In reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson I was absolutely struck with it’s deeply insightful analysis of an incredible amount of research in very precise, elegant language. Brutal content presented in no uncertain terms.
According to Wilkerson, “caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.” Racism and casteism do overlap, she writes, noting that “what some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system.”
Wilkerson describes three resonant caste systems in history: the Indian caste system, the Nazi caste system and the American caste system — which the Nazis researched when creating their own. “There were no other models for miscegenation law that the Nazis could find in the world,” Wilkerson writes, citing Yale legal historian James Q. Whitman as evidence: “‘Their overwhelming interest was in the ‘classic example,’ the United States of America.”
My thoughts upon finishing the book were about personal accountability within a caste system. What do I do with this knowledge, what can the average person do about the caste system present in America today? Aside from being against the current oppressive system by voting that way, what alternative models can we develop to replace it?
Here are a some ideas:
- Work to understand systemic racism.
- Speak up against racism in the workplace and support colleagues of color.
- Target racism in education.
- Petitions and political engagement
Below are some accounts organizing against anti-black racism and police brutality that are good places to start:
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents your local independent bookstore or HERE.