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The Origins of Our Discontents

by Isabel Wilkerson

“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 system 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.” P17


“I embarked upon this book with a similar desire to reach out across the oceans to better understand how all of this began in the United States: the assigning of meaning to unchangeable physical characteristics, the pyramid passed down through the centuries that defines and directs politics and policies and personal interactions. What are the origins and workings of the hierarchy that intrudes upon the daily life and life chances of every American? That had intruded upon my own life with disturbing regularity and consequences?” p27

Major themes


  • “A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the resumed 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.” P17

  • “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.” P17

  • “The caste system in America is four hundred years old and will not be dismantled by a single law or anyone one person, no matter how powerful. We have seen in the years since the civil rights era that laws, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, can be weakened if there is not the collective will to maintain them. A caste system persists in part because we, each and every one of us, allow it to exist–in large and small ways, in our everyday actions, in how we elevate or demean, embrace or exclude, on the basis of the meaning attached to people’s physical traits. If enough people buy into the lie of natural hierarchy, then it becomes the truth or is assumed to be.” P380


Chapter 1: The Afterlife of Pathogens.

  • “That summer and into the fall and ensuing years to come, amid talk of Muslim bans, nasty women, border walls, and shithole nations, it was common to hear in certain circles the disbelieving cries, “This is not America,” or “I don’t recognize my country,” or This is not who we are.” Except that this was and is our country and this was and is who we are, whether we have known or recognized it or not.” P4

Chapter 2: An Old House and an Infrared Light.

  • [see p17 in Major Themes]

Chapter 3: An American Untouchable.

  • “Before the modern era, one of the earliest Americans to take up the idea of caste was Charles Sumner as he fought against segregation in the north. ‘The separation of children in the Public Schools of Boston, on account of color or race,’ he wrote, ‘is in the nature of Caste, and on this account is a violation of Equality.’” P24

  • “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 lead him to the realization that the most accurate term to describe the workings of American society was not race, but caste...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.’ ’ ” p24

  • “The South is where the majority of the subordinate caste was consigned to live for most of the country’s history and for that reason is where the caste system was formalized and most brutally enforced.” P29


Chapter 4: A Long-Running Play and the Emergence of Caste in America.

  •  “With the first rough attempts at a colonial census, conducted in Virginia in 1630, a hierarchy began to form. Few Africans were seen as significant enough to be listed in the census by name, as would be the case for the generations to follow, in contrast to the majority of European inhabitants, indentured or not. The Africans were not cited by age or arrival date as were the Europeans, information vital to setting the terms and timeframe of indenture for Europeans, or for Africans, had they been in the same category, been seen as equal, or seen as needing to be accurately accounted for.” P41

  • “At first, religion, not race as we now know it, defined the status of people in the colonies. Christianity, as a proxy for Europeans, generally exempted European workers from lifetime enslavement. This initial distinction is what condemned, first, indigenous people, and, then, Africans, most of whom were not Christian upon arrival, to the lowest rung of an emerging hierarchy before the concept of race had congealed to justify their eventual and total debasement.” P41-42

  • “This was what the United States was for longer than it was not. It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United States that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United States will have been an independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on its soil.” P48

  • “It would take a civil war, the deaths of three-quarters of a million soldiers and civilians, the assassination of the president, Abraham Lincoln, and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to bring the institution of enslavement in the United States of America to an end. For a brief window of time, the twelve years known as Reconstruction, the North sought to rebuild the South and help the 4 million people who had been newly liberated. But the federal government withdrew for political expediency in 1877, and left those in the subordinate caste in the hands of the very people who had enslaved them.” P48

  • “Germans gained acceptance as part of the dominant caste in the 1840s, according to immigration and legal scholar Ian Haney Lopez, the Irish in the 1850s to 1880s, and the eastern and southern Europeans in the early twentieth century. It was in becoming American that they became white.” P49

  • When talking to a Nigerian born playwright, Wilkerson noted something she had not realized before: “Africans are not black…They don’t become black until they go to America or come to the U.K.” p53

Chapter 6: The Measure of Humanity.

