America’s caste system is more than just racism, says author Isabel Wilkerson

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Author, Isabel Wilkerson. Photo by Joe Henson

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Isabel Wilkerson’s new book is “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” She says the idea of racism is “not sufficient to capture … a world where it was [once] against the law for a Black person and a white person to merely play checkers together.” Even with Jim Crow laws now abolished, there remains “an artificial, arbitrary graded ranking of human value,” similar to India’s caste system. This system isn’t just in the South but other parts of the country. 

Wilkerson concedes there are individual exceptions, like Barack Obama. She says  these are people with “extraordinary skill and talent and fortitude and perseverance … [who are] able to transcend the barriers.” She says that U.S. Senator Kamala Harris is also “an indicator of progress.” However, Wilkerson acknowledges they may face  criticism and resistance, which white leaders in the United States never have to face.   

That’s not to say that white people are at fault. “No one alive is responsible for the hierarchy that was created at the time that the country was founded, even before there was a country during the colonial era,” Wilkerson says. 

Wilkerson says the  goal of her work is “to illuminate and to look at something that we otherwise would not see, like the joists and the beams of the houses that we live in.”

She continues, “This is the internal, unseen structure that we've inherited. And it's time to look at it because it is what is underneath what we thought we could see, which also has not been dealt with.”




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody