For years I have been bugged by the way people cast blame for a systemic problem on one individualized person or institution. On the listservs, when some discussion of racial practices arose and I would relate some personal incident, the response was, “I’m sorry that happened to you” when what happened happened to most Black people. It happened to me or mine because of culture-wide attitudes about race.
So when I read this in Wilkerson’s Caste, I was overjoyed:
(she was relating an incident of discrimination that happened to her in a store)
“To this day I will not step inside that retailer. I won’t mention the name, not because of censorship or a desire to protect any company’s reputation, but because of our cultural tendency to believe that if we just identify the presumed-to-be-rare offending outlier, we will have rooted out the problem.”
Note: cultural tendency, i.e. inherent in the whole culture and that stems from the necessity to maintain the caste system.
Dec. 29, 2020 What Wilkerson has done is identify the mechanism driving the apparent contradictions around what we call race. Wilkerson is right: it is not racism, a 19th century way of explaining differences among the world’s peoples while defending the privilege of one people in particular, but casteism. Thousands of different attitudes, experiences, relationships, and backgrounds interact in an ever-changing way to create a chaotic social situation. One old guy declaring his hostility to the Black Lives Matter movement will tell you what a nice guy his daughter’s Black husband is. If the old guy is White, this might confuse a liberal. But that’s because we all get lazy in our thinking and try to lump behaviors into easily process chunks = old White guy hates BLM and so does not like Black people.
What Wilkerson shows us is the grounding of our society in a caste system, i.e. the way everyone gets drawn into it even as they object to overt aspects of it; they thought King was too radical but did not like what they saw on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Liberals like me want people to see that BLM is a peaceful protest against police brutality, engendered by the outsize occurrence of shootings of Black people by the police and that MLK’s methods were much preferable to mine.
What troubles us still is that MLK’s methods got us only part way there. Caste explains a lot of why we stay stuck in an old system designed to exploit one group and exalt another.