• December 8th, 2023
  • Friday, 07:34:00 PM

Let’s Continue the Racial Dialogue

Photo: Ramón Del Castillo
Ramón Del Castillo

Ramón Del Castillo, PhD


As Coloradoans enter into the circles of racial dialogue, aimed at ameliorating past and contemporary racial tensions, somewhat of a quixotic dream, they may want to read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, written by award winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. The book may uncover some of the mysteries regarding the intersection of race and class.


Engaging in racial dialogue is not going to be an easy task, especially if it is authentic as those who enter the circle confront their hidden prejudices, conscious and unconscious biases, and come face-to-face with systemic racism that was manufactured by white supremacists then embedded into the structures of American society. Maybe more than that, Wilkerson’s research may pressure participants to admit complicity in how systemic racism was created and maintained even by those who vociferously take issue with taking any of the blame.


The dialogue about class and caste should remain in the radar screen as the bold and the brave enter into unknown territory that exists in the minds and hearts of those that pretend to be superior to others.
The reckoning has arrived.


The author embarks into a fascinating study of the historical caste system that has governed India from time immemorial, arguing that the United States has always been a caste system, denied by many and hidden by a thin veil of white supremacy. Wilkerson argues that slaves, “the vast majority of African Americans who lived in this land in the first 246 years of what is now the United States lived under the terror of people who had absolute power over their bodies and their very breath, subject to people who faced no sanction for any atrocity they could conjure.” Whipping human beings into submission and masochism were common practices that kept slaves living in constant fear.


Wilkerson presents interesting narratives regarding the intersection of class, caste and race. A description of the similarities between the practice of casteism and classism poses interesting dynamics.  She argues that placement in a caste is a lifelong endeavor, with no way out.  Conversely, in a class system, where wealth, prestige, power and education determine your place on the social pyramid, she further states that there can be methods for upward mobility; not for everyone; but certainly for a select few. The ironclad tentacles of both systems inculcate a process that inhibits growth and development through a variety of mechanisms that become institutionalized, hidden in the fissures of society.


Wilkerson leaves no stone unturned as she delves into the caste system and the detrimental effects of the scandalous stench of racism—coupled with its internal destruction of those who have suffered from its ill effects. As she states, “Caste is more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an illusion of their own entitlement, the subordinate trapped in the purgatory of someone else’s definition of who they are and who they should be.” She unequivocally states, “Historically, caste trumps class.”


For Indigenous populations and the offspring of conquests, the mestizos, referred to as La Raza, the annihilation of its nations began in 1492 as documented by Bartolome de las Casas in The Devastation of the Indies: A brief Account. It is estimated that millions of human beings perished during the Conquests in Latin América. Those that withstood the brutal attacks were made slaves in their own lands through the development of the repartimiento and encomienda labor systems; a tradeoff was instigated wherein native men would work the gold and silver mines while women tended the fields. Libraries were destroyed and a historical forced assimilation process began. Other native populations suffered from the nefarious ramifications of land theft and murder. Wilkerson includes brief analyses regarding the caste system bestowed upon the aforementioned groups.


The history of African Americans is just as horrendous as Africans were yanked from their roots, brought into this hemisphere, and made slaves.  Through chattel slavery, they became private property at the whims of slaveholders that sold and traded slaves on the open market. Wilkerson traces policies and laws that were used to keep a supply of slaves as children born of slave women were automatic slaves for life. Women became incubators so that slave labor would remain in perpetuity.


According to Wilkerson, casteism, disguised by classism and garden variety psychological denial and projection and its many manifestations, has been and continues to be part of the American culture. She brilliantly compares and contrasts India’s caste system with América’s, with its superiority complex overshadowed by narcissism— “a complex condition of self-aggrandizing entitlement and disregard of others, growing out of hollow insecurity –as it applies to individuals.” She states that some scholars argue that malignant narcissism can penetrate a nation, a group, and a family, blinding those who adhere to it, with a belief that there is a superior race. And no matter how much White Supremacists have been negatively affected by the social ills of poverty and destitution, they can always boast that they are white; therefore, superior. Conversely, there is never a race to the top when this type of narcissism overtakes a society, those at the top of the heap utilize control to remain in power positions.


Essentially, in a caste system, those at the bottom of the pyramid “know their place,” conditioned by racism and socialization to accept their fate.  Whenever a person from the lower caste, steps out of line, there are structural elements, like a strong electromagnet, that pulls a person back into his or her place. Colorism was created within the camps of the oppressed, an illusion of sorts as groups stationed at the bottom of the caste system, attempted to rise in stature, believing they had elevated themselves, without actual movement. A 1913 prominent southern educator Thomas Pearce Bailey stated, “Let the lowest white man count for more than the highest negro.”  Such thinking was absorbed by the oppressed groups as colorism infiltrated the deepest parts of the oppressed soul, yearning to rise one notch above others, essentially believing this myth, with a deep desire to serve and please the master.  A craving to rise from the bottom is tantamount to pushing others downward.


The dialogue about class and caste should remain in the radar screen as the bold and the brave enter into unknown territory that exists in the minds and hearts of those that pretend to be superior to others.


The reckoning has arrived.


Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © June 3, 2021 Ramón Del Castillo.


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