Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Hardcover)

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents By Isabel Wilkerson Cover Image

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Hardcover)


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From my perspective Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is a MUST READ for all Americans!

On my antiracism and allyship journey to learn, grow and develop, I work to study on a regular and continuous basis. I am also pushing myself on getting more comfortable examining  the uncomfortable topics within racism, the systems of racism, the emotions and impacts of racism, and the history of racism.  For me when I started, it was important to begin with assessing my privileges and my biases, both conscious and unconscious. I felt that allowed me to open my mind and heart to differences, finding connections across the differences and celebrating and embracing them.

I started with books like Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi and The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph. For those starting on the journey, I consider books like these a way to ease into the shallow end and dip your toe in to check your personal temperature on comfort level.

Then I started wading away from the shallow end of the pool going deeper with books like White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown, and Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body and Spirit by Mary-Frances Winters. Many of these are examining the long term effects of racism on the Black community today; the authors sharing their own stories and experiences, those of their loved ones as well as research being conducted.

Now I have moved into the deep end of the pool, diving deeper and going back in history to learn more about slavery and the enslavement of Africans starting in 1619. Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and The Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson all included historical fictional accounts of the life and horrors of enslaved Americans.

At the end of 2021, I embarked on a study about Caste led by Isabel Wilkerson in her impactful book of the same name. While not a new concept, referenced with a1942 quote from anthropologist Ashley Montagu, Wilkerson presents caste in such a way that is captivating especially through her use of stories throughout.  

“Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated, chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States.”

As I was reading Caste, I was surprised to learn that in 1933, while the foundation and groundwork for the Nazi party was being formed, the founding members in Germany looked to America’s history of enslavement and the laws and practices that were put into place post-emancipation for ideas and inspiration. I was even more shocked to learn that America’s regulations were thought to be too harsh and pushing the boundaries on the horrific treatment of an entire group of people within our society. “While the Nazis praised “the American commitment to legislating racial purity,” they could not abide “the unforgiving hardness” under which “ ‘an American man or woman who even has a drop of Negro blood in their veins’ counted as blacks,” Whitman wrote. “The one-drop rule was too harsh for the Nazis.””

Most white Americans tend to look at Nazi Germany’s history as unimaginable and deem that part of their history as horrendous. Unfortunately some of those same white Americans can look at our own history and the atrocities, explaining it away as the far distant past and not worth examination and reflection of how it is still affecting our current culture in America. I wonder how they can look at others in history as monsters and not have the self awareness to look internally to our own history and realize that we ourselves were monsters. Especially when considering that those “monsters” considered and viewed white Americans as too extreme in the treatment of Black Americans.

As we celebrate Black History month this February 2022, I will close with this mind-blowing statistic highlighted in the book when considering our horrific past.

“This was what the United States was for longer than it was not. It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United States that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United States will have been an independent nation for as long as slavey lasted on its soil. No current-day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaved. That wil not come until year 2111.”

For that I have the hope that my children will live to see that day, pause and reflect on that historical milestone in America’s timeline.

— Erin Dewsbury-Ribeiro, Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center, Ypsilanti, MI

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • “An instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, O: The Oprah Magazine, NPR, Bloomberg, The Christian Science Monitor, New York Post, The New York Public Library, Fortune, Smithsonian Magazine, Marie Claire, Slate, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews

Winner of the Carl Sandberg Literary Award • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • National Book Award Longlist • National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist • Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist • PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Finalist • PEN/Jean Stein Book Award Longlist • Kirkus Prize Finalist

“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 brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched, and beautifully written 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 outcasting 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.

