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“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Wilkerson


Isabel Wilkerson was born in 1961 in Washington DC, US. She grew up to join Howard University for a journalism course. She served as editor-in-chief for her college newspaper known as The Hilltop. While studying, she got a chance to carry out her internship in Los Angeles Times and Washington Post periodicals. In 1994, Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism as the first African American lady to ever do so. Her coverage of the 1993 Midwest flood and a story about a 10-year-old boy taking care of four siblings, so her win the feature writing award. Wilkerson’s articles were in David Garlock’s Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories: America’s Best Writing, 1979-2003.

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Wilkerson has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, George S. Polk Award, and the Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Black Journalists. She has also served as the James M. Cox Professor of Journalism at Emory University, the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, and the Kreeger-Wolf endowed professor at Northwestern University. She was also a member of the board of directors of Columbia University’s National Arts in Journalism Program.

Wilkerson is an assistant professor of journalism at Boston University’s College of Communications and the Director of Narrative Nonfiction. She is the author of two books: The Warmth of Other Suns: America’s Epic Migration (Random House, 2010) and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent (Random House, 2012). (Random House, 2013). (Random House,2020).

Book Summary

Isabel Wilkerson paints a magnificent picture of an unseen phenomenon in America utilizing an engaging, well-researched plot and real-life stories. She examines how a privileged caste system, a tight hierarchy of human rankings, created America, both today and throughout its history, and how this structure has shaped America.

In India, a strong caste structure has a tremendous influence on people’s lives and behaviors, regardless of race, class, or other circumstances. Additionally, it affects the nation’s fate. Wilkerson compares caste systems in America, India, and Nazi Germany to better comprehend the eight foundations on which caste systems have been built throughout history. He uses this to conduct studies on divine will, heredity, shame, and other influences on caste systems. She reveals the subtle undercurrent of caste via compelling accounts of characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Satchel Paige of baseball, a single father and his minor child, and Wilkerson herself. She explains, among other things, why those at the bottom of the hierarchy require a reference point; she also examines the catastrophic health consequences of caste, such as despair and decreased life expectancy; and she discusses the ramifications of this hierarchy for our society and politics. Following that, she makes recommendations for how America might move beyond artificial and detrimental distinctions within people and toward a sense of shared humanity.

The Sources of Our Dissatisfaction with Caste The book’s assessment of individuals and historical events is one of its most enlightening features. It also includes an examination of what lies behind the surface of everyday living and contemporary American life. I felt it was an excellent piece of writing, uncommon yet enlightening at the same time.

Book Analysis

When there is a sustained discussion of racial injustice and structural racial inequality, reparations for slavery are being considered. According to Wilkerson, dismantling capitalism’s racist basis and rebuilding countless American institutions are all attempts to resolve the basic problem. We will remain here as long as the underlying roots of caste are unaddressed, she asserts.

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Wilkerson’s work delves deeply into the process of dominant breeding. It acts as a rallying cry for those who are directly or indirectly involved in the battle. Wilkerson was inspired to investigate Nazi-era German race hierarchy after having a talk with an Indian Dalit in the 1960s. The United States, India, and Nazi Germany, among other locations, all had caste systems. The chapter discusses in great depth the “eight foundations of caste” established in the chapter. There are limits on inter-caste marriage and sexuality, as well as prohibitions on upper-caste occupational contamination by the lower-caste occupational hierarchy, as part of this. Wilkerson frequently makes allusions to Nazi oppression and brutality in his work. According to James Whitman, a legal historian at Harvard University, the Nuremberg Statutes were modeled after American anti-discrimination statutes, notably the prohibition against racial mixing. “The Nuremberg Statutes were modeled after American anti-discrimination statutes, most notably the prohibition against racial mixing,” Whitman explains. Unlike their American counterparts, Germans publicly condemn and celebrate their shared racial history and ancestry. On the other side, the book is primarily concerned with the relationship between the United States and India.

Others, such as Wilkerson, recognized the Indian-American racial admixture.

Long before the establishment of the British Empire, anti-racist activists in both countries linked caste to colonization. As historian Nico Slate notes, authors, activists, and intellectuals in India and the United States have drawn inspiration from these similarities. Racists of the white race were also complicit. In comparison to a lighter-skinned high caste Indian, the Caucasian race of humans is described. Numerous social scientists, including Allison Davis and Oliver Cromwell Cox, took a contrary position. It is impossible to substantiate claims that the Indian caste system is identical to a system formed in another country due to location, employment, or other reasons. Wilkerson blames anyone who disagrees with her caste notion, particularly African Americans, for possessing a distorted sense of self. Wilkerson, along with a large number of others, places a premium on the concept of class. Mudsills are well-known in a wide range of fields.

As a result, a “global human ladder” was constructed, with English Protestants at the top and African criminals at the bottom. She continues by stating that it is a wooden beam that connects the foundation of your home to the outside world. Since the Civil War, numerous commentators have referred to “mudsill.” Darker-skinned Americans, according to Wilkerson, seek to be “containers.” Throughout our country’s history, from slavery to civil rights, caste has remained influential, unspoken, and impossible to eradicate or even grasp.

A tiny black girl born in Texas following the civil rights fight was addressed as Miss, following black caste norms. Dalits in India experience discrimination and harassment from upper-class Indians who feel that those at the bottom of the social ladder should not wear clothing. One of the participants is wearing footwear that is far too tiny for her foot type. Even after she presents him with her identification and expresses a desire to meet with him, the proprietor of the shop remains skeptical that she is Isabel Wilkerson. According to Wilkerson, those who live at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale have a different health outcome than those at the top.

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