86 pages 2 hours read

Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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The Invisibility of Power

Wilkerson repeatedly points out that caste is omnipresent but not often considered, except for those who are at the bottom of its hierarchies and punished most for its existence. Using the metaphor of a house, she argues that America’s foundations are inextricable from its caste system, though this may be an unpleasant truth. She argues that once we understand the foundations, the only healthy way forward is to address their consequences: “any further deterioration, is, in fact, in our hands” (16). She extends the metaphor further when she summarizes the plot of the film The Matrix, quoting a character who describes the programs and says, “you’d never even know they were here” (34).

Invisibility, for Wilkerson, can never mean a lack of consequence. She recounts many instances from her own life as well as from history, to encourage the reader to understand, whatever their caste position, that the dynamics she describes are real. She makes similar arguments about the amount of knowledge required for survival in America: Understanding the dominant caste is key to everyday social interactions, as Wilkerson herself recognizes when she appeals to the plumber’s humanity to get her basement fixed.