Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Caste: the origins of our discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

 I finished this after 4 months. It just wasn’t a book I could rush and I needed to take a break after sections to think about it ALL because there is so much in here. I very much enjoyed her writing style.  At almost 400 pages and seven sections long the book dissects all that you would ever need to know about the social construct of the caste system in these United States, Nazi Germany, and India.  I only want to present a few highlights that stood out to  me. I encourage anyone interested in understanding better how the conquering men stole the land, crushing the original inhabitants, and built this country up using enslaved people from the continent of Africa. 

"Colonial laws herded European workers and African workers into separate and unequal queues and set in motion the caste system that would become the cornerstone of the social, political, and economic system in America. ...triggering the deadliest war on U.S. soil, lead to the ritual killings of thousands of subordinate-caste people in lynchings, and become the source of inequalities that becloud and destabilize the country to this day." (41)

For slavery to have existed here in the "land of the free" is horrid enough but after the Civil War was fought collectively people and our government should have stood up for actual freedom. Civil War generals should have been put on trial in the North and been tried for treason instead of celebrated. Freed slaves should have been offered education and training instead of sharecropping.  Even as they fled north they were given minimal opportunities. Jim Crow laws continued this mindset and paved the way for the equity issues we struggle with today. 

Wilkerson shares many personal stories of racism from her own life and of others that help to shine a light on the difficulties black and brown people experience daily. People from the dominate caste feel they have the right to dictate, bully and get involved in situations that have nothing to do with them. She shares a story of her encounter with a plumber who isn't interested in helping her find the source of her wet basement until she humanizes the situation for him and about airline attendants who doubt her first class status. 

 I read each word, each sentence, each chapter slowly as to fully absorb the emotion and meaning I often had to walk away from the book to regain some composure. While it is brutal and often left me chilled; this book is a must read for anyone seeking enlightenment on how we got here.  Understanding the why is important. We have got to do better. My biggest take away is that we have to step in and say something as these situations happen both on a grand scale for racist policies and on a more personal scale to the Karens we encounter. 

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