Caste : the origins of our discontents / Isabel Wilkerson.

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  • Additional Information
    • Publication Information:
      First edition.
    • Abstract:
      Summary: ""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. In this book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people--including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball's Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others--she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity"-- Provided by the publisher.
    • Content Notes:
      The man in the crowd -- Part one: Toxins in the permafrost and heat rising all around. Chapter one: The afterlife of pathogens -- The Vitals of History -- Chapter two: An old house and an infrared light -- Chapter three: An American untouchable -- An Invisible Program -- Part two: The arbitrary construction of human divisions. Chapter four: A long-running play and emergence of caste in America -- Chapter five: "The Container We Have Built for You" -- Chapter six: The measure of humanity -- Chapter seven: Through the fog of Delhi to the parallels in India and America -- Chapter eight: The Nazis and the acceleration of caste -- Chapter nine: The Evil of Silence -- Part three: The eight pillars of caste. The foundations of caste: The Origins of Our Discontents -- Pillar number one: Divine will and the laws of nature -- Pillar number two: Heritability -- Pillar number three: Endogamy and the control of marriage and mating -- Pillar number four: Purity versus pollution -- Pillar number five: Occupational hierarchy: The Jatis and the Mudsill -- Pillar number six: Dehumanization and stigma -- Pillar number seven: Terror as enforcement, cruelty as a means of control -- Pillar number eight: Inherent superiority versus inherent inferiority -- Part four: The tentacles of caste. Brown eyes versus blue eyes -- Chapter ten: Central miscasting -- Chapter eleven: Dominant group status threat and the precarity of the highest rung -- Chapter twelve: A scapegoat to beat the sins of the world -- Chapter thirteen: The insecure Alpha and the purpose of an underdog -- Chapter fourteen: The intrusion of caste in everyday life -- Chapter fifteen: The urgent necessity of a bottom rung -- Chapter sixteen: Last place anxiety: Packed in a flooding basement -- Chapter seventeen: On the early front lines of caste -- Chapter eighteen: Satchel Paige and the illogic of caste -- Part five: The consequences of caste. Chapter nineteen: The Euphoria of Hate -- Chapter twenty: The inevitable narcissism of caste -- Chapter twenty-one: The German girl with the dark, wavy hair -- Chapter twenty-two: The Stockholm Syndrome and the survival of the subordinate caste -- Chapter twenty-three: Shock troops on the borders of hierarchy -- Chapter twenty-four: Cortisol, telomeres and the lethality of caste -- Part six: Backlash, Chapter twenty-five: A change in the script -- Chapter twenty-six: Turning point and the resurgence of caste -- Chapter twenty-seven: The symbols of caste -- Chapter twenty-eight: Democracy on the ballot -- Chapter twenty-nine: The price we pay for a caste system -- Part seven: Awakening. Chapter thirty: Shedding the sacred thread -- The Radicalization of the Dominant Caste -- Chapter thirty-one: The heart is the last frontier -- Epilogue: A world without caste.
    • Notes:
      "Oprah's book club, 2020"--Book jacket.
      Includes bibliographical references and index.
    • ISBN:
    • Accession Number:
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Booklist Reviews 2020 July #1

*Starred Review* "Just as DNA is the code of instructions for cell development, caste is the operating system for economic, political, and social interaction in the United States from the time of its gestation," asserts Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns (2010), which garnered many honors, including the Anisfiled-Wolf Award. She explores slavery and the decimation of Native Americans, the "authoritarian regime" of Jim Crow, and the transformation of European immigrants into whites with caste status. She draws parallels between the U.S. and India, both colonized by Britain, both having achieved independence and developed democracy, yet both saddled with the legacy of severe social stratification. She also explores the history of the Third Reich for lessons on racial separation. Wilkerson details the eight pillars of caste, including divine will, heritability, enforcement by terror, and inherent superiority versus inferiority. Drawing on genetics, anthropology, religion, and economics, Wilkerson examines the history and structure of caste. But she also draws on her exceptional journalistic skills to relate stories of individuals who have suffered disadvantages and humiliation but have triumphed nonetheless. Finally, she offers the prospect for the elimination of a destructive system and recognition of a common humanity that allows us each to be who we are without judgment. 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.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The Warmth of Other Suns topped group read lists everywhere, and Caste will be the book to read in light of current discussions about systemic racism. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

LJ Reviews 2020 July

While researching her best-selling The Warmth of Other Suns, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wilkerson realized the importance of social order. In this outstanding work of social history, she explains how a rigid social order, or caste, is about power. Beginning with the first caste system in the United States, which started with slavery in 1619, Wilkerson details how caste would become the cornerstone of U.S. social, political, and economic policy, with whites being dominant, African Americans subordinate, and Native Americans conquered. She shows how immigrants walk into a preexisting hierarchy as they try to integrate into American culture, and how constructing one's white racial identity often means defining oneself from its opposite: Black. Powerful chapters parallel three systems—slavery in the American South, the reign of Nazi Germany, and hierarchies in India—in order to explore how each relied on control, including dehumanization, endogamy, and purity via immigration laws. Wilkerson reminds us that, despite the passage of civil rights legislation, caste endures in infrastructures and institutions, and that the election of Barack Obama was the biggest departure from this system in U.S. history. Incidents of historical and contemporary violence against African Americans resonate throughout this incisive work. VERDICT Similar to her previous book, the latest by Wilkerson is destined to become a classic, and is urgent, essential reading for all.—Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

PW Reviews 2020 June #5

In this powerful and extraordinarily timely social history, Pulitzer winner Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns) investigates the origins, evolution, and inner workings of America's "shape-shifting, unspoken" caste system. Tracking the inception of the country's race-based "ranking of human value" to the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619, Wilkerson draws on the works of anthropologists, geneticists, and social economists to uncover the arbitrariness of racial divisions, and finds startling parallels to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. The Nazis, Wilkerson notes, studied America's restrictive immigration and anti-miscegenation laws to develop their own racial purity edicts, and were impressed by the "American custom of lynching" and "knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death." While India abolished formal laws that defined its caste systems in the 1940s, and America passed civil rights measures in the '60s, their respective hierarchies live on, Wilkerson writes, in "hearts and habits, institutions and infrastructures." Wilkerson cites studies showing that black Americans have the highest rates of stress-induced chronic diseases of all ethnic groups in the U.S., and that a third of African Americans hold antiblack biases against themselves. Incisive autobiographical anecdotes and captivating portraits of black pioneers including baseball pitcher Satchel Paige and husband-and-wife anthropologists Allison and Elizabeth Davis reveal the steep price U.S. society pays for limiting the potential of black Americans. This enthralling exposé deserves a wide and impassioned readership. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Aug.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.