The Chetek Area Book Club will meet for an approximately hourlong discussion of “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at Calhoun Memorial Library.
Published in 2020, ten years after “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” Wilkerson’s second best-selling work of non-fiction focuses on racial stratification in the United States. She compares America’s caste system to those of India and Nazi Germany.
Wilkerson employs a sociological perspective in her well-researched and effectively written work. She explains what a caste system is, how it works, and why it develops. Caste systems organize societies by ensuring the preferred class has the easiest and greatest access to economic, educational, and cultural resources and services.
The first slave ship arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, long before the Civil War. Due to these captives’ physical appearance, unique and diverse languages and non-Western ways, the slave traders easily and promptly dehumanized the captives. The Nazis, searching for an explanation for Germany’s economic woes, suddenly viewed the Jews who were German citizens as outsiders and genetically inferior. In India, people are born into specific castes; families are untouchables or Brahmins for centuries.
More than 200 years of slavery prevented slaves from forming familial bonds, acquiring wealth or improving their status. Of course, Wilkerson points out that using skin color as a social determinant is as ridiculous as using height, for people have no control over these physical attributes. Besides, neither skin color nor height determine any human being’s value or potential.
Lawrence O’Donnell, Emmy Award-winning executive producer and director for “The West Wing” offers the following critique: “Like Martin Luther King, Jr. before her, Isabel Wilkerson has traveled the world to study the caste system and has returned to show us more clearly than ever before how caste is permanently embedded in the foundation and unseen structural beams of this old house called America. Isabel Wilkerson tells this story in prose that is so beautiful, the only reason to pause your reading is to catch your breath. You cannot understand America today without this book.”
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” is available through MORE, Wisconsin’s digital library system.
No fees or commitments are required to join the Chetek Area Book Club. Snowbirds and individuals interested in discussing particular selections are welcome. The list of monthly selections remaining for 2021 include: “Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague,” and “Bucking the Sun: A Novel.” If interested, call Debbie Skozek at 815-861-9141.