Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Author:Isabel Wilkerson [Wilkerson, Isabel]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780593230251
Google: J-FqzQEACAAJ
Amazon: B084FLWDQG
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2020-08-03T23:00:00+00:00

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Instead, the rewards and privileges flowed from upholding the caste order. Doing so could boost the prospects of those who knew to stay in their place, the more conspicuous, the better. Two centuries after Onesimus’s day, the Jim Crow regime would make a single exception to its iron law of segregation between blacks and whites. It was for black maids who had shown themselves sufficiently faithful to be entrusted with the care of white children. These women alone could ride in the whites-only section of a train or bus if they were out taking care of a white child. This exception served several purposes: It enshrined the white child as the ticket to a first-class seat for a black person. It reinforced the servile role, the natural place, of the subordinate caste. It elevated the black nursemaid by fiat of the dominant caste. It made domestics superior to even the likes of the great orator Frederick Douglass, who was once reduced to sitting on top of cargo on a train journey. It protected the children of the dominant caste from enduring for a single trip the taint and discomforts of the colored car. And it reminded everyone in the subordinated caste that they would only rise with the permission of the dominant caste, and on its terms, and only as long as they kept to the role assigned them.

They were to be given no quarter, no latitude to imagine themselves in any place other than the bottom rung. From Reconstruction to the civil rights era, southern school boards spent as little as one-tenth the money on black schools as for white schools, openly starving them of resources that might afford them a chance to compete on level ground. School terms for black students were made shorter by months, giving them less time in class and more time in the field for the enrichment of the ruling caste.

In hiring black teachers for segregated schools during Jim Crow, a leading southern official, Hoke Smith, made a deliberate decision: “When two Negro teachers applied to a school, to ‘take the less competent.’ ” It was a nakedly creative way to cripple black prospects for achievement. It put black children under the instruction of the least qualified teachers. It passed over the brightest, most accomplished applicants—in fact, punished excellence—while elevating the mediocre in a purposeful distortion of meritocracy. All of this created dissension in the lowest caste over the patent unfairness and worked to crush the ambitions of those with the most talent. In these and other ways, the caste system trained the people in the lowest caste that the only way to survive was to play the comforting role of servile incompetent. The caste system all but ensured black failure by preempting success.

In a caste system, there can be little allowance for the disfavored caste to appear equal, much less superior at some human endeavor.

In the early years of the Third Reich, the Nazis made a point of excluding Jews from any position or circumstance in which they might outshine Aryans.


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