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Reviews, Paradigms & Beliefs

Caste, The Origins of Our Discontents — by Isabel Wilkerson

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April 9, 2020

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, is an extremely powerful and important book that should be read by everyone who wants to understand why we have several levels of inter group anger and growing levels of inter group conflict in America.

Isabel Wilkerson is a remarkable and thorough historian and an extremely clear writer. She goes back into American history with extreme competence derived from her long career as an award-winning journalist for a major newspaper, and she documents what happened in our country over a couple of centuries relative to our racial and inter group behaviors with a level of detail and thoroughness that no one who is willing to consider looking honestly and openly at those aspects of our history can debate or contest.

The book was too painful for me to read in only one sitting.

It took nearly a week for me to get through the book, and I found myself every day reaching levels of anger and sorrow and deep sadness about the history that she uses as a key context for the book.

She gives examples that break your heart and trigger a clarity about the evil that happened for far too long that should make us all angry that all of that evil was allowed to happen.

The Institute for InterGroup Understanding is set up to look at instinctive behaviors — with our all too human tendency and our constant need to divide the world into Us and Them and to have very different values, behaviors, beliefs, and emotions for people based on whether we perceive people to be an Us or a Them, and her book shows and documents in painful detail the evil and horror that we inflicted as a nation on our Us and our Them for centuries.

She has a 14-page bibliography listing her sources — and that body of evidence is irrefutable and will be extremely important and useful as a base of evidence for anyone looking into that area of our behavior and our history as a nation and wanting to understand exactly what we did to people here.

She blames Caste for that reality.

She attributes all of the evil behaviors to our absolute insistence on maintaining a particular system of Caste in America. The book is called Caste and she explains clearly why she believes strongly that Caste is the right context for us to use to understand both what we have done and who we are as a nation and a people.

We are not alone in the world using Caste to do damage to people.

She explains how the Caste system works in India and how it worked in Nazi Germany, with multiple examples of actual functioning in both of those settings that have clear and obviously parallel behaviors in our country that put some of our behaviors into a much more visible context. She interviewed people in both of those countries as part of the research for her book.

She documents how the Nazi party in Germany actually very intentionally used and copied some of the Jim Crow laws that we passed in our country and she shows how some of the genocidal practices we shamelessly used with Native Americans in our country as models for what they did inside Germany for the years when the Nazis were in power.

She contends that the evil we have shamelessly done here at multiple levels over our history is a very clear and powerful caste in full functioning power and capacity — and she makes that point with a painful clarity that we need to read and understand in order to figure out where to go from here in our own history as a country.

Please read the book.

We need to have a collective understanding of that history.

Share it with people who you want to have a sense of what is happening in our country now and what has happened since the very first Europeans landed as invaders on our shores.

Columbus was a major step in that process. We now know that Columbus achieved his own levels of local genocide and that he both enslaved people he captured and he claimed to have discovered our continent for Mankind when tens of millions of people obviously already lived here long before his arrival.

The InterGroup Understanding books point out that the public statues that claim Columbus discovered this hemisphere for Mankind are extremely Eurocentric at a painful and unacceptable level — and her Caste book explains why that approach existed and agrees entirely that it was wrong and evil at multiple levels.

People of faith who want to practice the highest and most loving levels of their faith will find that this book can offer extremely useful context to help us understand why we see some of the anger and division that we see now and also how to reach out to create a future for our country that gives us all a chance to live in Peace and that gives our children and our grandchildren a chance to be safe and successful and secure and at Peace in their own lives.

Various religious and ideological organizations and groups could do worse than to have this book as a joint group reading assignment just for context — and to create grounding in where we are now as a nation and a people for that portion of who we are today.

We can’t get to the peaceful and positive future that we all want for our children and our grandchildren until we understand both the past that has happened and the current impact of the Caste related beliefs and behaviors, and the book Caste is an extremely useful tool for explaining both our current situation and our history as a nation and a people in ways that can give intellectual and emotional grounding to everyone.

We need to work past our most damaging and destructive Us-Them instincts and we need to build on our most positive Us instincts, and that will not happen until we can reach into our own hearts and generate a legitimate and loving sense of Us as a people and a nation.

That can not happen until we decide to both understand the current caste system and make it functionally less powerful and relevant at multiple levels where it is damaging us now.

The Institute for InterGroup Understanding was created to teach us all how powerful our instincts are in our lives — and how they can be used both to damage us and to give us positive and beneficial thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors in our interactions with one another. We divide the world instinctively into Us and Them — and trigger entirely different sets of emotions, beliefs, values, and behaviors for other people based on whether we perceive people to be Us or Them.

Those behaviors exist all over the world. We firebomb Them, ethnically cleanse Them, persecute Them, distrust and dislike Them — and feel no remorse or guilt doing bad and evil things to Them.

We tribalize easily — and we tend to think of the other tribe as Them, and we discriminate and damage Them in tribal settings.

We have inter group conflict here that has all of those instincts activated. We need to understand those instincts and channel them to better places as soon as we can make that happen in ways that feel credible to the people in each setting.

To start that process, we really need to understand how creating Castes and using them to hurt other people is part of our history — and it is a set of behaviors that we need to move away from ever doing again.

We are blessed to have this great book at this exact point in time to help us get context on that history and those behaviors.

Black Lives Matter — and her book helps explain why that is so painfully true.

Please start at this point in that learning process, for us as a country, by reading Isabel Wilkerson’s painful and powerful and extremely well-written  book to start that process of building that future with a solid foundation.

It might be the most important book written for our country in this century.