Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Isabel Wilkerson 2020
Read: 2021

This was a majorly eye-opening book. To me, the key to the whole book is Wilkerson’s assertion that there have been three caste societies in our last 2,000 years. One is the Indian caste system that we all read about in our textbooks with the brahmin at the top and the untouchables at the bottom. The second is the mercifully short-lived Nazi reign, where Jews, Catholics, gays, and others were in a caste far below the Aryans. But the society that the Nazis studied to try to figure out how to codify a caste system was the segregation in the American south. Wilkerson believes that since 1619, we have developed a caste system in our United States with whites at the top and African Americans at the bottom that has not at all vanished. Her work is convincing, her research is stunning, and it made me look at our country in an entirely different way. When she was introduced by another academic, a former untouchable from India, at a conference on caste systems, the introducer said, “Young people. I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” Those who are in other caste systems get it. Reading this book, you understand that the task of eliminating racism is even more massive than we may have previously thought.

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