Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

  • America is an old house — we can’t declare the work over
  • whatever is right or wrong with it, it is our problem to deal with
  • Caste = architecture of human hierarchy, subconscious code of instructions for maintaining the social order; looking at caste is like holding the country’s x ray to the light
  • 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
  • rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep ranked groupings apart
  • Nazi Germany, American south, India
  • endures because it is justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced through the culture and passed down through generations
  • about power — which groups have it and which do not
  • resources — which caste is seen as worthy
  • respect, authority and assumptions of competence
  • in america, signal of rank is what we call race — the race they have been assigned to or are perceived to belong to is the visible cue to their caste
  • caste and race are neither synonymous or mutually exclusive — reinforce one another
  • Race = visible agent of the unseen force of caste
  • Caste = bones, race the skin
  • race is what we see, physical traits given arbitrary meaning
  • caste = infrastructure that holds each group in its place
  • Caste is fixed and rigid; race is fluid and superficial
  • whoever fit the definition of white, at whatever point in history, was granted legal rights and privileges of the dominant caste
  • invisibility gives it power and longevity
  • operating system for economic, political, social interactions in the US from its gestation
  • Indian lowest caste called Untouchables/Dalits
  • everything you could and could not do was based upon what you looked like and that manifested itself north and south
  • racism isn’t efficient; caste is more accurate
  • before the US, in Virginia there was caste — being christian generally exempted european workers from lifetime enslavement
  • slavery was the basis for economic and social order — slavery was the country for a quarter millennium
  • slavery was an american innovation, created by and for the benefit of elites of the dominant caste — had existed nowhere in the world
  • human beings were currency, machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners — enslavers richest people in the world
  • new immigrants walked into a preexisting hierarchy — czech or other to ‘white’, set against something not white
  • “no one was white before they came to america” — baldwin
  • immigrants had to separate and distance themselves from the established lowest caste — learn how to be white
  • the making of the new world europeans became white, africans black everyone else yellow, brown, red
  • race/raza — spanish world originally used to refer to the caste or quality of authentic horses
  • race is a manmade invention with no basis in science or biology
  • caucasian — german prof. of medicine — coined it on the basis of a favorite skull — was european
  • human genome project established we are all 99.9 percent the same — all evolved in the last 100K years from a small number of tribes that migrated out of africa
  • race was used to exploit class/color is a fact, race is a social construct
  • caste — portuguese word casta, “race” or “breed”
  • caste predates the notion of race — structure, ranking, boundaries, living, breathing entity, patterns of social order that have been in place for so long they look natural
  • maintain your ranking, advantage, privilege, denigrate others not like you, beneath you — stay in a fixed place
  • caste is a factor in interactions across all lines in our everyday lives — invisibility gives it power and longevity
  • perhaps only Jews have as long a history of suffering from discrimination as the Dalits in India
  • in india, an elaborate framework of a system, thousands of subcastes, jatos, correlated to region and village — surnames most readily convey caste
  • third reich began asking how the americans did it, we were centuries ahead of them
  • germany understood our fixation on race purity and eugenics, pseudoscience of grading humans by presumed group superiority
  • inspired by American eugenics and their authors, Hitler called The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant as “his bible”
  • Hitler studied america from afar, both envying and admiring it — looked to us for inspiration
  • they actually couldn’t believe we went as far as we did, thought in some cases it was too far, even for them
  • german blood laws, for Jews, based on american laws
  • didn’t go as far as us with the “one drop of blood” law that we had for blacks/too harsh even for them
  • “silence in the face of evil is evil itself”
  • we sold postcards of lynchings/not even the nazi’s sold postcards of auschwitz
  • pillars of caste
  • divine will and laws of nature — Curse of Ham/darkest descendants would be subordinate
  • heritability — new law in america gave children the status of the mother/allowed slave owners to rape black women and not care for the kids because they were black
  • endogamy — restricting marriage to people within the same caste — only those with similar traits can legally mate — controlled breeding
  • purity of dominant caste, fear of pollution from lower castes — separate but equal
  • US created theory that a single drop of blood could taint purity — immigration and marriage laws created restrictions
  • fifth = division of labor based on ones place in the hierarchy
  • dehumanize the group, and you have completed the world of dehumanizing any single person within it
  • individuals are no longer individuals — single mass of undifferentiated bodies, no longer humans, not needing empathy, objects for total control
  • James Marion Sims would make incisions into a baby’s head to test a theory for curing seizures — opened up babies skulls with cobbler’s tools, puncturing the scalp — was later heralded as founding father of gynecology
  • cruelty as a means of control, terror as enforcement
  • native americans occasionally skinned and made into bridle reins which Andrew Jackson used when he went horseback riding
