Book Review: Caste
Title: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Author: Isabel Wilkerson
Format Read: Kindle. Quotes will be listed with Location number.
My preference is to end the review with those two introductory words because it is what I believe. No matter who you are or what you believe, you need to read this book. However, since a book review should include a bit more, I'll write a bit more.
For purposes of understanding, I'll begin this review with Wilkerson's own definition of caste. She writes, "Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order. ...[It is] a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits... ." (Isabel Wilkerson, 'Caste', location 358 of 7289).
With that foundation laid, readers are taken on a discovery of the intertwining histories of caste as found in India, Nazi Germany, and these United States. In a writing style that is mesmerizingly narrative and professorial, Wilkerson educates readers on the roots of the caste system in which we find ourselves in 2021--where it came from, how it came to be, and how deeply embedded it is. Comprised of research, autobiographical pieces, and shared reflections, 'Caste' is the history book every high school student should be required to read. (More, every 18+ person who no longer would have that school-based opportunity, should also be required to read it, though mandating that is, frankly, laughable at this point in our history.)
The overlays and connections outlined by Wilkerson between the caste system in the U.S. with those in India and Nazi Germany are undeniable, sad, angering, and motivating. Of the more than 70% of the book I highlighted (this is not an exaggeration; in fact, it might be an understatement), the majority of the notations are related to said overlays and connections. A thing cannot be changed, cannot be undone, cannot be torn down, until it is understood. I can't help but think one of her motivations in choosing these comparative groups is because Wilkerson understands the potential power they hold. If every reader of 'Caste' is impacted as significantly by the connection between slavery in America and the formation of the worst of Nazi Germany as was I, then the hope Isabel Wilkerson shares at the close of 'Caste' is within reach.
Wilkerson begins with the foundation beneath America's obsession with dividing people into groups based on nothing more than biological skin tone and traces the evolution of said divisions throughout the history of the country until present day. The research is fresh, the data is daunting, and it has, especially for members of the dominant caste, the potential to shatter everything you thought you knew. And then she ends it with a longed-for gift: hope.
'Caste' is more than a history book, though it is that. It is an awakening, a call to change and action. A challenge to begin living beyond false divisions and a challenge to stop living as if advocating for more for someone else somehow means you'll lose.
'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents' is required reading. It just is.
There will be additional personal, opinion posts as I continue to digest this book. For now, I hope what is here is enough to convince you to buy Caste and begin reading. Have a highlighter ready. Trust me, you'll need it.
Thank you, Isabel Wilkerson, we are indebted to you.