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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

von Isabel Wilkerson

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Isabel Wilkerson's Caste was powerful and challenging. She weaves the history and present day stories of India, Nazi Germany and the United States. Our country is horrifyingly deficient both statistically and spiritually when it comes to both time periods. Germany addresses its Nazi past--a period of 12 years--in ways that promote remembrance and repentance. I know not all Germans buy into the collective shame and grief but large parts of our population seem to celebrate hundreds of years of enslaving and dehumanizing millions of people.

I pass the huge Confederate flag Wilkerson describes every time I venture up 95. Only recently did they rename the house where Stonewall Jackson had always been the shrine. It sits in Caroline County, part of a hotbed of that mix of Tea Party/Confederates that has arisen in parts of Virginia. Hanover County, just south of Caroline, has an active KKK group that shows up now and then to protest at the courthouse. I pass through on my way to points north and its roadsides sprout with yellow bulletin boards espousing radical right wing values. They are particularly incensed with the renaming of schools that has been taking place in their county. Wilkerson hits it on the head as she describes the anger. One new bulletin board describes the effort to erase their heritage. One statement from late in the book sticks with me. Rommel was a great general. There are no statues to Rommel in Germany.

Virginia, of course, also has the claim to fame of closing its public schools for five years rather than be forced to integrate. I wrote about this history here.

I cannot recommend this book enough. The frame of caste instead of race gives a wider perspective because it helps shows the stratas of our society that go beyond black and white. Those are the extremes but where you fall on the continuum can make a huge difference. ( )
  witchyrichy | Jan 8, 2022 |
Reminder: I struggle with nonfictions. I'm not an academic reader, I read for escape and entertainment, so nonfictions are not easy for me. When I recommend a nonfiction, especially one dense with 44 pages of footnotes and an 11 page bibliography - then you can feel safe to give it a try if you are also not often a reader of nonfictions.

It took me an entire month to read this. I digested it slowly, around 20 pages at a time every morning over my first cup of coffee. It is dense in history, and at every turn forced me to change my perspective or adjust my understanding of the world. I'll be honest...I often fall into this trap of thinking, "Oh...I've read so much about racism in this country I don't need to read another book on the subject..." and then...OF COURSE...every time I discover there's so much more to learn. I don't know why I keep naively making that same mistake, but I'm glad part of me knows better and pushes me to read new books on the subject. Honestly - I just knew the basics about the history of Nazism and almost nothing about the plights of the Dalits in this book would have still taught me loads even if I had been an expert in racism and caste in America. But, obviously, I'm not so my education covered all three categories of caste. I definitely put this on my Must Read list. ( )
  KimZoot | Jan 2, 2022 |
Listened to this on Audible. Loved how the author wove in historical evidence of America's addiction to white supremacy with her own contemporary experiences. I want to look at a hard copy, though--sometimes I remember the important parts better when I see, rather than listen. And I want to make sure I can properly articulate her central thesis when talking about this book with others. Drawing parallels between India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson builds a convincing case that America is far from the land of opportunity for all.

Took a couple weeks to get through it--14 hours, I think in total, to listen to it. ( )
  ms_rowse | Jan 1, 2022 |
Compelling. Moving. ( )
  PattyLee | Dec 14, 2021 |
A masterpiece! Disturbing. Heartbreaking. A call to awaken. Should be added to all curriculums: public, private, or personal. ( )
  lasvegasbookie | Dec 8, 2021 |
Is this the ‘Book of the Century’ or a dangerously seductive tale?

Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste is a bible for this divisive era. By offering a dangerously seductive narrative to explain systemic racism in place of a complex truth, this book guarantees to fuel the ongoing American race wars and comes at the price of rewriting other nation’s histories and contemporary politics.

To critique Wilkerson’s book, is akin to going against the elite and all powerful behemoths such as Oprah Winfrey who insists that “all of humanity needs to read this book” and the New York Times, Wilkerson’s journalistic home, that cannot stop frothing at the mouth as they “shout as if into a mountaintop megaphone” of how this book is “an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.”

Wilkerson has revived the decades-old refuted scholarship of framing race relations through the lens of a four-thousand-year history of the Indian caste system to make sense of American racism. Caste, she argues, is a social construct pioneered by the upper caste group that has become “the infrastructure of our divisions” (P17). It is leveraged to justify human hierarchy and provides the “subconscious code of instructions” for maintaining the ongoing social order. She insists on the rigidity of this oppressive system, where a “fixed and embedded ranking of human value” demarcates the upper caste group (Whites) as inherently superior to those of the middle caste (Asian, Hispanic) and the lowest caste (Blacks). Physical attributes such as our skin color are arbitrarily coded with value to sustain this system.

