As I listen to residents and advocates in Louisville regarding the black community’s cry for justice for Breonna Taylor, I could not help but think of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
Wilkerson describes eight pillars of caste designed to keep black citizens in their lowest caste designation:
I Divine Will and the Laws of Nature
III Edogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating
IV Purity versus Pollution
V Occupational Hierarchy
VI Dehumanization and Stigma
VII Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control
VIII Inherent Superiority versus Inherent Inferiority
At present I am reading Caste in which Wilkerson methodically describes the historical events and people who laid down and built a system of privilege and safety that is designed to keep African Americans impoverished and disempowered. The system is based upon the essential belief that anyone with a drop of black blood is unworthy and incapable, good only for the lowest labor jobs that keep the most privileged in wealth, privilege, and safety (the dominant caste).
Breonna Taylor is now being implicated with involvement in a drug trafficking operation. Yet the police officers who made mistakes and killed an innocent young person on a drug investigation gone awry, are walking free. The attention is on the black community, on Breonna and her friends, and not on the action of the police officers.
We can observe how this system works as we observe the police, justice departments, and privileged citizens blame the victim, divert attention from the violence of police officers to the victim, the family, and the black community itself. As Wilkerson describes, “terror and cruelty are used as a means of control to keep an entire group of sentient beings in an artificially fixed place.” [Caste, p. 151]
Then there was the murder of George Floyd. The policeman who crushed his neck and killed him with assistance from three other officers are free on bail. Attention is on the community, high crime, and minor misdemeanors. Not on the brutality of police who clearly overreacted. All these “conditions” relate to the oppression of people in the lowest caste.
Now, Jake Blake. Again, we see the terror, the cruelty by a police officer perpetrated on an unarmed black man actually walking away from him. The law forbids police to use deadly force unless they are themselves at risk of bodily harm.
I am strongly urging readers in the dominant caste to read Wilkerson’s book to learn how the American Caste System was built, the values of the men who built it, and how we all participate in maintaining it by our ignorance or our lack of caring about it.
Note: Wilkerson compares the American Caste Structure to India’s caste structures, and to the systematic elimination of Jews built by the Nazis.
In the most frightening chapter of the book, Wilkerson relates how shocked she was to learn about the Nazi’s study of America’s enslavement of African Americans to the lowest level of caste, much like India’s untouchables, and that the Nazi’s believed, and wrote about, their aversion to our system because it “went too far”. [Chapter 8, p. 75]
See how Shaun King, a civil rights advocate, describes the problem: