86 pages 2 hours read

Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Part 6, Chapters 28-29

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 6: “Backlash”

Part 6, Chapter 28 Summary: “Democracy on the Ballot”

Wilkerson recalls some of the watershed political events of 2014-2015 around race and police brutality: the Ferguson movement, the removal of the Confederate flag in Columbia, South Carolina, and the revelation that Harper Lee’s famous protagonist, Atticus Finch, “had actually been an unreconstructed bigot” (350). Wilkerson recalls this moment not with nostalgia, but as a time when “the country was being unmasked” and its realities seen more clearly (350). She recalls meeting with a historian friend, Taylor Branch, who likened it to the 1950s, a time of turmoil that helped lay the groundwork for the civil rights movement. Three years later, they met again, and Wilkerson compared the Trump era to the bleak years between the end of Reconstruction and World War II, what historians call “the Nadir” for racial equality due to the entrenchment of legalized segregation and lynchings as a form of state-sanctioned terror (351).

Wilkerson sees unsettling echoes between that period and her own time, as voter ID laws suppress the vote just as effectively as Jim Crow, and police violence against Black people and people of color continues unabated and largely without meaningful censure.