Review of Wilkerson’s Caste

Looking at the reviews I realize the very number of them will drown my little comment but It’s worth noting that regardless of the many negative reviews, the impact on me was immense and here’s why: 57 years ago, coming from a White working-class family, I married into a working-class Black family. Over the next couple of decades the experiences I had from inside the despised caste mounted up until I realized that fixes, liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, would not work because the special relationship between whoever is considered White and whoever is considered Black will not yield to anyone’s idea of a fix. I’ve not only had the experiences Wiljkerson describes but stand amazed at her ability to capture the essence of them with all their layers. My wife and our kids go through these routinely and it’s not easy to live with. So I would suggest you read the book and just absorb what she is saying and then watch events both national and personal unfold and see how they fit into her narrative. Caste provides us with filters, so drop them.

Continuing outside the confines of Amazon………. looking at the caste system in the U.S. from the outside one can easily punch holes in the idea e.g. there are Black millionaires, aren’t there? Then how can you say Blacks are the victims of a caste system? Or……. you can’t possible compare India with the U.S………. or All that Jim Crow stuff was before my time; I don’t know anything about it so I don’t see how it affects our society now.

But from the inside, it looks very different. Since most readers cannot join a Black family here in the U.S. and experience life from that position, I tried to get readers to drop their filters and just let the book’s vision give them a different perspective from what they are used to. The filters themselves are put there by caste in the same way alcohol prevents an alcoholic from truly seeing what is happening because the alcohol’s imperative is to keep the person drinking no matter what, almost as if the alcohol were a virus with an indomitable will to dominate the host.

There are two criticisms to be leveled at my approach: one is that since I’ve been inside the Black experience I cannot be objective. The other is that it is a case of special pleading, making my experience a special case and you just would not understand, the old “it’s a Black thing” gambit. That is the whole point of my having transitioned from a purely White person’s pov to one by no means less “White” but leavened by the Black experience.

What Wilkerson does in Caste is to clarify what caste is and why the Black/White relationship is one of caste rather than ethnic difference or class difference. It is as if some people who object to this formulation of what is called the “racial situation” are taking a kind of “it’s a White thing,” that “you just don’t understand” that White people must remain comfortable. More than one observer has noted this and one author recently smeared by the Right even calls it White fragility. Very apt. “Me? Little old me? Not me! Do I look like a racist? See? No bib overalls, no lynch rope, no hood.”

I understand that in-group talk, saying things like, “The GOP is the Klan without the hoods,” don’t help things. So I don’t say that except to my friends. I guess it’s a Liberal thing.

One Comment

  1. Sandra Verbeke says:

    Pat and ALL Family ( of which 1st names I hope to learn and Use in short time)

    This, My Comment is UPBEAT and SUPPORTIVE of YOU and Your Viewpoint
    Blog. There is Not one comment you’ve written that could ever be termed ‘small’.

    Your Ability and heart and talent to stay BUOYANT and above the waters on this matter . . . Especially THIS matter that is Warmly NEAR-at-hand for You and Your family …. his in your caring, knowledgable Reach.

    I have more auxiliary Support , both by Your Writing AND My Reading of the Book “Caste”….. but I wanted to SEND Thru this Heartfelt Back-Up, FIRST, this morning.

    I trust it will be received at opportune time in your reading.

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