Caste - The Origins of Our Discontents
In Caste, Isabel Wilkerson takes a fresh approach to an important issue. When one hears the word ‘caste,’ they are likely to think of India, and it is true that country defined it thousands of years ago and it is alive today. But Wilkerson shows how it has applied to America for hundreds of years, and to Nazi Germany for two decades.
It might surprise the reader to see Nazi Germany added to the comparison until, as the author points out, the Nazis looked to the United States and studied its Jim Crow laws of the 1930s in establishing their own laws separating Jews from society.
The book goes through several phases. It begins with a gentle, literary touch with well-crafted prose speaking in metaphors about a house’s foundation, one that may have unrealized cracks. Then it delves into the horrors of slavery and how the subjugation of a caste continued after the civil war. Finally, it leads to reader to consider how much caste distinction is built into each member of our society. Most of this section is from the point of view of today, least we think we’ve outgrown caste thinking, and much of that is from the author’s own personal experience.
The central section of the book depicts individual horrors we’ve read before. It is worth reading again, but the book doesn’t depend on those events to make a point, and the sections beyond that are worth wading through the center.
Although the author leads the reader into the book gently, it is not a light read. But it is important.