If the reader were to mistake her standing as the Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times and Pulitzer prize winner as privilege, Wilkerson argues in her book that she is not, as she is trapped in the lowest caste assigned to her, enforced by the color of her skin. She dismisses how race intersects with other tribes of power accumulation and legitimation such as through employment, education, class, to the colonial and contemporary geopolitics that dictate power asymmetries.
hinzugefügt von PlaidStallion | bearbeitenPayal Arora, Payal Arora (Feb 5, 2021)
Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents has received considerable advertisement from the American media. Advertised on a six-storied double sided bill-board in the middle of Manhattan, called an “instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far” in a New York Times Review the book has received explicit endorsement from the ruling class in the United States of America.

Wilkerson purports to explain the origins of “our” discontents. Whose lack of contentment is she referring to? The unemployed, in an economy that never really recovered from the 2007 Financial crisis and has suffered a new crisis after the onset of a pandemic? The 2 million languishing in the massive prisons that the United States has created? The close to 60 million who have been displaced as a result of American wars over the past 2 decades? Those suffering from drug overdoses, gentrification, poverty and a bleak future? None of these facts occupy an important place in the book. Instead Wilkerson is concerned with the 2016 election of Donald Trump calling it a “psychic break” in the history of the “world’s oldest and most powerful democracy”. If anything, Wilkerson is referring to the discontents of a section of the ruling elite and liberals in the United States who have been shocked by the election of a political outsider, whose policies have hastened the beginning of the end of American hegemony around the world.
Isabel Wilkerson’s New Book ‘Caste’ Clings to the Past

In March 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign nearly imploded when reporters revealed that his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., regularly blasted the United States as irredeemably racist. “[The United States] government lied about their belief that all men were created equal,” Wright preached. “The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal.” So, “No, no, no, not God bless America,” Wright concluded: “God damn America.”

Reeling, repudiating his pastor, Obama embraced the U.S. and the American ideal. “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society,” Obama said, after acknowledging the ugliness of slavery and the lingering bigotry still haunting Black people, “it’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country … is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation.”

Twelve years later, Wright seems to have won. Anyone echoing Obama’s optimism and faith in America now risks being labeled Trumpian — by those who don’t consider that a compliment. The party line pronounces the American experiment dead on arrival. They assume America is incorrigible, doomed by the crimes of slavery and the ongoing curse of “systemic racism.”

The latest boost to Wright’s wrongheaded reading of America comes from talented reporter Isabel Wilkerson. A glowing New York Times review pronounced her new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” “an extraordinary document … an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.” Offering the highest pop culture compliment a book can get — and the greatest of sales boosts — Oprah Winfrey enthusiastically included “Caste” in her book club.

Wilkerson’s book has many merits. However, if a work offering such a pessimistic reading of U.S. history is “the keynote” for our times, we are in serious trouble.
hinzugefügt von PlaidStallion | bearbeitenJewish Journal, Gli Troy (Sep 10, 2020)
The descriptions are vivid in their horror; the connections travel across history and time to resonate in the mind. This structural move is a classic trademark of Wilkerson's style, and one of the attributes of her unique voice that imbues her writing with such textured depth. Wilkerson's use of a poetic focus on imagery and detailed characterization allows us an intimate and personal relationship with the lives of those she chronicles; when this empathic closeness is juxtaposed with the harsh brutality of the historical record the contrast is resonant and haunting, becoming a towering memorial to those violated by the violence of caste.
“Caste,” the book, upsets the already rickety national myth that anyone in the United States can be anything — albeit, without entirely abandoning that hope.... It’s the creeping horror of potentially losing ground. “Make America Great Again” is, if nothing else, a plea to maintain caste. Political scientists in Wilkerson’s book refer to that panic as “dominant group status threat,” a funhouse reflection in which those on the bottom rungs are seen as moving up a little too easily for the comfort of those at the top.

» Andere Autoren hinzufügen (4 möglich)

AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Isabel WilkersonHauptautoralle Ausgabenberechnet
Miles, RobinErzählerCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
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Because even if I should speak,
no one would believe me,
And they would not believe me precisely because
they wuld know that that I said was ture.
--------James Baldwin
If the majority knew of the root of this evil,

then the road to its cure would not be long.

-------------------Albert Einstein
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To the memory of my parents

who survived the caste system

and to the memory of Brett

who defied it
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In the haunted summer of 2016, an unaccustomed heat wave struck the Siberian tundra on the edge of what the ancients once called the End of the Land.
There is a famous black-and-white photograph from the era of the Third Reich.
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Hitler had made it to the chancellery in a brokered deal that conservative elites agreed to only because they were convinced they could hold him in check and make use of him for their own political aims. They underestimated his cunning and overestimated his base of support, which had been the very reasson the had felt they needed him in the first place. At the height of their power at the polls, the Nazis never pulled the majority they coveted and drew only 38 percent of the vote in the country's last free and fair elections at the onset of their twelve-year reign. The old guard did not foresee, or chose not to see, that his actual mission was "to exploit the methods of democracy to destroy democracy." (p 82)
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