“Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment.”
“She observes that caste ‘is about respect, authority and assumptions of competence — who is accorded these and who is not.‘”
“A caste system, she writes, is ‘an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded 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, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning.‘”
In an interview with Teri Gross, Wilkerson called caste the bones and race the skin. Class is the clothing and accessories.
Racism cannot completely capture all that is wrong in our society, she says.
She uses Nazism and the caste system in India to explore the American version.
In the interview, I learned how much the Aryans relied on early American studies in eugenics to develop their theories on race. Here in the States, the “one drop rule” was adopted in order to keep mixed race offspring enslaved. Interestingly, such a construct was deemed too extreme by the Germans.
The book doesn’t cover South Africa but in the interview Wilkerson briefly discusses how the fact that Blacks were in the majority in South Africa led to the creation of a third category of “coloreds.” This was designed to keep Black Africans out of power. I wondered about that when reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood, which is by the way, a compelling and intimate look at the last days of apartheid.
I am still reading three important books on race, but Caste will be up next. I ordered it from an independent bookseller in the Bronx: The Lit. Bar. If you can afford the postage, I recommend that you do too. They raise money for other independent book stores.
Part of why I haven’t finished the non-fiction books on my night stand is because of my preference for fiction.
This novel looks at the issue of colorism through the lens of identical twins who are light enough to pass for white. One makes the decision to do so and vanishes from her twin’s life while the other makes an opposite decision by having a child with a very dark Black man. The idea of erasure and transformation is further explored through a transgender character.
Desiree and Stella Vignes were once inseparable, fleeing their small southern town to build a life together in New Orleans. But when Stella makes the decision to pass as white—disappearing from her sister’s life in order to pursue the “American Dream” of whiteness—the twins’ paths diverge, determining not just their own futures, but the futures of their daughters and their relationship to Black womanhood. As the sisters mature into mothers and their daughters into adulthood, each woman must confront her own relationship to her past, to family duty, and to her own autonomy.
From Taylor Crumpton’s Book of the Month review.
Lest you find me too serious, let me admit in closing that my new guilty pleasure is a reality show called, Blown Away. It’s a glass blowing competition that fills the void left by The Great British Baking Show.