  •  “The idea of race is a recent phenomenon in human history. It dates to the start of the transatlantic slave trade and thus to the subsequent caste system that arose from slavery. The word race likely derived from the Spanish word raza and was originally used to refer to the “‘caste or quality of authentic courses,’ which are branded with an iron so as to be recognized,” wrote the anthropologists Audrey and Brian Smedley. As Europeans explored the world, they began using the word to refer to the new people they encountered.” P65

  • “The modern-day version of easily deniable racism may be able to cloak the invisible structure that created and maintains hierarchy and inequality. But caste does not allow us to ignore structure. Cast is structure. Cast is ranking. Cast is the boundaries that reinforce the fixed assignments based upon what people look like.” P71

Chapter 7: Through the Fog of Delhi to the Parallels in India and America.

  • “Both countries have since abolished the formal laws that defines their caste systems–the United States in a series of civil rights laws in the 1960s and India decades before, in the 1940s, but both caste systems live on in the hearts and habits, institutions and infrastructures. Both countries still live with the residue of codes that prevailed for far longer than they have not.” P75

Chapter 8: The Nazis and the Acceleration of Caste.

  • “The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville toured antebellum America in the 1830s and observed that only the ‘surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint.’” P79

  • “As cataclysmic as the Nuremberg Laws were, the Nazis had not gone as far with the legislation as their research into America had taken them. What did not gain traction on the day of the closed-door session or in the final version of the Nuremberg Laws was one aspect of the American system. While the Nazis praised ‘the American commitment to legislating racial purity,’ they could not abide ‘the unforgiving hardness’ under which ‘‘an American man or woman who has even a drop of Negro blood in their veins’ counted as blacks,’ Whitman wrote. ‘The one-drop rule was too harsh for the Nazis.” P88

Chapter 9: The Evil of Silence.

  • Wilkerson describes lynching postcards in America. Time magazine wrote: “Even the Nazis did not stoop to selling souvenirs of Auschwitz.” P93


Pillar Number One: Divine Will and the Laws of Nature

  • “As the riches from the slave trade from Africa to the New World poured forth to the Spaniards, to the Portuguese, to the Dutch, and lastly to the English, the biblical passage would be summons to condemn the children of Ham [Old Testament character who bore black skin] and to justify the kidnap and enslavement of millions of human beings, and the violence against them.” P103

  • “They found further comfort in Leviticus, which exhorted them, ‘Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.” This they took as further license to enslave those they considered religious heathens to build a new country out of wilderness.” P103

  • “And so we have what could be called the first pillar of caste, Divine Will and the Laws of Nature, the first of the organizing principles inherent in any caste system.” P104

Pillar Number Two: Heritability

  • “You were born to a certain caste and remained in that caste, subject to the high status or low stigma it conferred, for the rest of your days and into the lives of your descendants. Thus, heritability became the second pillar of caste” p105

  • “If you can act your way out of it, then it is class, not caste.” P106

Pillar Number Three: Endogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating

  • “The framers of the American caste system took steps, early in its founding, to keep the castes separate and to seal off the bloodlines of those assigned to the upper rung. This desire led to the third pillar of cast –endogamy, which means restricting marriage to people within the same caste. This is an ironclad foundation of any caste system, from ancient India, to the early American colonies, to the Nazi regime in Germany. Endogamy was brutally enforced in the United States for the vast majority of its history and did the spade work for current ethnic divisions.” P109

  • “It builds a firewall between castes and becomes the primary means of keeping resources and affinity within each tier of the caste system. Endogamy, by closing off legal family connection, blocks the chance for empathy or a sense of shared destiny between the castes. It makes it less likely that someone in the dominant caste will have a personal stake in the happiness, fulfillment, or well-being of anyone deemed beneath them or personally identify with them or their plight. Endogamy, in fact, makes it more likely that those in the dominant caste will see those deemed beneath them as not only less than human but as an enemy, as not of their kind, and as a threat that must be held in check at all costs.” P109

  • “Alabama, the last state to do so, did not throw out its laws against intermarriage until the year 2000. Even then, 40 percent of the electorate in that referendum voted in favor of keeping the marriage ban on the books.” P111

