86 pages 2 hours read

Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Index of Terms


The highest caste in German nationalist and Nazi racial thought, Aryans were considered an ideal physical type because of their robust health, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Like race in the United States, the definition of an Aryan was entirely constructed, based on false science like hair and eye color or skull measurements, and legally enshrined by the status of one’s parents and grandparents. Hitler’s goal was to make Germany an “Aryan nation” (78) and extend this conquest globally to eradicate all possible threats to Aryan supremacy. This is one of Wilkerson’s examples of a caste system that has fallen from official prominence in a nation that once espoused it. That said, many White nationalists in the United States are inspired by Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism, seen most obviously in the attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2017.


Wilkerson defines caste as a system that “sets the presumed supremacy of one group up against the presumed inferiority of other groups, on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits” (17). These systems are always designed by those who seek to preserve their power and that of their descendants. Caste is also about “power—which groups have it and which do not” (17).