Saturday, September 19, 2020


Despite the belief among many Americans that they live in a meritocracy, income and wealth disparities among racial lines persist. In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues that America actually lives in a caste system on racial lines.

The book compares and contrasts America with two other famous caste systems, the one in India in the Hindu religion, and the Nazi regime during the Hitler era. I don't know why those particular comparisons were chosen (and not for example, South Africa's apartheid), but as a result I learned a lot about India's caste system.

I didn't always buy Wilkerson's arguments and anecdotes, but I still considered them worth thinking about. It's hard to ignore how little data she employed to make her arguments or support her anecdotes, but at the same time it's fair to say it can be difficult to get data on some of this subject matter. One exception is when nothing but a user's name is changed say in a story or on a CV (from say Darnell to Connor); studies that have attempted such experiments have demonstrated strong racial biases among subjects.

Some contrasts that I found interesting between the three states examined included monuments (many to the victims of Nazi Germany and none to the perps, but in the US many are to the rebels, who retired to very comfortable lives after the civil war) and power changes (in Nazi Germany the leaders became pariahs, while in the US they returned as leaders, much to the demise of the continuing victims).

Another argument I found fascinating has to do with how people wonder why all the poor, white people vote Republican seemingly against their own interests (as the poor would benefit disproportionately from higher government spending on health, welfare, education etc. which the Republicans are generally against). Wilkerson argues that these people are in fact voting for their interests: in maintaining the caste system as much as possible.

Overall, I do recommend the book if this topic interests you.

1 comment:


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