Pillar Number Four: Purity Versus Pollution

  • “The fourth pillar of caste rests upon the fundamental belief in the purity of the dominant caste and the fear of pollution from the castes deemed beneath it.” P115

  • “While all the countries in the New World created hierarchies with Europeans on top, the United States alone and created a system based on racial absolutism, the idea that a single drop of African blood, or varying percentages of Asian or Native American blood, could taint the purity of someone who might otherwise be presumed to be European, a stain that would thus disqualify the person from admittance to the dominant caste.” P121

  • “The country tried to block the flow of Chinese immigrants into the western states with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Then it turns to the immigrants arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe…” p123

  • “The findings set the stage for the 1924 Immigration Act, which restricted immigration to quotas based on the demographics of 1890–that is, before Poles, juice, Greeks, Italians, and others outside of Western Europe had arrived in great numbers.” P123

  • “African-Americans were not just not citizens, they were, like their Dalit counterparts in India, forced outside the social contract.” P128

  • “Well into the civil rights era, the caste system excluded African-Americans from the daily activities of the general public in the South, the region where most of them lived.” P129

Pillar Number Five: Occupational Hierarchy: The Jatis and the Mudsill

  • “In so doing, he defined the fifth pillar of caste, the division of labor based on one’s place in the hierarchy. Therein, he identified the economic purpose of a hierarchy to begin with, that is, to ensure that the tasks necessary for a society to function get handled whether or not people wish to do them, in this case, by being born to the disfavored sill plate.” P132

  • “The historic association between menial labor and blackness served to further entrap black people in a circle of subservience in the American mind. They were punished for being in the condition that they were forced to endure. And the image of servitude shadowed them into freedom.” P135

Pillar Number Six: Dehumanization and Stigma

  • “Dehumanization is a standard component in the manufacture of an out-group against which to pit an in-group, and it is a monumental task. It is a war against truth, against what the eye can see and what the heart could feel if allowed to do so on its own.” P141

  • “A caste system relies on dehumanization to lock the marginalized outside of the norms of humanity so that any action against them is seen as reasonable.” P142

  • “Individuality, after all, is a luxury afforded [to] the dominant cast. Individuality is the first distinction lost to the stigmatized.”p142

  • “At the depths of their dehumanization, both Jews and African-Americans were subjected to gruesome medical experimentation at the hands of dominant-caste physicians.” P147

  • “A certain kind of violence was part of an unspoken curriculum for generations of children in the dominant caste. ‘White culture desensitized children to racial violence,’ wrote the historian Kristina DuRocher, ‘so they could perpetuate it themselves one day.’ ” p150

Pillar Number Seven: Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control

  • “The only way to keep an entire group of sentient beings in an artificially fixed place, beneath all others and beneath their own talents, is with violence and terror, psychological and physical, to preempt resistance before it can be imagined. Evil asks little of the dominant caste other than to sit back and do nothing.” P151

  • “Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe, African-Americans in the antebellum and Jim Crow South, and the Dalits in India were all at the mercy of people who had been fed a diet of contempt and hate for them, and had incentive to try to prove their superiority by joining in or acquiescing to cruelties to their fellow humans.” P151

  • “Nazi Germany and the American South devised shockingly similar means of punishment to instill terror in the subordinate caste…Both the Germans in the Nazi era and the descendants of the Confederacy used ritualized torture for arbitrary infractions, some as minor as stealing shoes or pocket change or, in the case of the American South, for acting out of one’s place.” p154

Pillar Number Eight: Inherit superiority versus Inherent Inferiority


Chapter 11: Dominant Group Status Threat and the Precarity of the Highest Rung.

  • “If the lower-caste person manages actually to rise above an upper-caste person, the natural human response from someone weaned on their caste’s inherent superiority is to perceive a threat to their existence, a heightened sense of unease, of displacement, of fear for their very survival. ‘If the things that I have believed are not true, then might I not be who I thought I was?’ ” P183

  • “Once labor, housing, and schools finally began to open up to the subordinate caste, many working-and middle-class whites begin to perceive themselves to be worse off, by comparison, and to report that they have experienced more racism than African-Americans, unable to see the inequities that persist, often in their favor.” P186

Chapter 12: A Scapegoat to Bear the Sins of the World.

