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“The hierarchy of caste is not about feeling or morality. It is about power – which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources – which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumption of competence – who is accorded these and who is not.”    – Isabel Wilkerson

Why I picked this Book?

Caste is generally associated with India and rightly so, as the caste system in India is age old. So, when someone from the west writes about caste, it intrigued me and I wanted to know what the significance of caste in the western world is, and how it shaped their culture and affects the daily lives of people living in America.

The Book

Caste is an artificial system of division which is beyond class and race says the author. She primarily talks about the racism in America and west and links it with the caste system in India and race superiority in Nazi Germany. How the whole idea of the caste system, racial superiority, and white supremacy is nothing but all about asserting authority by a section of people on others. The reason why it still exists is because a section of society still thinks they are superior to others.

The author takes you through the history of America letting you know how this caste system came into being based on superior race. Race as we know is a social construct based on grouping of human being based on their shared physical traits and social norms and culture like height, hair, colour of skin and language. The people of Africa who the European invaders brought as slave along with them, and the native Americans were considered racially inferior to the white Europeans. Based on this assumed inferiority they were put at the lower rung of the societal hierarchy, which essentially means a caste system which was created based on race, where white people were at the top.

Caste is more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an illusion of their own entitlement, the subordinate trapped in the purgatory of someone else’s definition of who they are and who they should be.

What this caste system does is, it divides people and puts them in different boxes in a social hierarchy and it was virtually impossible to move out from this box. The author tells us the three caste systems that stood out in the human history. The still prevalent centuries old caste system of India. The horrific caste system of Nazi Germany, which officially does exist and anymore. And the American caste system based on the race. The commonality among each was/is the dehumanization and stigmatization of the lowest ranked people at the bottom, so that they stay at the bottom. Most of the atrocities justified as divine will, wherever caste existed or still exists. Also, the idea of caste is to keep the people at the bottom suppressed, not give them full rights, restrict their education, and keep them uneducated.

The author with various examples from the past and current times explains how the race-based caste system of America is used to oppress the people and assert their power by the white people. There are real life examples of the atrocities and inhuman treatment of African people and native Americans, which will make you think are the people who commit such acts are even human.

The book is written beautifully, with examples that will make you pause and think. In the end the author urges to move ahead and see human beings as equals beyond the artificial divisions that we have created based on race, colour and caste. An important read for everyone to understand the ugly truths of caste

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