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Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost 
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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Here in Chapter 2, the author starts to define the caste system.

Quote:
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

This book examines the three caste systems mentioned above.
Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.
p. 18

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.

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?



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
geo wrote:
The war on drugs may not have been designed explicitly against blacks, but it ultimately affected the black community in very disproportionate ways. For example, we had different penalties for crack cocaine than we had for cocaine, for no viable reason whatsoever except that the crack form was used predominantly by young black men. Because of this policy young black men were railroaded into prisons for decades. We still haven't talked about this particular travesty of justice.
You left out the despair caused by loss of industrial jobs in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other large industrial cities of the north. The Detroit area was losing about a quarter of its population at the time of the crack epidemic. That kind of catastrophe does not happen without collateral damage, including family stress that continues into the next generation and maybe beyond.

This whole subject is a huge can of worms. We are rightly incensed by actions taken to explicitly enforce caste structures. These are violations of individual rights that cannot be justified morally but that are all too easy to justify economically. But what happens when policy is pursuing a neutral aim, but failing to listen to the causes and consequences in large part because those affected are "other"?

And it may not be racial difference that is behind the willed blindness - it may be poverty, it may be the devastating effects of past trauma accumulating as damaged nervous systems (think epigenetics) and damaged social skill sets, it may be systems like military hazing that grew up to cope with extreme threat but whose toxic effects go on after the threat is gone (some of my Russian students told stories about this in hushed tones and with eyes pleading for understanding). We do not have much thought out there about how to cope with this problem, that neutral, justifiable rules can act in a way that perpetuates evil power structures, and the general public be unaware of this pattern.

geo wrote:
Nor have we talked about how time and again the Supreme Court paved the way for police to conduct search and seizures on minorities, simply because it was expedient and convenient, and because most white people didn't care what was happening to blacks. Systemic racism is very real in the USA. This book opened my eyes to this truth. Fortunately, we live in a time when underlying racist attitudes are being exposed, but there are still way too many people who don't bother to see it.
I care what happens to oppressed minorities, but I also have mixed feelings about continually being told that essentially neutral policies have "disproportionate effects" on minority populations. I was incensed when Biden's possible choice to deal with climate change was dropped due to opposition from "environmental justice" groups,
https://www.latimes.com/environment/sto ... ath-to-epa
repeating the pattern that led to rejection of Washington state actually doing something about the climate due to opposition from the left. We simply cannot have every measure to help the general public held hostage by "disproportionate effects" that happen because of inherited poverty.

A far better approach is to "log roll" a win-win outcome. Those hurt by the harms of neutral policies (I'm thinking particularly of the open trade policies that devastated Detroit and brought Trump to power) should be willing to accept some cost in exchange for support on policies that will foreseeably bring larger off-setting benefits to those groups.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Please excuse that my comments aren't connected to the existing discussion, but I think we're in the stage of initial thoughts. I have never heard of caste-ists, and that might be an advantage of Wilkerson's wide lens. We do spend lots of energy arguing whether so-and-so is a racist, which gets us nowhere toward further understanding of the forest we're inside of. It can be more productive to ask everyone not whether they harbor racism in their hearts, but whether they see outside of themselves a system that did, and still does, assign access to power based on certain immutable physical traits, as Wilkerson calls them. I suspect that if we asked about the existence of class in the U.S., we'd find a good deal of openness to the idea among whites, despite the fact that class was supposed to be left behind in Europe. Class doesn't have the same ability to hold one down as caste does, but it might be a bridge to that other idea. I sense there is some way to bring whites at the bottom of the ladder into such a discussion. Whiteness has probably prevented whites from sinking to the lowest caste, but some apparently feel that they're stuck on a pretty low rung. So does caste operate in the U.S. on another basis, in addition to race? Or is that to muddy the discussion?



