Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
In all three of my books, I felt that it was important to note who I am and the lenses through which I view my world. I am White. I communicate in English. I grew up and worked in a university town rich with diversity and resources. I have always had food on the table and a bed to sleep in. No matter, I’m fully aware that people around me may carry stereotypes about me as a deaf person. Some people assume that I am unable to read books above a fourth-grade level and that my college degrees were faked. And that I got my job as an educator through some sort of special quota. Some people even outright call me stupid and feel it as their prerogative to correct me, especially when I mispronounce words. Or some people declare that my story is wrong before I finish sharing. And some people take to task to put me right back where they think I belong. In the lowest caste. The caste that brings stigma, exclusion, and dehumanization. I have had a shopping cart rammed into my heels. I’ve had scary encounters with police. I’ve been physically pushed aside. I have been spat at. I have been literally told, inches from my face to make sure I understood, that I don’t matter or that I’m not worth it. While I certainly don’t want to make analogies to racism—for race and (dis)abilities are by far separate things (ie. being Black is not a disability)—I suspect the resulting feelings of marginalization, microaggressions, and discrimination are universal.
With detailed historical and current examples, Wilkerson points to similarities among caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany and the effects of hierarchy on our culture, politics, and humanity. She noted eight pillars that builds the foundations of caste systems, the difficulties of backlash, and how we can move forward toward fostering a world without caste. I feel the following page is the most crucial in embracing and sustaining the diversity among all of us:
What are some of the ways we can bring radical empathy to our lives?
PS: In a recent conversation about white supremacy and the capitol breach, I was asked about my last name. Wolter. It is indeed a very common German name. It is my married name. And despite being derogatively called a “Nazi” throughout his American childhood, my husband’s family were not duped to Hitler’s ideologies. My husband’s grandfather rowed his two sons safely out to the middle of a lake to whisper the inhumanity of the Nazi Germany caste system and what they would do to survive WWII. His family hid a Jewish bookkeeper at great danger to their lives. And stayed out of the army by first romping in a barn full of hay and showing up for duty with severe allergy symptoms or avoiding the opportunity for learning to fly sailplanes despite the much fun that first sounded. All of us can be disruptors of stereotypes, marginalization, and dehumanization when we catch our inner thoughts and listen heartfully to the lived stories that people share.