Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Published: 8/4/20 by Random House
Genre: Nonfiction — Social Justice
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“The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.
“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.”
In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.”
I was hesitant going into this because I don’t know anything about the Caste system. I knew what it was from school, but anything past that was new. I shouldn’t have hesitated at all because this was so helpful. Wilkerson pretty much walks you through everything, and she even discusses this ranking system in Nazi Germany and India. There are a lot of different stories pertaining to the Caste system, ones you’d never think were part of it. I’m just amazed at how well it’s written, and if you like audiobooks, this has a good one! The narrator has a relaxing voice and is easy to understand and listen to.
There are a lot of events that have happened in my lifetime that Wilkerson brings up, which I found super interesting because it seems like a lot of authors will only discuss events before my time. There’s talk about the Ebola outbreak, the United Airlines incident in 2017, recent politics, her own experiences, etc.
If I’m being honest, I don’t have a ton to say about this one. It’s all factual and the writing is very accessible. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. There are stories about exploding packages, a man hiring his brother to kill his wife for “insurance” purposes, when it was really so he could blame a black man, dog training, and many, many more. I couldn’t put it down once I picked it up. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested. It’s quite long and dense, but worth every second.
“Americans are loath to talk about enslavement in part because what little we know about it goes against our perception of our country as a just and enlightened nation, a beacon of democracy for the world. Slavery is commonly dismissed as a “sad, dark chapter” in the country’s history. It is as if the greater the distance we can create between slavery and ourselves, the better to stave off the guilt or shame it induces.”
“Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, has become a leading figure in narrative nonfiction, an interpreter of the human condition, and an impassioned voice for demonstrating how history can help us understand ourselves, our country, and our current era of upheaval.” Source: https://www.isabelwilkerson.com/
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