Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

This book! This book! This book! This book has proliferated my soul in a way that no other has. In the book, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, the author gives an insightful, raw, and in-depth look into America’s “race “ issue that dates back to its origins. It sheds light on topics that I have long pondered, but have never been able to ascribe a name to or pinpoint a likely cause for. However, after reading this book, it left me with not only more verve for altering the status quo, but it also gave me a sense of peace in knowing that Blacks in America are not inferior, but, victims of a diabolically and intricately orchestrated system of suppression. As opposed to anger and rage, it awakened something inside to make me say that I need to be a part of the solution to this problem as this cannot continue.

Wilkerson takes us back in history to India where the Dalits, India’s lowest members of society (formerly known as the ‘Untouchables’) were condemned to a life of servitude, humiliation, and dehumanization as a means of social order by the upper castes and likens this system to that of America’s. Through extensive research she illustrates how “race” is more of a social construct, rather than the actual system that has crippled those at the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder in this country, citing, “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.” She goes on to illustrate how Germany’s Nazis formed a similar system, using America as its blueprint, to torture and kill millions of Jews.

Wilkerson goes on to explain that there are eight pillars that underlie a caste system: divine will, heritability, endogamy, purity, occupational hierarchy, dehumanization, terror as enforcement, and inherent superiority; all of which are at the core of America’s caste system. Each of the pillars is presented with indisputable facts and extensive research and examples that demonstrate the intricacies of caste, and its undeniable intent—to uphold the upper caste (White people in the case of America) and keep all others “in their place”. The characteristics of these pillars show up in our daily lives in everything from employment to healthcare to policing according to Wilkerson and have such a grandiose impact on how we live.

In the end, the author offers hope in the form of a requisition for change in order to make America a better place where everyone is treated equally and not based on the hue of our skin. Americans must first recognize that there is, in fact, a problem and be willing to do the necessary work in order to change it. We must take an uncomfortable look at the things that we have long ignored or simply labeled, as “just the way it is”.

I could go on and on, but in an attempt not to spoil this great read, I will stop and say that I have never read a more informative and real book. At times, some of the anecdotes that the author shares become a bit overwhelming, and I did have to walk away, especially when she recounts slavery, as she includes realistic stories that paint vivid pictures of America’s earlier caste system at play. Nonetheless, this book is beautifully written, poignant, and revealing like few books I have ever read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *