happened(and DIDN’T happen)at our Nation’s Capitol this week.
It doesn’t mean that white people haven’t experienced hard things, but it has never and will never be because of the color of our skin.
Caste came highly recommended by some of my non-fiction loving book friends (@readalotwritealot and Laura from @10thingstotellyou) and I have been slowly working through this one over the last month. It is a heavy read but also very accessible.
Author Isabel Wilkerson explores racism not only as a personal issue but as systemic abuse that has been deeply ingrained in our society. She walks us through how America got to this point using historical research and personal stories along the way. Explaining how a caste system is built and how it can shape individuals taught me so much about how even in 2021, our country still keeps white privilege intact.
Is this on your reading list? If you are looking to dive into a non-fiction book this year, I highly recommend this one!
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