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CASTE Handout part one

Caste handout - Part One
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Book Discussion: Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson

PART ONE: Toxins in the Permafrost and Heat Rising All Around

Chapter One: The Afterlife of Pathogens

The Vitals of History

Chapter Two: An Old House an Infrared Light

Chapter Three: An American Untouchable

An Invisible Program


The first part of Caste has Isabel Wilkerson offering use of a very broad picture of the architecture of caste and a sense of the history of caste. She urges us to take a dispassionate but realistic view of the issues thrown up by reactions to the Obama and Trump administrations and to challenge our own beliefs about how distant the issue of race had really been during the years 2008 to 2016.

She also introduces us to the Indian caste system, which she holds as an overt example of modern caste with the camouflage taken off, and invites us to examine the structure and compare it to what we see in America every day. Hopefully, she concludes, in examining such structures we will see the vast amount of work yet to be done to dispel these issues for future generations.

ACTIVITIES: will be presented during the group discussion of the book.


Key takeaways from Part One are:

  • The issues of caste are ancient

  • Caste is not an easy idea to get rid of

  • Much of the caste system in America is firmly ingrained in the American psyche

  • Caste and its resultant issues are central to American history

  • It takes an act of will to see how much the caste system in America affects everyday life, but once it is seen it is difficult to unsee.


These are actions suggested by the author to begin to integrate these ideas into our daily lives. We don’t plan to discuss this – but present it for personal reflection.

  • Going forward, avoid the assumption that the problems of caste go away without concerted effort.

  • Many people are not conscious of how they approach caste. Consider your own subconscious reactions and those of your friends, paying careful attention to those you might consider of a different, higher or lower caste to yourself.

  • Consider your own family background and ask how many of the mistakes made can be rectified or challenged by you as a descendent. Would you have spoken out or would you have fallen in line with the majority of the day out of convenience or fear?

  • Take the time to see how assumptions about race have affected the physical and social landscape in which you dwell. Always ask why a hierarchical structure is built the way it is.

Part Two: The Arbitrary Construction of Human Divisions, covers Chapters Four through Nine. It may make sense to have people sign up to read and report on one of those chapters, if it seems unlikely that anyone will be prepared to read and think about all of them prior to the Discussion.


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