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Caste: The International Bestseller Kindle Edition
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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 is a brilliant book, well timed in the face of a pandemic and police brutality that cleave along the lines of a caste system."--Booklist (starred review) --This text refers to the library edition.
- 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
- Best Sellers Rank: #27,717 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from India
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By Madan Jadhav on 24 September 2020
By Pradeep Kumar on 19 August 2020
Author is unaware about condition of upper castes in present day. So called general caste like Bramhins, Khastriyas have become untouchable in Govt. sectors. 50% reservation are given to so called SC and ST, but in spite of that author is accusing India about treatment of Dalits.
Author mentions same old Purusha Shuktam and Aryan Invasion Theory to prove the supremacy of Bramhin caste. As author accepts that she has read India's caste system within very short period of time. So, Ms.Wilkerson must read that origin of Aryan or race Aryan is a complete myth and it is abolished by latest DNA research.
The work seems to agitate Indian Dalits to create ruckus like left sponsored Antifa movement of BLM.
Top reviews from other countries
To repeatedly compare the modern US, to Nazi Germany, is not only historical nonsense it is deeply offensive. If the case is being made that black people in the US are treated like Jewish people in Nazi germany, then it must be possible to imagine a Jewish Reichs Chancellor, Jewish people represented throughout the upper echelons of the legal profession and Jewish intellectuals, such as this lady, making a lucrative career of trotting round the world in the 1930’s criticising the German government. That is obscene.
This book’s entire premise is built on quicksand and will only exacerbate the growing racial tension being fomented by critical race theory. Real progress on race relations will be made in boring committee rooms where policy decisions are taken and laws tweaked. Those processes are set back hugely by this kind of grotesque exaggeration, which only increases polarisation.
If you want to understand the philosophy underlying this kind of tripe try Cynical Theory.
Horrendous examples of racist killings throughout its history are detailed and taken for granted by white people and white made law. The selling postcards of the hanging or burning of black people was so common and natural that the sending of them eventually had to be banned. They got around this by sending them in envelopes. It reminds me today of the black jogger who was killed by a father and son filmed by a friend of theirs. Because of the caste system created each individual is crow-barred into a role which each has to adhere to. Many examples are given of this including the class exercise made of the superior blue eyes and the inferior brown eyes kids in a school. This showed how they all fell into their roles and totally transformed the ways they related to each other. Africans who came to the States identified themselves as their tribe eg. Igbo, Akan etc.; however they were all lumped together as blacks. The same with Europeans who emigrated to the US as Italians or French, they were lumped together as whites. The roles becomes the norm and it looks to be the natural order of things.
IW goes into detail in India, and Germany of the 30s and 40s and compares their castes and how it functions to the US one. This shows the similarities and the end results being virtually the same. The wealthy, powerful white elite assume their dominant role in US society, as does the African-American subordinate role at the bottom to ensure their attitudes. The hierarchical structure becomes an enormous obstacle for all to move from. The Jim Crow laws ensured that this was maintained and led to crimes against humanity which were viewed as totally normal and natural. The author says that there are 8 Pillars of Caste and goes into all of them in detail which make up the Foundation of Caste. She talks of wolf packs and how hierarchical that is and that when the lowest wolf dies the pack grieves and are totally lost for a period. They have lost their substructure which was the glue which held them all up. With the 60s civil rights acts and a black president this caused a feeling of, “this equality feels like a demotion” to the lowest layer of white people in the structure.”
“History has shown that nations and groups will conquer, colonize, enslave, and kill to maintain their illusion of primacy”. She then goes on to talk of Erich Fromm and his theory of fascism and the narcissistic self. The white working class may feel, “even though I am poor and uncultured I am somebody important because I belong to the most admirable group in the world….Caste is more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an illusion of their own entitlement….the ancient code for the subordinate caste calls upon them to see the world not with their own eyes but as the dominant caste sees it..the message of inferiority comes at you in whispers and billboards, it burrows into your identity”. She gives several examples of people keeping silent when racism is overt and puts forward Don Lemon’s argument that silence is not an option.
The premature aging of cells leads to the early onset of disease due to chronic exposure to such stressors as discrimination, job loss or obesity. African-Americans lead such a stressful life under the dominant caste that they suffer greatly which leads to all sorts of ill-health and the explanation of why they suffer more under such things as Covid 19. In 2012 Obama won 39% of white American votes, in Mississippi only 10% voted for him, in other words, he won despite the bulk of the white electorate. Census projections state that the white majority will end in 2042 which is frightening to many white people. Researchers, “the belief that undeserving groups are getting ahead while your group is left behind”. She compares Germany to US and how they treat their appalling histories totally differently. Germany feels guilt and shame whereas Confederate flags and statues are the norm in the southern states.
She looks at the data of things, such as infant mortality, and maths and reading, and the richest country comes out poorly. IW brings the book up to date with Covid 19 and the total shambles of the USA. She talks about Einstein who came to US and stood up against racism and wished more white people would. “the bottom caste, though it bears much of the burden of the hierarchy, did not create the system, and the bottom caste alone cannot fix it….caste is a disease and none of us is immune..for most of American history, the country was closed off from the talents of the bulk of its people of all colours, genders, and nationalities…a world without caste would set everyone free”
Today as I write this (19 Sept. 2020) Trump is trying to change the school curriculum to make it whiter than white. Also Alicia Keys says in an interview, “I am that person, she says, the one that wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hell’s Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a prostitute, a young mother at 16, or addicted to drugs. I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get injured or killed”.
Early in the introductory chapter it is made clear that "Us" in the title means Americans only. In a style irritatingly familiar to others, the author clearly assumes that should be the approach to any form of reportage, without actually stating it. So this book describes only the American caste system, something familiar to educated observers from outside the US of A, but which much of American society has a tradition of denying. There is no mention of the peculiarities of caste in Britain, and the caste conflict of Rwanda and Burundi is mentioned en passant, misrepresented as it usually is as an inter-ethnic conflict.
The author makes attempts at comparison of the American caste system, with its obsession with skin colour and ancestry, with the traditions of India, and the doctrines of the short-lived Nazi regime in Germany. She makes multiple claims to having carried out a volume of research into the subject, recounting her multiple eureka moments, yet at the same time describes how previous writers have made the same comparisons generations ago. This was more than a century in the case of comparison with Indian caste conventions, and of course it is well known that the pseudo-science beloved of the Nazi regime has had a widespread following in the USA long before the world heard of Hitler, and long after his fall. This of course is not limited to the USA.
A verbose, overly decorative and repetitive writing style, with frequent literary digressions, is something of a tradition in American reportage, but to the majority of the anglophone world these things are a pretentious distraction, which frequently disguise superficial content.
One wonders what readership this author is writing for. That she is addressing only her fellow Americans is clear enough, but educated Americans, able to look dispassionately at their society, will be familiar with this material - they have seen and heard it before - , and will likely also be offended and alienated by the extravagant and sententious overstatement. Those wedded to their tradition of denial will reject it. It might be of value to some who are less convinced that caste cannot exist in American society and are open to persuasion that it does and needs to be addressed. The book is of no conceivable interest to anyone outside this very specific demographic. Although such a heavily padded tome is unlikely to be an effective tool for this purpose, it is impossible not to wish her some success in this endeavour, and this is the reason for the second star, which comes with more than a suspicion that that may be over-generous.