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
LanDroid wrote:
[*] Are you skeptical that a caste system exists in the USA?
Wilkerson tells the story of Martin Luther King visiting India, where he was shocked to be introduced as a member of the untouchable caste of the USA. He says on reflection he accepted that the situation of black Americans is equivalent to the Dalits of India, set outside the normal dream of progress and success reserved for whites. The story of how the nineteenth century rammed home to immigrants that the lowest white was higher in social status than the highest black generates an ongoing cultural pathology. While not having the formal religious basis of India’s caste system, America’s systemic inequality does mean that blacks are still judged and excluded in ways that perpetuate and reflect the guilty conscience that produced slavery on such an industrial and barbaric scale.
LanDroid wrote:
For non-Americans, what about your own country?
Here in Australia, the only enslavement was of Pacific Islanders on the cane farms of Queensland and in industries like pearling, and was tiny compared to the Atlantic slave trade. Overall the establishment of Australia as a British settler colony is structurally similar to the history of the USA. The systematic genocide of indigenous people means they have a similar low caste status as blacks or native people in the US. I recently had an essay published in Eremos Magazine on cultural reflections on genocide in Australia. A version of it is at https://rtulip.net/blog/2020/09/02/walt ... -genocide/


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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Quote:
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.

This is an excellent discussion and forgive my inclination to go off on tangents. But I wonder how artificial a caste system really is, especially considering that it keeps cropping up in different cultures. It has appeared in India and in the United States. And Great Britain's rigid class structure also seems a similar kind of ordering. I'm thinking of E.O. Wilson's observations that humans are "eusocial" creatures, meaning that we have "advanced" level of social organization similar to ants and termites. Eusociality is apparently an emergent trait in evolution in populations that require a lot of social cooperation. The division of labor by ants and termites (and bees and wasps) are likewise called "castes." So rather than an artificial construction, I would suggest castes may be completely natural, as far as that goes.

Perhaps it is egalitarianism, the idea that we are all equal and deserve equal rights, that is more of an artificial construction. Or maybe both are evolutionary "strategies" that can crop up in different scenarios and can ultimately be explained by game theory.

Considering that one of the main difference s between humans and eusocial insects is that we have a highly developed culture that "evolves" much the same as biological evolution. We create stories and myths to explain why things are the way they are. So if we are instinctively inclined to regiment our society in caste systems we would have to rationalize it with narratives such as white superiority. In that sense, Wilkerson is absolutely right. The ideas that support caste systems are artificial. Humans have a fantastic capacity to bullshit ourselves and look the other way when confronted by contradictory evidence that goes against our make-believe narratives.


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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
geo wrote:
I wonder how artificial a caste system really is, especially considering that it keeps cropping up in different cultures. It has appeared in India and in the United States. And Great Britain's rigid class structure also seems a similar kind of ordering. I'm thinking of E.O. Wilson's observations that humans are "eusocial" creatures, meaning that we have "advanced" level of social organization similar to ants and termites. Eusociality is apparently an emergent trait in evolution in populations that require a lot of social cooperation. The division of labor by ants and termites (and bees and wasps) are likewise called "castes." So rather than an artificial construction, I would suggest castes may be completely natural, as far as that goes.
I think it is natural in the sense that empire is natural - until relatively recently (1860? 1920? 1960?) it was difficult to avoid in that whichever power was ascendant would tend to use that power to weaken the competition, so that only overextension or combinations by the opposition could restrain it. But times change and people begin to recognize the potential of cooperation and thus learn to set aside the urges to dominate.

My wife gave me "The Silk Roads" by Peter Frankopan a year ago and I am slowly making my way through this economics-driven history of the world. I am up to the end of WWII and natural resources are still the determining factor in power, though Frankopan breezes past the sources of the Industrial Revolution that created the ascendancy of the West. We have mastered so much in the West (and now East Asia) in the last century that it just doesn't make sense to struggle over resources. Furthermore, possession of resources does not make domination possible because of nuclear weapons. Empire is over.

In the same way, caste is a powerful force in a world in which resources, roles and skills mesh and families pass on the ability to dominate (or otherwise hold on to status) in their society. India's caste system evolved over 4 millennia, and functioned reasonably well despite its injustice. Simply put, the upper castes could use their dominance to perpetuate their status. We are in a time of extraordinarily high value on innovation and, still for a while, hard work and risk-taking. The kinds of skills families can pass on are no longer key to success, much less a combination of skills and possessions.

