On Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

I was honored to be asked by NPR Books to review Caste: The Origins of Our Discontentsthe compelling new work of nonfiction from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson:

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To read Isabel Wilkerson is to revel in the pleasure of reading — to relax into the virtuosic performance of thought and form one is about to encounter, safe and secure that the structures will not collapse beneath you.

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s first book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Wilkerson evinced a rare ability to craft deeply insightful analysis of deeply researched evidence — both historical and contemporary — in harmonious structures of language and form.

Now, in her sophomore effort, the former New York Times Chicago Bureau chief does not disappoint. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is a masterwork of writing — a profound achievement of scholarship and research that stands, also, as a triumph of both visceral storytelling and cogent analysis.

What is caste? According to Wilkerson, “caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.” Racism and castism do overlap, she writes, noting that “what some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system.”[…]