This was really interesting to read back to back with How to Be an Antiracist; they shed light on each other in weird ways. But they are also two very different books!
My main takeaway from Caste is that Isabel Wilkerson is a great writer. I’m set to read her first book next month, and I’m now looking forward to it even more. She employs metaphor and other literary techniques in a way that you don’t normally see from non-fiction writers. It brings a depth of emotion to her (already fraught) subject, and it also made the book feel incredibly personal and human.
The main premise of this book is that Wilkerson (and a larger than you’d think body of thinkers elsewhere in the world) believes that the main problem with race in America is that racism is not actually the problem but the effect of a greater cause (again, Kendi makes a similar argument in a different way in his books). The main problem, she argues, is that America has a caste system, a largely invisible one, and we are all playing by its rules.
I’m not going to get into details because again, I finished this weeks ago now, and it along with the review for Kendi’s book, has been holding up my review queue. But I do think it’s important to note the main things that Wilkerson does here, which is twofold. First, she compares throughout the book three main caste systems: India, Nazi Germany, and America (with a heavy focus on slavery and the Jim Crow south). She also lays out the eight commonalities she says that all caste systems have, and illustrates them with examples. It was extremely effective. It was also a very discomfiting book, but well worth a read. Basically, it deserves whatever praise it’s going to get.