For that reason caste is artificial in the sense that it stands in the way of the true forces determining wealth and happiness. It sets up artificial barriers based on race and, much less artificially, culture. In an agrarian society in which who marries who could create the path for ability to rise, the zero-sum logic of caste could make some sense. Immoral, but still functional for those in power. But even as early as 1840 the Whigs (who became the Republicans) recognized that investing in people made sense, and holding down half the society to make sure your progeny could not fall into the service class was just cutting off your nose to spite your face. As we know, trial by combat showed how correct this was as the industrial power of the North overwhelmed the advantages of fighting on defense that were used so skillfully by the well-trained generals from the leisure class of the South.

It is still natural for some to fight for status and use caste as one weapon in the arsenal, but the success of Asian-Americans and Jews shows that concentrating on the win-win world of high-value enterprise is just vastly superior as a strategy to trying to keep others away from the paths to success.

geo wrote:
Perhaps it is egalitarianism, the idea that we are all equal and deserve equal rights, that is more of an artificial construction. Or maybe both are evolutionary "strategies" that can crop up in different scenarios and can ultimately be explained by game theory.
Perhaps. This is a version of Gingrich's "philosophy" that he used to justify a take-no-prisoners approach to politics. It looks to me like it was extremely destructive to social capital and, as one would expect from a zero-sum approach in a win-win world, it has not done well in economic competition. Despite the successes of Texas pursuing a "Yankee" entrepreneurial strategy, people who work in that part of the Texas economy (Dallas and Austin metro areas, basically) no longer believe in the zero sum logic of the oil patch and the cotton patch.

geo wrote:
Considering that one of the main difference s between humans and eusocial insects is that we have a highly developed culture that "evolves" much the same as biological evolution. We create stories and myths to explain why things are the way they are. So if we are instinctively inclined to regiment our society in caste systems we would have to rationalize it with narratives such as white superiority. In that sense, Wilkerson is absolutely right. The ideas that support caste systems are artificial. Humans have a fantastic capacity to bullshit ourselves and look the other way when confronted by contradictory evidence that goes against our make-believe narratives.
Yes, I think this hangover from instinct is a heavy burden. The strongest source of resistance to caste instinct was probably the Whiggish belief in freedom and human potential, and the sane half of the Republican party still organizes its ideology around these.

But now the need for regulation (for example in banking and energy) has become more prominent than ever, and libertarian ideology is a hazard instead of being a bulwark against atavistic oppression. Not sure if our society can sort things out in time to stave off disaster, but much depends on whether those who accept the need for regulation can build up some practical solutions and evolving paths to sanity in the face of stubborn resistance by resource-based special interests and libertarian individualists.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
geo wrote:
E.O. Wilson's observations that humans are "eusocial" creatures, meaning that we have "advanced" level of social organization similar to ants and termites. Eusociality is apparently an emergent trait in evolution in populations that require a lot of social cooperation. The division of labor by ants and termites (and bees and wasps) are likewise called "castes." So rather than an artificial construction, I would suggest castes may be completely natural, as far as that goes.
Thanks Geo for mentioning Wilson, who I think is a superb evolutionary logician. His concept of social evolution by group selection has been rejected by the biology community, but perhaps that is because it introduces philosophy in a way that the empirical methods cannot cope with.

I agree with group selection as a way to explain cultural evolution, seeing the memes of armies and priests as effective adaptive mutations that enable group success. It is a shame that Dawkins and others have not been able to engage constructively on this idea, which in Dawkins’ case is due to his personal commitment to the model of the selfish gene.
geo wrote:
Perhaps it is egalitarianism, the idea that we are all equal and deserve equal rights, that is more of an artificial construction. Or maybe both are evolutionary "strategies" that can crop up in different scenarios and can ultimately be explained by game theory.
Something to throw into the mix here is that human evolution is now primarily driven by culture, by our minds, rather than by our genes. Purely genetic factors would make instincts and hormones determinative of our future, but since ancient times humans have recognised that our large brains have the ability to override our emotions using reason.

Indeed, my view of Christian origins is that the rise of cities, together with armies, priests and agriculture, required such an evolutionary override mechanism as part of the group selection meme of cooperative living in the ancient world. Christianity delivered this meme through its doctrine of the need to focus on the spirit and deny the flesh.

So you are correct that rights are an artificial construction, but that does not at all negate their place as an evolutionary strategy in game theory. Constructivist ethics is often somehow seen as inferior, but only when people have metaphysical commitments to the intrinsic good of ideas like a supernatural God, or of human rights as absolute and self-evident truths.

