86 pages 2 hours read

Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Part 3, Pillars 3-5

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 3: “The Eight Pillars of Caste”

Part 3, Pillar 3 Summary: “Endogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating”

Endogamy, the scholarly term for intermarriage between castes, was commonly prohibited in Nazi Germany, India, and the United States. This is an important mechanism of social control, as “by closing off legal family connection, [it] blocks the chance for empathy or a sense of shared destiny between the castes” (109). It prevents those in upper castes from fully identifying with or supporting the survival of those beneath them. Endogamy was punished early in the colonial period, so much so that newly arrived Africans in 1630 were permitted to witness the beating of a White man who had defied this custom. This was meant to serve as a “warning”: If a White man was punished for breaking this rule, their punishment would be far worse. This case was likely unusual in another respect: Sexual violence and abuse of lower caste women was permitted, so the man who was beaten had likely transgressed by treating sexual intimacy as more of a partnership. Intermarriage bans were codified in the 1690s and not overturned until 1967. These laws naturally also applied to immigrants and served to reinforce notions of racial distinctiveness: “Endogamy ensures the very difference that a caste system relies on to justify inequality” (110).