Top positive review
A must read!
Reviewed in the United States on August 4, 2020
The Warmth of Other Suns was one of the most important books I’ve read. So, I was really looking forward to Caste. When I previously thought of castes, I thought only of India. Wilkerson posits that the Third Reich was also a caste system. And, of course, the US. In fact, the Nazis used American race laws to design their own system. Unlike the Indian caste system, which had hundreds if not hundreds of separate castes, we basically have two. White and Black, as the poorest white is still above a Black person.
Wilkerson uses the first section to set out her premise. By Part Two, she gets down to the history, spelling out how it came to be and evolved through time. From 1619 until 1865, the slaves were the obvious lowest caste. But even after Emancipation, the country found ways to keep the Blacks in the lowest segment of society. The surprise is how current this book is. She not only covers the Obama presidency, but also the Trump election and his first three years. Even the corona virus is covered.
One of the most important points she makes is that racism is not just the personal hatred by one person, but a systematic abuse, often so deeply ingrained in society as to be oblivious to those in the upper caste. And that the upper caste will do everything to keep their privilege intact.
Wilkerson uses a blend of historical research, individual examples and even personal history to flesh out her theory. Some of the stories are gruesome in the extreme. It’s a hard truth to realize that there’s scant difference between a Nazi labor camp and a southern plantation, both using multiple means to dehumanize the targeted segment . And she rightly points out that brutality actually worsened after the Civil War, as the whites no longer had a monetary investment in the black population. By 1933, there was a black person lynched every four days in the south.
Wilkerson is not shy about talking about current US affairs, post 2016. She makes an important point about the narcissism of a group. “A group whipped into narcissistic fervor is eager to have a leader with whom it can identify...The right kind of leader can inspire a symbiotic connection that supplants logic. The susceptible group sees itself in the narcissistic leader, becomes one with the leader, sees his fortunes and his fate as their own.”
This isn’t an easy book, but it’s extremely important, especially in light of current times. It’s one of my best of 2020. Towards the end of the book, Taylor Branch is quoted as asking, “So the real question would be, if people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?”
My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.