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Caste: The International Bestseller by [Isabel Wilkerson]
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Caste: The International Bestseller Kindle Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 29,424 ratings

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 2

An Old House and an Infrared Light

The inspector trained his infrared lens onto a misshapen bow in the ceiling, an invisible beam of light searching the layers of lath to test what the eye could not see. This house had been built generations ago, and I had noticed the slightest welt in a corner of plaster in a spare bedroom and had chalked it up to idiosyncrasy. Over time, the welt in the ceiling became a wave that widened and bulged despite the new roof. It had been building beyond perception for years. An old house is its own kind of devotional, a dowager aunt with a story to be coaxed out of her, a mystery, a series of interlocking puzzles awaiting solution. Why is this soffit tucked into the southeast corner of an eave? What is behind this discolored patch of brick? With an old house, the work is never done, and you don’t expect it to be. 

America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see. 

We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even. Many people may rightly say, “I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.” And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. 

And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands. 

Unaddressed, the ruptures and diagonal cracks will not fix themselves. The toxins will not go away but, rather, will spread, leach, and mutate, as they already have. When people live in an old house, they come to adjust to the idiosyncrasies and outright dangers skulking in an old structure. They put buckets under a wet ceiling, prop up groaning floors, learn to step over that rotting wood tread in the staircase. The awkward becomes acceptable, and the unacceptable becomes merely inconvenient. Live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal. Exposed over the generations, we learn to believe that the incomprehensible is the way that life is supposed to be. 

The inspector was facing the mystery of the misshapen ceiling, and so he first held a sensor to the surface to detect if it was damp. The reading inconclusive, he then pulled out the infrared camera to take a kind of X-ray of whatever was going on, the idea being that you cannot fix a problem until and unless you can see it. He could now see past the plaster, beyond what had been wallpapered or painted over, as we now are called upon to do in the house we all live in, to examine a structure built long ago. 

Like other old houses, America has an unseen skeleton, a caste system that is as central to its operation as are the studs and joists that we cannot see in the physical buildings we call home. 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. Looking at caste is like holding the country’s X-ray up to the light. 

A caste system is an artificial construction, 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, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places. 

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated, chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations. 

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. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not. 

As a means of assigning value to entire swaths of humankind, caste guides each of us often beyond the reaches of our awareness. It embeds into our bones an unconscious ranking of human characteristics and sets forth the rules, expectations, and stereotypes that have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species. In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy, the front man, for caste. 

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Warmth of Other Suns. Her debut work won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was named to Time's 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the 2010s and The New York Times's list of the Best Nonfiction of All Time. She has taught at Princeton, Emory, and Boston Universities and has lectured at more than two hundred other colleges and universities across the United States and in Europe and Asia. --This text refers to the library edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B088W75T3H
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin; 1st edition (4 August 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 4984 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 468 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0141995467
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 29,424 ratings

Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5
29,424 global ratings

Top reviews from India

Reviewed in India on 20 August 2020
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Reviewed in India on 24 September 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on "Caste". Not only for Americans, for Indians too.
By Madan Jadhav on 24 September 2020
I got to know about this book through social media which invoked a curiosity of mine. So I Pre-ordered it. Contrary to the routine, the kindle edition price was also comparable to hardbound editiom. So reluctantly though, I ordered the hardbound one. The binding, paper quality and the font size, all are really worth of the price. About reading experience, I must say this book is at par. Right from the 1st line, this 400-odd pages book gets over you. The writer has written this book simply keeping the american sociology and psychology at prime focus. While doing this, she has compared it with the racism during Nazi Germany and Caste system in India. Though it is a non-fiction, the writer has intermittently narrated some real stories and experiences in such a manner that the reading never gets dull. From Indian perspective, whatever she has mentioned about Indian caste system, they are pure facts and not exaggeration as some of the users have said in their respective reviews here. That's all for now. I am going to write a detailed review on goodreads.
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Reviewed in India on 23 August 2020
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Reviewed in India on 21 October 2020
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Reviewed in India on 19 August 2020
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1.0 out of 5 stars Garbage thoughts, no facts...
By Pradeep Kumar on 19 August 2020
I have gone through a book by Prof. M V Nadkarni on Hinduism. Taking reference from it, the vary new book on Caste by Wilkerson is absolute lie and an atempt to come on sensationalist sizzling headline. Don't support such authors and buy this book, a request from an Indian 🙏
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Reviewed in India on 13 August 2020
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Reviewed in India on 12 January 2021
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Reviewed in India on 28 December 2020
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Lori
1.0 out of 5 stars political bias at it's best
Reviewed in the United States on 4 August 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tough Read for Some
Reviewed in the United States on 5 August 2020
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1.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous Sophistry
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 September 2020
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bettyparry
5.0 out of 5 stars WHY AFRICAN-AMERICANS' HEALTH IS SO POOR.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 20 September 2020
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Shopaholic
2.0 out of 5 stars Parochial, devoid of originality, pretentious and overstated. Misleading publisher's promotion
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 14 October 2020
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About the author

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Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, is the author the critically acclaimed New York Times bestsellers The Warmth of Other Suns, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Her first book, The Warmth of Other Suns, tells the story of the Great Migration, a watershed in American history. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

WARMTH was named to more than 30 Best of the Year lists, including The New York Times' 10 Best Books of the Year, Amazon's 5 Best Books of the Year and Best of the Year lists in The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Economist, among others. In 2019, TIME Magazine named Warmth to its list of the10 best books of the decade.

Her second book, CASTE: The Origins of Our Discontents, explores the unrecognized hierarchy in America, its history and its consequences. Caste became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, was the 2020 summer/fall selection for Oprah’s Book Club and was longlisted for the National Book Award. It was named to more best of the year lists than any other work of nonfiction and was named the No. 1 book of 2020 across all genres by the industry arbiter, Publishers Marketplace.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer and the first African-American to win for individual reporting. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal for "championing the stories of an unsung history."

She has appeared on national programs such as "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," CBS's "60 Minutes," NBC's "Nightly News," "The PBS News Hour," MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” NPR's "On Being with Krista Tippett," the BBC and others. She has taught at Princeton, Emory and Boston universities and has lectured at more than 200 other colleges and universities across the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

Follow @isabelwilkerson on Instagram and Twitter. Follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/IsabelWilkersonWriter/