Original and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.
Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Warmth of Other Suns, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was named to Time’s 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the 2010s and The New York Times Magazine’s list of the best nonfiction books of all time. She has taught at Princeton, Emory, and Boston Universities and has lectured at more than two hundred other colleges and universities across the United States and in Europe and Asia.
Product Details ISBN: 9780593230251
ISBN-10: 0593230256
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: August 4th, 2020
Pages: 544
Language: English
“Magnificent . . . a trailblazing work on the birth of inequality . . . Caste offers a forward-facing vision. Bursting with insight and love, this book may well help save us.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“This book has the reverberating and patriotic slap of the best American prose writing. . . . Wilkerson has written a closely argued book that largely avoids the word ‘racism,’ yet stares it down with more humanity and rigor than nearly all but a few books in our literature. . . . It’s a book that changes the weather inside a reader.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“A surprising and arresting wide-angle reframing . . . Her epilogue feels like a prayer for a country in pain, offering new directions through prophetic language.”—Bilal Qureshi, The Washington Post

“A transformative new framework through which to understand identity and injustice in America.”—Justin Worland, Time

“Magisterial . . . Her reporting is nimble and her sentences exquisite. But the real power of Caste lies tucked within the stories she strings together like pearls. . . . Caste roams wide and deep, lives and deaths vividly captured, haloed with piercing cultural critique. . . . Caste is a luminous read, bearing its own torch of righteous wrath in a diamond-hard prose that will be admired and studied by future generations of journalists.”—Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Brave, clear and shatteringly honest in both approach and delivery . . . Extrapolating Wilkerson’s ideas to contemporary America becomes an unsettling exercise that proves how right she is and how profoundly embedded into society the caste system is. . . . Her quest for answers frames everything and acts as the perfect delivery method for every explanation.”—Gabino Iglesias, San Francisco Chronicle

Caste draws heavily on the powerful mingling of narrative, research, and visionary, sweeping insight that made Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns the definitive contemporary study of African Americans’ twentieth-century Great Migration from the Jim Crow South to northern, midwestern, and western cities. It deepens the resonance of that book (a seemingly impossible feat) by digging more explicitly into the pervasive racial hierarchy that transcends region and time.”—Steve Nathans-Kelly, New York Journal of Books

Caste will spur readers to think and to feel in equal measure.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The New York Times Book Review

“Wilkerson’s book is a powerful, illuminating and heartfelt account of how hierarchy reproduces itself, as well as a call to action for the difficult work of undoing it.”—Kenneth W. Mack, The Washington Post

“Should be required reading for generations to come . . . A significant work of social science, journalism, and history, Caste removes the tenuous language of racial animus and replaces it with a sturdier lexicon based on power relationships.”—Joshunda Sanders, The Boston Globe

“[Caste] should be at the top of every American’s reading list.”—Jennifer Day, Chicago Tribune

“An expansive interrogation of racism, institutionalised inequality and injustice . . . This is an American reckoning and so it should be. . . . It is a painfully resonant book and could not have come at a more urgent time.”—Fatima Bhutto, The Guardian

“Full of uncovered stories and persuasive writing . . . Opening up a new bank of language in a time of emboldened white supremacism may provide her readers with a new way of thinking and talking about social injustice. . . . A useful reminder to India’s many upper-caste cosmopolitans . . . that dreams of resistance are just one part of the shared inheritance of the world’s oldest democracy, and the world’s largest.”—Supriya Nair, Mumbai Mirror

“It is bracing to be reminded with such precision that our country was built through genocide and slavery. But Ms. Wilkerson has also provided a renewed way of understanding America’s longest, fiercest trouble in all its complexity. Her book leaves me both grateful and hopeful. I gulped it down.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains 

“Like Martin Luther King, Jr. before her, Isabel Wilkerson has traveled the world to study the caste system and has returned to show us more clearly than ever before how caste is permanently embedded in the foundation and unseen structural beams of this old house called America. Isabel Wilkerson tells this story in prose that is so beautiful, the only reason to pause your reading is to catch your breath. You cannot understand America today without this book.”—Lawrence O’Donnell

“This enthralling exposé deserves a wide and impassioned readership.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Similar to her previous book, the latest by Wilkerson is destined to become a classic, and is urgent, essential reading for all.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“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.”Booklist (starred review)