Reading About Race: Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

As part of Third Church’s continuing anti-racism efforts, the Adult Spiritual Formation Committee is sharing reviews of books about race and/or by BIPOC authors. If you would be willing to write a brief review of a book that has opened new perspectives to you, please contact Becky D’Angelo-Veitch.

Caste:  The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Reviewed by Becky D’Angelo-Veitch

Isabel Wilkerson, Author of the masterpiece, “The Warmth of Other Suns:The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” has again brought journalism, storytelling, and astute social commentary together to create a book on race that you simply can’t put down.  Comparing the United States’ struggle around racial equality to India’s caste system, Wilkerson makes a compelling case that the racial divide in our country is, in fact, a caste system that is ingrained in the fabric of our society.  Wilkerson draws parallels between both India and Nazi Germany that are chilling, but at the same time ring true to the historical structure of our society.  This book, completed during the pandemic, reflects on our current situation with a slightly different perspective than other books on race, but is an eye-opening and informative read.  

From Wilkerson’s website

Poetically written and brilliantly researched, Caste invites us to discover the inner workings of an American hierarchy that goes far beyond the confines of race, class, or gender.

A book steeped in empathy and insight, Caste explores, through layered analysis and stories of real people, the structure of an unspoken system of human ranking and reveals how our lives are still restricted by what divided us centuries ago.

“Modern-day caste protocols,” Wilkerson writes, “are often less about overt attacks or conscious hostility. They are like the wind, powerful enough to knock you down but invisible as they go about their work.”

Wilkerson rigorously defines eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, heredity, and dehumanization. She documents the parallels with two other hierarchies in history, those of India and of Nazi Germany, and no reader will be left without a greater understanding of the price we all pay in a society torn by artificial divisions.

“The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality,” Wilkerson writes. “It is about power — which groups have it and which do not.”

Before its release, the Chicago Tribune declared that Caste “should be at the top of every American’s reading list.” Dwight Garner, the chief critic of The New York Times, called Caste “an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.”

“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.— Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

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