Biologists tend to think of evolution just in physical terms, but the planetary reality now is that the human mind, with its ability to deliver rule of law and policy based on merit, is now the primary adaptive mechanism able to deliver ongoing global flourishing.

The rejection of caste thinking by Christianity (neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ) recognises this spiritual power and value of equality.
geo wrote:
Considering that one of the main difference s between humans and eusocial insects is that we have a highly developed culture that "evolves" much the same as biological evolution. We create stories and myths to explain why things are the way they are. So if we are instinctively inclined to regiment our society in caste systems we would have to rationalize it with narratives such as white superiority. In that sense, Wilkerson is absolutely right. The ideas that support caste systems are artificial. Humans have a fantastic capacity to bullshit ourselves and look the other way when confronted by contradictory evidence that goes against our make-believe narratives.
Yes, language is the great disruptor of instinctive evolutionary processes. All ideas are artificial, enabling mythological construction of a story that provides meaning, purpose and legitimacy. Cognitive dissonance between ethical ideas and prevailing practice requires rationalisation, as our redemption requires that we see our conduct as morally justified.

Rationalisation is the process of hiding anomalies in a defunct paradigm, such as caste thinking.


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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Robert Tulip wrote:
The rejection of caste thinking by Christianity (neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ) recognises this spiritual power and value of equality.
It's interesting that this seems to have emerged from Paul's epiphany to go to the Gentiles. It was part of eschatological Judaism to believe that "the nations" would be converted to worship of God before the Reign of God was begun, and Paul (perhaps partly because his father was Roman) believed that it was time. (It is no coincidence that Luke has him holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen, a Hellenic believer, before receiving his revelation).

The inclusivity of the Jesus movement was a scandal to their more traditional Jewish peers, but it also brought a transforming spiritual power to the early church. Imagine holding that slaves were the social equals of those who were free. To get a sense of the scandal you have to imagine an unlettered bumpkin meeting with the professors of a university dressed in a loincloth, or perhaps a fur hat with Viking horns, and speaking as their equal.

The roots of the literature Paul appropriated go back to the Captivity, when Jews began to have an inkling that they would be "a light to the nations", probably partly because Cyrus practiced tolerance as a way of consolidating empire. The prophecies of punishment for idolatry had begun to be replaced by prophecies of enduring covenant and restored favor by God, and along with this shift the meaning of their horrific experience became mission for enlightenment rather than mere time-serving, and five or six centuries later, Paul, surely encouraged by the phenomenon of ecstasy inspired by radical mutual acceptance, took the ball and ran with it.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Yes, language is the great disruptor of instinctive evolutionary processes. All ideas are artificial, enabling mythological construction of a story that provides meaning, purpose and legitimacy. Cognitive dissonance between ethical ideas and prevailing practice requires rationalisation, as our redemption requires that we see our conduct as morally justified.
Rationalisation is the process of hiding anomalies in a defunct paradigm, such as caste thinking.
After last week I am leery of declaring humanity to be reflective, but I think it is more thoughtful than it was 100 years ago for the last great pandemic. The current version of caste in America is much more resistant to reflection than the old version from before the 70s. To some extent that is because cognitive dissonance made the old caste system untenable intellectually, but there is still a thick layer of unequal response ("unconscious bias") that tends to make many White people suspicious of a Black doctor or bank manager. Since they don't notice the suspicion, and process it as they would any other suspicious sign, it apparently makes no difference to point out differences in behavior toward Black people.

I'm not sure language is capable of overcoming that. Outside of a relatively small percentage of cops we are not deliberately mistreating or excluding people for their caste, so there is little for rational critique to work on. But I think contact, and romance, and friendships, and television personalities, will gradually erase the distinctions. There will be neither Black nor White, neither Hispanic nor Anglo, neither (in a status sense) male nor female.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Chapter Three
An American Untouchable


This section is neatly bookended. It begins with Martin Luther King visiting India and being introduced as an untouchable. It ends with Bhimrao Ambedkar, an untouchable from India who came to America to study economics as a graduate student.

