This book examines the three caste systems mentioned above.A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.
Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated, chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.
p.17 Disclaimer: Kindle edition
The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.
In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy, the front man, for caste.
I doubt many Americans are aware of the relationship between caste and racism mainly because "caste" has remained hidden. I think I'm starting to understand it: One is a subset of the other.Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. They can and do coexist in the same culture and serve to reinforce each other. Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place.
Caste is fixed and rigid. Race is fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition to meet the needs of the dominant caste in what is now the United States.
It may be too early for many of these questions, but something to keep in mind... Buckle up - we are just barely getting started...
- Are you skeptical that a caste system exists in the USA? For non-Americans, what about your own country?
- What are you figuring out about the relationship between caste and racism?
- If one is a subset of the other, which one is more general and what are those characteristics?
- Which one is more specific and what are those characteristics? How do they fit together?
- HOW has the concept of caste remain suppressed the US? Americans understand it existed in India and Germany (the master race) but have no idea a caste system also exists in America (while taking pride in our freedoms)?
- WHY has the concept of caste remain suppressed in America?
- If you discuss the caste system with a typical American, do you expect they will have a clue which country you're talking about? Is that willful ignorance or just a symptom of suppressing the concept?
- What does the author mean by "the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States?" How has this hierarchy changed? This question is important to expose the relationship between racism and caste.
- Is fighting racism effective if the caste system remains in place, unspoken, even denied? Why?