  • hierarchy amongst concentration camp captives — kappa — captives were forced to put prisoners into ovens
  • inborn superiority of the dominant caste, inherent inferiority of the subordinate
  • Indians also fixated on skin color, hatred of darker indians
  • dominant group status threat — no negro can attain that of whites
  • unease, displacement, fear of survival
  • unconscious bias — behaviors based on subconscious prejudgments by people who professed and believed in equality — 70 to 80 percent of whites
  • crack is a black problem — opioids is a white crisis
  • scapegoat — finding the one or ones who can e identified with evil and wrongdoing, blamed for it and cast out of the community in order to leave the remaining members with a feeling of guiltlessness, atoned
  • post civil war, they blamed blacks for the loss of the war
  • white women are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action
  • dominant caste will step in and assert itself wherever it chooses, to monitor or dismiss those deemed beneath them as they see fit
  • in WWI, French soldiers treated black american soldiers with respect — white american soldiers were offended, so they told french soldiers the way it was supposed to be, and they complied
  • idea of vaccinations first suggested by Cotton Mather’s slave Onesimus during a smallpox outbreak in 1721
  • range of color of blacks in america is due in a large part to slave owners raping their slaves, dominant caste over the course of centuries
  • caste thrives on dissension and inequality, envy and false rivalries
  • what happens when a big enough majority is persuaded and is open to being persuaded
  • humans — insecure, suseptible to propaganda that gave them an identity to believe in, feel chosen and important
  • group narcism leads to fascism — extreme form of group narcissism leads to malignant narcissism, which gives rise to a fanatical fasicst politics, extreme radicalism — working class whites feeling superior to blacks
  • narcissism of leader who is convinced of his greatness, and who has no doubts, is precisely what attracts the narcissism of those who submit to him
  • Charleston church shooting — forgiveness to the unrepentant white killer, but also in line with society’s expectation the the subordinate caste bear its suffering and absolve its transgressors
  • blacks have to be twice as good in trauma, in order to be seen as half as worthy
  • black peole have to forgive to survive/white people want absolution from racism
  • middle class black men and women are more likely to suffer from hypertension and stress than those with lower incomes — higher expectations, troubles, higher levels of discrimination in some senses
  • they press against the boundaries of caste/out of place socially
  • Obama’s story freed people in the dominant caste from having to think about the unsavory corners of american history
  • he won despite the bulk of the white electorate
  • Johnson predicted post civil rights act of 1964 that dems would lose the american south for a generation — since then no democrat has ever won the majority of the white vote
  • tea party “take our country back” birthers, “food stamp” president (obama), “Death to Obama”
  • hate groups surged during his tenure, 16M people deleted from voting registration lists
  • undercut of anxiety about our changing nation
  • 2042 — whites no longer the majority
  • Trump wins = caste endures, maintain, survive
  • blacks taking jobs from whites, perceived — radicalized economics
  • racial attitudes reflected white partisanship during Obama’s presidency
  • people with overlapping self interests will often gravitate toward the personal characteristic that across them the most status
  • Trump was ushered into office by whites concerned about their status
  • dems expend energy and weekend their power pining for die hard voters of their opponents while taking for granted the majority that they already have
  • that majority’s wishes (clean water, affordable housing, police brutality, etc) most often put on back burner
  • what distinguishes white evangelicals from other christians and others is not theology but politics
  • Trumps win goes well beyond the initial theories of economic insecurity as the driver of the white vote
  • more than 1700 confederate monuments in the US
  • 230 memorials to Robert E Lee
  • Erwin Rommel was a great general, but there are not statues of him in Germany — in germany, they are ashamed — why aren’t we?
  • fictionalized, sanitized confederacy, ignoring the death, enslavement, terror
  • created as political weapons, effort to hide the truth that they were on the wrong side of history and humanity
  • memorials to Jews all over Germany — Hitler’s body was dragged to a nearby lot and set afire after he killed himself/burial site was plowed over
  • crime to display a swastika in germany — in the US until recently, the rebel flag was in Mississippi
  • civil war reenactments, more people sign up for the confederacy
  • restitution for holocaust survivors — in the US, slaveholders got the restitution
  • Einstein spoke out for the NAACP, wanted to end lynching, hosted Marian Anderson, taught at Lincoln (black) university
  • caste persists because we allow it to persist
  • each of us, to correct the ruptures we have inherited
  • everyone benefits when society meets the needs of the disadvantaged — civil rights era benefited all women and their peers
  • the nazi’s were just ordinary human beings — can be created and dismantled, like they did in germany
  • before 1965 voting act, we were not a true democracy
  • empathy = seeing yourself in someone else shoes and imagining how you would feel
  • radical empathy — putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel
  • kindred connection from a place of deep knowledge that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it
  • we are not personally responsible for what people who look like us did centuries ago — we are responsible for what good or ill we do to people alive with us today

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Adam Marks

Adam Marks

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.