  • “A caste system gives us false comfort, makes us feel that the world is in order, that we automatically know the good guys from the bad guys.” P196

Chapter 14: The Intrusion of Caste in Everyday Life.

  • “After the 2016 election, the surveillance of black citizens by white strangers became so common feature of American life that these episodes have inspired memes of their own, videos is gone viral, followed by apologies from management or an announcement of company-wide diversity training. People in the dominant caste have been caught on video inserting themselves into the everyday lives of black people they do not know and calling the police on them…” p216

  • “This was the thievery of caste, stealing the time and psychic resources of the marginalized, draining energy in an already uphill competition. They were not, like me, frozen and disoriented, trying to make sense of a public violation that seemed all the more menacing now that I could see it in full. The quiet mundanity of that terror has never left me, the scars outliving the cut.” P223

Chapter 15: The Urgent Necessity of a Bottom Rung.

  • “It turns out that the greatest threat to a caste system is not lower-caste failure…but lower-caste success…Achievement by those in the lowest caste goes against the script handed down to us all. It undermines the core assumptions upon which a caste system is constructed and to which the identities of people on all rungs of the hierarchy are linked. Achievement by marginalized people who step outside the roles expected of them puts things out of order and triggers primeval and often violent backlash.” P224

  • “But a 2017 study by Travis Dixon at the University of Illinois found that African Americans account 59 percent of the poor people depicted in the news. White families make up two-thirds of America’s poor, at 66 percent, but account for only 17 percent of poor people depicted in the news.” P234

Chapter 16: Last Place Anxiety: Packed in a Flooding Basement.

  • Wilkerson makes an important point: “This phenomenon runs across levels of marginalization. The supervisor of the officers at the chokehold death of Eric Garner was a black woman. The people hardest on women employees can sometimes be women supervisors under pressure from and vying for the approval of male bosses in a male-dominated hierarchy in which fewer women are allowed to rise. Each of these cases presents a complicated story that presumably dismisses race or sex as a factor, but one that makes perfect sense, and maybe only makes sense, when seen through the lens of a cast system.” P243

  • “The enforcers of caste come in every color, creed, and gender. One does not have to be in the dominant caste to do its bidding. In fact, the most potent instrument of the caste system is a sentinel at every rung, whose identity forswears any accusation of discrimination and helps keep the caste system humming.” P244

Chapter 17: On the Early Front Lines of Caste.

  • “In 1941, as the United States prepared to enter the Second World War, the Davis and Gardner team emerged with perhaps the most comprehensive study to date of the American caste system. The volume was 538 pages long and titled Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class. It described the layers of social classes within the two major castes in America– white and black people.” The team suggested “the caste system and the economic system reinforce each other.” P251

  • “Of the major scholars of the American South in the first half of the twentieth century, he and his wife [Allison Davis and Mary Gardner] were among the only field researchers who labored under the cloud of caste subordination themselves. Their work would end up inspiring St. Clair Drake, Stokely Carmichael, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others, all of whom read his work as undergraduates and saw themselves in his analysis.” P256

  • “Allison Davis was nearly lost to history, but he has become a champion to current-day researchers who seek to understand the infrastructure of our divisions. He brought a singular depth of commitment to understanding the caste system in hopes of defeating it. He had taken on the challenge as if his life had depended upon it, because in a very real way, it did.” P256


  • “Everything that happens to the Jews of Europe, to African-Americans during the lynching terrors of Jim Crow, to Native Americans as their land was plundered and their numbers decimated, to Dalits considered so low that their very shadows polluted those deemed above them–happened because a big enough majority had been persuaded and had been open to being persuaded, centuries ago or in the recent past, that these groups were ordained by God as beneath them, subhuman, deserving of their fate.” P266

  • “It is harder to focus on the danger of common will, the weakness of the human immune system, the ease with which the toxins can infect succeeding generations. Because it means the enemy, the threat, is not one man, it is us, all of us, lurking in humanity itself.” P266

Chapter 20: The Inevitable Narcissism of Caste.

