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Check It Out: Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

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This is Barb Gross with the Sioux City Public Library, and you’re listening to “Check it Out.” 

Today, I’m recommending Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Pulitzer-winning writer Isabel Wilkerson. A friend told me this book had “gobsmacked” her, giving her a profound new perspective on the racial constructs that divide America.

Wilkerson’s well-researched premise is that America has a caste system, similar to India’s and even Nazi Germany’s. She writes, “As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theatre, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power – which groups have it and which do not.”

Throughout the book Wilkerson tells riveting true stories to illustrate the invisible but powerful barriers of caste that affect African Americans and other people of color. One in particular, about a 1919 lynching in Omaha, was shockingly close to home. 

Wilkerson writes that while the American caste system is based on race, caste is the bones; race is the skin. And we have to get down to the bones to understand and change the system. The New York Times review of Caste says: “It’s a book that seeks to shatter a paralysis of will.”

Check out Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson at the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Avery Brothers.