In The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer Prize-triumphing journalist Isabel Wilkerson eloquently traced the lives of the 6 million Black Americans who fled the Jim Crow South at some stage in the Great Migration. Never as soon as in that 640-page e-book did she mention the word racism. “I found out that the time period changed into insufficient,” she explains. “Caste was the more correct term.”
Her latest book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, is a much anticipated follow-up and couldn’t be timelier. In it, she examines the “race-based caste pyramid within the United States,” comparing this sociological construction to 2 other great caste systems: the ones of India and Nazi Germany. “As we go approximately our every day lives,” Wilkerson writes, “caste is the wordless herald a darkened theater, flashlight solid down inside the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste isn't always about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”
Wilkerson’s comparisons are profound and revelatory. Chapters describe what she has recognized as “the eight pillars of caste,” the techniques used to maintain this hierarchy, inclusive of heritability, dehumanization and stigma, and manipulate of marriage and mating. In addition to such insights, including how immigrants fit into the caste machine, what makes this book so memorable is Wilkerson’s extremely good narrative gift. Highly readable, Caste is filled with a multitude of stories, many of which might be tragically familiar, including those of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray. The story of Sergeant Isaac Woodard Jr. Is mainly shattering. Returning home on a Greyhound bus after serving in World War II, Woodard requested the driver to permit him to step off the bus to relieve himself, however the motive force refused. When Woodard protested, the driver called the police and had him arrested. The police chief, in turn, blinded the returning soldier with his billy club.
Stories like those are painfully informative, making the past come alive in ways that do not beg however scream for justice. That said, Wilkerson is never didactic. She lets records communicate for itself, turning the events of the beyond into necessary fuel for our present day national dialogue.
Dismantling the caste gadget is possible. Wilkerson factors out that Germany did it after World War II. But in the meantime, “caste is a disease, and none folks is immune.” If you read best one ebook this year, make it Caste, Wilkerson’s superb evaluation of the grievances that plague our society.