This book has been on my TBR for a long time. Basically since it came out. It’s an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and it was longlisted for the National Book Award. It also feels like everyone, but everyone, was talking about this book. So I was excited to finally find an audio copy available.
The premise of Caste is straightforward: Wilkerson posits that the racial inequality we see in America is really a system of caste, where the distinguishing features of the hierarchy happen to align with skin color. The book compares American society with two other caste-based examples: Nazi Germany and India. Wilkerson walks the reader through what a caste system is, how it operates, and the consequences – for members of both high and low castes – of living within such a rigid system.
I bought this argument from the beginning. It makes a lot of sense to me, as someone who grew up lower middle class in the dominant caste (to use Wilkerson’s language). I have often thought that class plays a huge part in racial tension, and the language of caste helps to explain why that is. Ultimately, though, the anecdotes and examples started to feel a bit repetitive. I get the point!
I also wish that Wilkerson had spent a bit more time talking about how fight against and dismantle this kind of caste system, but I know that’s not what she set out to do. For that kind of more practical take, I would suggest checking out Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together.