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Book Review of 'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents'
“We are responsible for our own ignorance or, with time and openhearted enlightenment, our own wisdom," Isabel Wilkerson
Abiran Raveenthiran
Regional Sales Manager
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A different perspective almost always enhances understanding. Sometimes labeling with a different word can shape-shift a subject into a slightly different perspective revealing additional layers of meaning. I think that’s what Wilkerson has done by using the word “caste” to describe what others have described as structural, institutional, or systemic racism.

The word “racism” alone doesn’t communicate the endemic nature of the problem that is at the core of society’s discontent. The meaning of “racism” is widely understood to be a personal attitude and that makes it difficult to comprehend the hidden sociological barriers that impose control on human relationships.

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Caste has traditionally been used in the English language to describe the rigid social stratification characteristic of Hindu society, a practice with ancient origins. Americans have generally regarded caste as a backward non-western custom that has nothing to do with the way we live.

“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.”

This book examines the characteristics of the Indian caste system, compares them with American racial behavior and history, and then convincingly makes the point that they share many similarities. The book further makes the point that the Nazi anti-Jewish laws were inspired and patterned in many ways on the American Jim Crow laws. Wilkerson isn't saying the three are identical, but that they share many similarities which can be used to help understand the difficulty of making changes.

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.”

It's important to understand that the BLM movement isn't just their movement. The fight for equality is one that all people of colour need to assist in because it is one that we don't want our future to get caught in. The book draws connections between the caste system and systematic racism through real life events and encounters that the reader cannot help but help bridge connections and understandings in.

“Radical empathy, on the other hand, means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another's experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel. Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will. It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it.

Empathy is no substitute for the experience itself. We don't get to tell a person with a broken leg or a bullet wound that they are not in pain. And people who have hit the caste lottery are not in a position to tell a person who has suffered under the tyranny of caste what is offensive or hurtful or demeaning to those at the bottom. The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.”

The book’s skillful interweave of interesting personal vignettes with abstract ideas provides a compelling reading experience. The stories of ordinary people from both the higher castes and of the lowest are shared providing numerous examples of the misplacement of human potential.

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Abiran Raveenthiran
Regional Sales Manager | Omnify
Abiran Raveenthiran is a first-generation born Canadian as many are in the cultural mel...
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