Isabel Wilkerson’s newest book is Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. The first book I read from her was The Warmth of Other Suns, detailing the 100 plus year history of migration from South to North for Black Americans following the Civil War.
This book contends that the use of “racism” is too light to describe the system we are in as Americans. The skeletal structure of America is the caste system, in her view. Like India. Like some of Germany’s history.
“The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power — which groups have it and which do not.”
There are amazing quotes, stories, and statistics throughout this challenging book. “Challenging” is too light a word… Relentless. That would be the word.
Wilkerson pounds away, chapter after chapter. And it’s a BIG book! About 357 pages of statistics, stories, comparisons, and more.
Finally… I quit. Around page 300, I am thinking, “She HAS to bring us to some sort of possibilities here! I mean, even the Table of Contents has a section on it!”
I flipped to the final section. Two thin chapters… 10 pages.
And an Epilogue.
It was like she knew what I would do! (I mean, I’m white, so it’s predictable.) If I had not just slammed the book down in frustration, I would have flipped to the “solutions” portion to see what assignment I had in my life!
The two thin chapters were good, but the Epilogue was her motivation.
“The goal of this work has not been to resolve all of the problems of a millennia-old phenomenon, but to cast a light onto its history, its consequences, and its presence in our everyday lives and to express hopes for its resolution.”
Even though the U.S. will be demographically diverse (truly diverse) in the next 3 decades, it doesn’t mean the caste system changes. The existing power simply morphs into something new if we don’t work to change the structure.
This book pounds away because it is needed. Germany didn’t overcome their deep issues overnight, but they determined to work for that needed structural change.
We have to determine, individually and together, that things must change.
She also gave the story of Albert Einstein, who made it to America a month before Hitler rose to power. Einstein grew irritated over the caste system he saw in America and determined to work to overcome it. He felt the system pressure him, as a white man, to join in the dominant class and treat others as “lower.”
He joined the NAACP. He co-chaired a committee to end lynching. He spoke out concerning civil rights.
May his determination become mine:
“The separation of the races is not a disease of the colored people, but a disease of the white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.”