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Caste Handout three

Part Three Study Guide. Caste
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Book Discussion: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

PART THREE: The Eight Pillars of Caste: the Origins of our Discontents

PILLAR ONE: Divine Will and the Laws of Nature

PILLAR TWO: Heritability

PILLAR THREE: Endogamy and the Control of Marriage & Mating

PILLAR FOUR: Purity versus Pollution

PILLAR FIVE: Occupational Hierarchy: The Jatis and the Mudsill

PILLAR SIX: Dehumanization & Stigma

PILLAR SEVEN: Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as Means of Control

PILLAR EIGHT: Inherent Superiority versus Inherent Inferiority

GOALS: These eight pillars are Isabel Wilkerson’s way of identifying the key concepts and markers of a caste system. She uses examples from history and across the globe and compares them with the American caste system to illustrate how dominant castes maintain their status. Religion, genetics, and mob mentality all play their part in supporting the caste system and each of these pillars must be interrogated and challenged if we are to live in a caste-free society.


  1. If much of your caste in inherited, what characteristics do your parents have that define your caste? Are there any that defines their caste but which you have shed?

  2. Wilkerson talks about the “choreography” of public transport in the 1960’s What are your expectations in public space about how you should be treated and how you should treat others?


Key Takeaways from Part Three

  • Religious texts can be used to reinforce preconceived notions of caste.

  • Your parents’caste can define your caste.

  • Who you fall in love with may subvert the caste system.

  • A caste system will call for bloodlines to be ‘pure’

  • Your career may sometimes by defined by your caste

  • The caste system seeks to dehumanize entire groups of people because that is easier than dehumanizing an individual.

  • Violence and punishment are likely to be used in a caste system.

  • Those seeking to maintain a caste system will use the sometimes comforting idea of fixed characteristics to achieve their goals.


These are actions suggested by the author to begin to integrate these ideas into our daily lives. They are offered for personal reflection and action

  • Interrogate your sacred texts or core beliefs and reframe them if you believe they may excuse the caste system.

  • Reject the idea that you may be stuck in a particular stratum of society due to who your parents are and what they look life.

  • Reject imaginary notions of bloodline ‘purity’ or race-mixing.

  • Avoid making assumptions about groups of people and look instead at individuals.

  • Be wary of everyone who uses violence to achieve their ends. Never excuse it.

  • Do not assume that your lot in life is fixed no matter how comforting the notion might be.


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