There are books one reads for pleasure or diversion. There are books one will read for school or for work. Then, there are some books one reads because they are important and can provide new insights into the world. Caste falls into the latter category. I read this because a close friend asked me to do so, she was putting together a group to discuss the book and asked me to join (and I honestly felt flattered by the request, considering the intellects of the others she asked). This is not an easy book to read; for myself, I could handle maybe a chapter or two at a time before I had to put it down and step away. The breaks were not due to the fact that the book is poorly written or dense, it flows very well and the writing style is superb. The material contained within is what is so upsetting.
I am Jewish and have read fairly widely, including many stories based during the Shoah, accounts of slavery both modern and historical, so when I say that I am not easily disturbed or unnerved there is some context. There are stories and facts within this book that haunted me. Foer me it was the information that the Nazis based many of their laws discriminating against Jews on the South but there were some that were too extreme even for Hitler and the story of a young African American teenager who was forced to jump to his death off a bridge in front of his father for the crime of writing a letter to a white girl. I am not sure which of the anecdotes or information will affect you but if you do read this book, I can almost guarantee that some parts of it will stick with you. And that is a good thing.
We hear a lot about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the media without really asking what it is or what questions it is asking. This book is at the core of CRT in that it shows how American society was literally designed to be discriminatory against Black people. This is a subject that needs to be discussed, not in the K-12 classrooms, but at the College and Graduate school level where CRT is taught. For example, shouldn’t more people be aware that the GI Bill after WW2, which was one of the biggest influences in accelerating the US economy after the War was specifically written to exclude Black veterans? Or how Black people were denied the use of public pools for decades (and it was brilliant how Wilkerson drew direct parallels to the untouchable caste in India)?
The biggest influence Caste had on me was to help me reframe how I approach some of these discussions and topics. Racist really is not the most applicable way to describe some of these arguments on topics such as CRT, most of the people opposing these types of discussions would say they are not racist (even if they really are), but to view it as from a Caste based argument makes total sense and can defuse some of the inherent defensiveness in using the word racist. Many of these white Christian folk view themselves as the dominant caste and feel that is their inherent right to always be on top. Any actions, laws or discussion that threatens that will be met with extreme resistance , even if they do not fully realize why they are acting in such a manner.
I would strongly encourage everyone to read this book, it is one of the most relevant and important books I have seen in years, perhaps decades. The best books are those that not only make you think, but help to change your way of thinking and Caste certainly provided that to me. Highest possible recommendation.