If Choice by Edith Eger was my best read in 2020, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson will surely be my best read in 2021. In Caste, Wilkerson compares the Caste system in India to the structured racism operative in Nazi Germany and in the United States. By a succession of arguments and testimonies, she shows convincingly that the underlying problem in race relations in the States, is that Afro-Americans have been the lowest caste in society since the time of slavery.
By revealing the shocking history of the lynching of Black Americans all across the South right up until recent times, she shows how double standards of justice have been followed at the highest levels of State governance. She shows how Afro-Americans are systematically persecuted and ill-treated at all levels of society. By contrasting the three caste systems of India, Nazi Germany and the United States, she is able to isolate the eight pillars of caste and draw out their consequences. Her analysis illuminates the recent political crises in America.
She shows that the Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants did not really become “white” until they arrived in America. Similarly, an African woman pointed out to her that there are no “black” people in Africa, just people from different tribes.
The book invited me to reflect on my own subconscious biases and prejudices against Afro-Americans that I may have inherited. I can see that in my previous blogs, about Washington Black and about Jack, I was naïve and did not understand the underlying structures at work.
At the end of the book, in Awakening, Wilkerson offers a kind of checklist to help those who wish to chart a course out from this dystopian structure of human relationships which dehumanize all involved.