  • “History has shown that nations and groups will conquer, colonize, enslave, and kill to maintain the illusion of their primacy. Their investment in this illusion gives them as much of a stake in the inferiority of those deemed beneath them as in their own presumed superiority…Thus, when under threat, they are willing to sacrifice themselves and their ideals for the survival of the group from which they draw their self-esteem…In modern times, this kind of group narcissism has gripped two nations in particular, according to [psychologist Erich] Fromm: ‘the racial narcissism which existed in Hitler’s Germany, and which is found in the American South,’ he wrote in 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement.” P270-271

  • “A group whipped into narcissistic fervor ‘is eager to have a leader with whom it can identify,’ Fromm wrote. ‘The leader is then admired by the group which projects its narcissism onto him.” The right kind of leader can inspire a symbiotic connection that supplants logic. The susceptible group sees itself in the narcissistic leader, becomes one with the leader, sees his fortunes and his fate as their own.” P271

Chapter 22: The Stockholm Syndrome and the Survival of the Subordinate Caste.

  • “ ‘What White people are really asking for when they demand forgiveness from a traumatized community is absolution,’ [essayist Roxane] Gay wrote. ‘They want absolution from the racism that infects us all even though forgiveness cannot reconcile America’s racist sins.’ ” p289

Chapter 23: Shock Troops on the Borders of Hierarchy.

  • “But there was more to it than that. Free blacks were an affront to the caste system, always brushing against its borders. By their very existence, moving about as equals to the dominant caste, having the means to enter spaces considered the preserve of their betters, and having had the ingenuity to gain their freedom and to walk around in it, they through the entire caste belief system into question. If people in the lowest caste had the capacity to be equal, why were they being enslaved? If they were smart enough to do something other than pick cotton or scrub floors, why then were they picking cotton and scrubbing floors? It was to mind-twisting to contemplate.” P293

Chapter 24: Cortisol, Telomeres, and the Lethality of Caste.

  • “On the other side of the caste system, scientists have connected a key indicator of health and longevity–the length of human telomeres–to one’s exposure to inequality and discrimination, primarily focusing on the telomere lengths of African-Americans…It is a measure of premature aging of the cells, and thus of the person bearing those cells, and of the early onset of disease due to chronic exposure to such stressors as discrimination, job loss, or obesity.” P305

  • “People who face discrimination, Williams said, often build up a layer of unhealthy fat, known as visceral fat, surrounding vital organs, as opposed to subcutaneous fat, just under the skin. It is this visceral fat that raises the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in leads to premature death.” P306-307

  • “The average white American age twenty-five is likely to live five years longer than the average African-American.” P307


Chapter 25: A Change in the Script.

  • “In more than half century since that prophecy of 1964 [Civil Rights Act], no Democrat running for president has ever won a majority of the white vote.” p315

  • “A new party of right-wing detractors arose in his wake, the Tea Party, vowing to ‘take our country back.’ A separate movement of skeptics, who would come to be known as birthers, challenged the legitimacy of his citizenship and required him to produce an original birth certificate that they still chose to disbelieve. His opponents called him the ‘food stamp’ president and depicted the president and the First Lady as simians. At opposition rallies, people brandished guns and bore signs calling for ‘Death to Obama.’ In response to his election, Republicans began changing election laws, making it harder to vote. They did so even more vigorously after the Supreme Court overturned a section of the Voting Rights Act, removing federal election oversight that the states, each with a history of obstructing the minority vote, said was no longer needed.” P318

Chapter 26: Turning Point and the Resurgence of Caste.

  • “Caste does not explain everything in American life, but no aspect of American life can be fully understood without considering caste and embedded hierarchy.” P324

  • “Why, some people on the left kept asking, why, oh, why, where these people voting against their own interests? The questioners on the left were unseeing and yet so certain. What they had not considered was that the people voting this way were, in fact, voting their interests. Maintaining the caste system as it had always been was in their interest.” P327

  • “White men voted for Trump at 62 percent. White women at 53 percent. Latino man at 32 percent. Latina women at 25 percent. African-American men at 13 percent, in black women at 4 percent.” P330

Chapter 27: The Symbols of Caste.

