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.
"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 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 out-cast 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.
Beautifully written, 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.
Two small towns, one in Idaho, the other in Upstate New York, try to decide whether to change the nickname of their high school sports teams: The Redskins. Photo: Emblem in the main foyer at Teton High school in Driggs, Idaho. Photo by John Biewen.
More from suburban St. Louis, post-Ferguson, on the popular notion that sports unites communities. Can the camaraderie of a team sport make race and class status “disappear” for the kids involved or their parents? Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen hangs with a girls’ high school basketball team to test the idea. Photo: Pattonville High School basketball players
Can a winning baseball team bring St. Louis together post-Ferguson? John Biewen investigates in the inaugural episode of Scene On Radio, a new podcast of audio stories from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
It began, as many things do, with a silly conversation. In this case, I was talking with our Front End Technology Competency Director (aka "boss man")
For decades, Americans have believed that the best way to end racial inequality is to end class inequality. But a landmark 30-year study is debunking that logic.
On today’s episode:
• Emily Badger writes about cities and urban policy for The Upshot, The New York Times’s data-driven venture.
• William O. Jawando worked in the Obama administration on My Brother’s Keeper, a mentoring initiative for black boys.
• Extensive data shows the punishing reach of racism for black boys.
This story is both very powerful and painfully depressing for me, and yet I know there are many that are still far worse. I hope we can find something in these statistics that can help drastically improve the paying field.