Oprah Winfrey has made a new pick for her book club and has claimed that the book “might well save us.” The talk-show host will send 500 copies of the book, ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ by Isabel Wilkerson, to governors, mayors, CEOs and college professors. She has called the book a ‘required reading for humanity’.
Oprah Winfrey said, “It eloquently examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America. In writing this book, Isabel responds to a calling from the ancestors—and the ancestors are pleased.”
My next @oprahsbookclub pick, “Caste” by @Isabelwilkerson, should be required reading for humanity. It eloquently examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America. Download a copy on @AppleBooks here: https://t.co/cAkzEPCFL3 #ReadWithUs pic.twitter.com/9WAXk7QP9r— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) August 4, 2020
The core proposition of the book by Isabel Wilkerson is that the social structure of the United States of America is more aptly described as a caste system that manifests itself on the basis of race. “Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin,” she says.
In her book, Wilkerson describes caste as an all-encompassing fabric that engulfs social structures, and society itself, in much the same fashion as the atmosphere surrounds the Earth. Speaking of the USA, the author wrote, “There developed a caste system, based upon what people looked like, an internalized ranking, unspoken, unnamed, unacknowledged by everyday citizens even as they go about their lives adhering to it and acting upon it subconsciously to this day.”
She continued, “Just as the studs and joists and beams that form the infrastructure of a building are not visible to those who live in it, so it is with caste. Its very invisibility is what gives it power and longevity. And though it may move in and out of consciousness, though it may flare and reassert itself in times of upheaval and recede in times of relative calm, it is an ever-present through line in the country’s operation.”
Wilkerson argues in the book that while the ‘caste system’ is a term used more often to describe the social realities of India and feudal Europe, the situation in the USA is much the same. She says, “We cannot fully understand the current upheavals or most any turning point in American history, without accounting for the human pyramid encrypted into us all. The caste system, and the attempts to defend, uphold, or abolish the hierarchy, underlay the American Civil War and the civil rights movement a century later and pervade the politics of twenty-first-century America.”
“Just as DNA is the code of instructions for cell development, caste is the operating system for economic, political, and social interaction in the United States from the time of its gestation,” she added. In her book, she has also made the thinly veiled attempt to equate African Americans in the USA with Dalits in India. She also claims, rather dubiously, that Upper Castes marry within their castes to maintain their blood purity. She does not appear to be aware that all castes emphasise marriage within their own.
The objective of the book is to assert that a system of racial hierarchy still persists in the USA. However, in doing so, she equates slavery in the United States with the caste system in India, which is a preposterous lie. While the author accurately describes the horrors of slavery in the United States, by equating it to the Caste system, she presents an extremely twisted view of Indian realities.
Furthermore, Isabel Wilkerson does not provide good reasons as to why the American sociopolitical realities ought to be described as a caste system. Not every birth based system has to do with caste, however, the implication appears to be that it is indeed the case. She does not show a very thorough understanding of caste either.
In her attempt to elaborate on the horrors of slavery, Isabel Wilkerson ends up dragging Indian society through the mud even though Indians have nothing to do with slavery at all. It is a regular feature of Western liberalism where attempts are made to universalise local phenomenons. It appears to escape their notice that by engaging in such endeavour, a lot of nuance is sacrificed at the altar of politics and complicated matters are force-fitted to suit preordained objectives.