  • “Germany has no monuments that celebrate the Nazi armed forces, however many grandfathers fought or fell for them. Rather than honor supremacists with statues on pedestals, Germany, after decades of silence and soul-searching, chose to erect memorials to the victims of its aggressions and to the courageous people who resisted the man who inflicted the atrocities on human beings.” P346

  • Wilkerson lays out the gist of the chapter: “In Germany, restitution has rightly been paid, and continues to be paid, to survivors of the Holocaust. In America, it was the slaveholders who got restitution, not the people whose lives and wages were stolen from them for twelve generations. Those who instilled terror on the lowest caste over the following century after the formal end of slavery, those who tortured and killed humans before thousands of onlookers or who aided and abetted those lynchings or who looked the other way, well into the twentieth century, not only went free but rose to become leading figures –southern governors, senators, sheriffs, businessmen, mayors.” P347

Chapter 28: Democracy on the Ballot.

  • Wilkerson refers to the song Amazing Grace as “a quest for absolution by the captain of the slaving ship.” A slight clarification on this, from the Library of Congress website, this song was actually written decades before John Newton turned against The slave trade. It was written about his many brushes with death.

  • Taylor branch, a historian of the civil rights movement, noted “So the real question would be… if people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?” p352

Chapter 29: The Price We Pay for a Caste System.

  • “A caste system builds rivalry and distrust and lack of empathy toward one’s fellows. The result is that the United States, for all its wealth and innovation, lags in major indicators of quality of life among the leading countries in the world.” P354-355

  • “There are more public mass shootings in America than in any other country, and the United States has one of the highest rates of gun deaths in the developed world, according to the World Health Organization…The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, higher than that of Russia and China, with a rate of 655 per 100,000…American women are more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in other wealthy nations…Life expectancy in the United States is the lowest among be eleven highest-income countries…Infant mortality in the United States is highest among the richest nations…American students scored near the bottom in industrialized nations in mathematics and reading.” P355


Epilogue. A World Without Caste.

  • Wilkerson details how proactive Albert Einstein was for black rights in America: “He co-chaired a committee to end lynching. He joined the NAACP. He spoke out on behalf of civil rights activists, lend his fame to their cause. At a certain point in his life, he rarely accepted the many honors that came his way, but in 1946 he made an exception for Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania. He agreed to deliver the commencement address and to accept an honorary degree there.” Einstein noted: “The separation of the races is not a disease of the colored people… but a disease of the white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.” P379

  • “The tyranny of caste is that we are judged on the very things we cannot change: a chemical in the epidermis, the shape of one’s facial features, the signposts on our bodies of gender and ancestry–superficial differences that have nothing to do with who we are inside.” P379-380

  • Wilkerson lays out the gist of the book: “The caste system in America is four hundred years old and will not be dismantled by a single law or anyone one person, no matter how powerful. We have seen in the years since the civil rights era that laws, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, can be weakened if there is not the collective will to maintain them. A caste system persists in part because we, each and every one of us, allow it to exist–in large and small ways, in our everyday actions, in how we elevate or demean, embrace or exclude, on the basis of the meaning attached to people’s physical traits. If enough people buy into the lie of natural hierarchy, then it becomes the truth or is assumed to be.” P380

  • “The goal of this work has not been to resolve all of the problems of a millennia-old phenomenon, but to cast a light onto its history, its consequences, and its presence in our everyday lives and to express hopes for its resolution.” P380

  • Wilkerson looks forward and attempts to predict how White America will maintain control in an ever diversifying country” “The definition of whiteness could well expand to confer honorary whiteness to those on the border–the lightest-skinned people of Asian or Latino descent or biracial people with a white parent, for instance–to increase the ranks of the dominant caste.” P382

  • “Before 1965, the year of the Voting Rights Act, the United States was neither a democracy nor a meritocracy, because the majority of its population was excluded from competition in most aspects of American life.” p384

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