Robert Tulip previously mentioned Martin Luther King visiting India in 1959 and being introduced at a high school as an untouchable.
Quote:
“Young people,” he said, “I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.”
King was floored. He had not expected that term to be applied to him. He was, in fact, put off by it at first. He had flown in from another continent, had dined with the prime minister. He did not see the connection, did not see what the Indian caste system had to do directly with him, did not immediately see why the lowest-caste people in India would view him, an American Negro and a distinguished visitor, as low-caste like themselves, see him as one of them. “For a moment,” he wrote, “I was a bit shocked and peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable.”

Then he began to think about the reality of the lives of the people he was fighting for—20 million people, consigned to the lowest rank in America for centuries, “still smothering in an airtight cage of poverty,” quarantined in isolated ghettoes, exiled in their own country. And he said to himself, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” In that moment, he realized that the Land of the Free had imposed a caste system not unlike the caste system of India and that he had lived under that system all of his life.
p. 21

As I mentioned Bhimrao Ambedkar studied in the US. He returned to India and became "the foremost leader of the Untouchables and a preeminent intellectual who would help draft a new Indian constitution." At the end of this section Isabel Wilkerson is going through airport security with a bust of Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Quote:
“So who is this?” (the TSA agent) asked. The name Ambedkar alone would not have registered; I had learned of him myself only the year before, and there was no time to explain the parallel caste system. So I blurted out what seemed to make the most sense. “Oh,” I said, “this is the Martin Luther King of India.”

  • MLK was one of the most prominent civil rights leaders visiting India and yet he did not make the connection between India and a caste system in the US. Why do you think that was so shocking to him?
  • Why was it easy for Bhimrao Ambedkar to make that comparison?
  • Why does that connection still seem shocking to us now?



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Wilerson quotes several prominent sociologists I think in part to show the caste system has been recognized at least in academia for quite some time.
Quote:
In 1944, the Swedish social economist Gunnar Myrdal and a team of the most talented researchers in the country produced a 2,800-page, two-volume work that is still considered perhaps the most comprehensive study of race in America, An American Dilemma. Myrdal’s investigation into race led him to the realization that the most accurate term to describe the workings of American society was not race, but caste, that perhaps it was the only term that addresses what seemed a stubbornly fixed ranking of human value. He came to the conclusion that America had created a caste system and that the effort “to maintain the color line has, to the ordinary white man, the ‘function’ of upholding that caste system itself, of keeping the ‘Negro in his place.’ ”

The anthropologist Ashley Montagu was among the first to argue that race is a human invention, a social construct, not a biological one, and that in seeking to understand the divisions and disparities in the United States, we have typically fallen into the quicksand and mythology of race. “When we speak of the race problem in America,” he wrote in 1942, “what we really mean is the caste system and the problems which that caste system creates in America.”
p. 24

Quote:
...Alexis de Tocqueville to observe in 1831: “The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known.”
p. 29



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
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It was in 1913 that a prominent southern educator, Thomas Pearce Bailey, took it upon himself to assemble what he called the racial creed of the South. It amounted to the central tenets of the caste system.

Wilkerson quotes only one of the tenets from Bailey's publication Race Orthodoxy in the South and other Aspects of the Negro Problem; here are the rest of them. (Study history fearlessly as I stated before.)

  • "Blood will tell."
  • The white race must dominate
  • The Teutonic peoples stand for race purity.
  • The Negro is inferior and will remain so.
  • "This is a white man's country."
  • Let there be no social equality; no political equality.
  • In matters of civil rights and legal adjustments give the white man as opposed to the colored man the benefit of the doubt.
  • In educational policy let the Negro have the crumbs that fall from the white man's table.
  • Let there be such industrial education of the Negro as will fit him to serve the white man.
  • Only Southerners understand the Negro question. Let the South settle the Negro question.
  • The status of peasantry is all the Negro may hope for, if the races are to live together in peace.
  • Let the lowest white man count for more than the highest Negro.
  • The above statements indicate the leadings of Providence.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
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To recalibrate how we see ourselves, I use language that may be more commonly associated with people in other cultures, to suggest a new way of understanding our hierarchy: Dominant caste, ruling majority, favored caste, or upper caste, instead of, or in addition to, white. Middle castes instead of, or in addition to, Asian or Latino. Subordinate caste, lowest caste, bottom caste, disfavored caste, historically stigmatized instead of African-American. Original, conquered, or indigenous peoples instead of, or in addition to, Native American. Marginalized people in addition to, or instead of, women of any race, or minorities of any kind.

Some of this may sound like a foreign language. In some ways it is and is meant to be. Because, to truly understand America, we must open our eyes to the hidden work of a caste system that has gone unnamed but prevails among us to our collective detriment, to see that we have more in common with each other and with cultures that we might otherwise dismiss, and to summon the courage to consider that therein may lie the answers.
p. 29
Italics in original

  • Do these new terms seem accurate?
  • Do you think they will catch on?



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
LanDroid wrote:
[*] MLK was one of the most prominent civil rights leaders visiting India and yet he did not make the connection between India and a caste system in the US. Why do you think that was so shocking to him?
[*] Why was it easy for Bhimrao Ambedkar to make that comparison?
[*] Why does that connection still seem shocking to us now? [/list]


Today I read two articles in the latest New York Review of Books that touch directly on these questions of why systemic inequality in the USA seems shocking. PM me if you can’t access them and want to read.
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2021/0 ... he-elites/ is a stinging critique of Anne Applebaum, essentially arguing that she has allowed a fantasy elitist vision of America to cloud her judgement, through her “belief that we can live up to the language of our Constitution.”

That seems a shocking thing to say, and yet the Enlightenment vision of liberty and equality in the US constitution systematically excluded black people. An aggressive imperial policy was clouded by the propaganda pretense of America as the land of the free and home of the brave.

Martin Luther King also traded on this elitist fantasy of the ideals of equality, which is incompatible with the somewhat fatalistic outlook that sees people’s potential as constrained by caste. In his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in Washington in 1963, King said “In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'”

His visit to India helped King to form this view of the USA as a nation grounded in the hypocritical fraud of the denial of full humanity to its large enslaved population. His shock at being called an untouchable came from the jarring dissonance with the ideals of the Founding Fathers which American ideology asserted were unalienable, even while alienating black people.

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2021/0 ... ast-walks/ is a review of a new biography of William Faulkner, whose racist Mississippi culture led his biographer to title the volumes “The Past is Never Dead” and “This Alarming Paradox”. The recognition of Faulkner as one of the greatest novelists of the last century sits uneasily against problems such as his opposition to racial integration.


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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
LanDroid wrote:
[*] Are you skeptical that a caste system exists in the USA? For non-Americans, what about your own country?

Probably for me the key word is "system." We may have agreed that aspects of caste are inherent in any complex society, but which societies have been explicitly structured along those lines? Explicitness seems important in the determination of "system." Wilkerson will describe for us the three caste systems she considers most prominent. The U.S. is one of those, particularly the South in the Jim Crow era, but I'd have to assume that a caste system applied as well pre-Civil War.

When the framework supporting a caste system has been taken down, in a legal sense, to what extent can we consider the caste system to have receded? That seems to be what the argument is about today. The attitudes, practices, and effects that were essential to a caste system can remain to a lesser or greater extent regardless of whether either law or overt social opinion supports them. Some of that is due to historical hangover, an example being the low net worth of black households tracing back to banks' discriminatory lending policies. Of course, the granddaddy of all hangovers is the slave ship arriving in Virginia in 1619.

I take the word "systemic," as we apply it today, to mean that racism and caste are now implicit rather than (mainly) explicit. Our racism is often described as being unconscious rather than outright. That quality seems to make it particularly hard to root out.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Robert Tulip wrote:
Martin Luther King also traded on this elitist fantasy of the ideals of equality, which is incompatible with the somewhat fatalistic outlook that sees people’s potential as constrained by caste. In his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in Washington in 1963, King said “In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'”

Happy MLK Day, Robert. For 16 years, 1984-2000, here in Virginia we celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day in late January--strange bedfellows. Then we gave MLK his own holiday. I don't view what King said as trading on elitist fantasy, but rather as great statesmanship. Those words of the founders rounded back on us all, carrying meaning that the founders didn't intend, and this is what King exploited. It was deeply ironic that, at the time, we white males took Jefferson's words about equality as expansive, whereas blacks immediately knew--and later, many white men and women did, too--how limited that proclaimed equality was.



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