Race creates a two-level caste system in the US, which the Nazis borrowed from

Fresh Air interviews Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Elizabeth Wilkerson abut her book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which “examines the laws and practices that created a bipolar caste system in the U.S. — and how the Nazis borrowed from it.” www.npr.org/2020/08/0…

Blacks do seem to occupy a unique and permanent place in American hierarchy that might be more usefully described as caste rather than racial terms.

One important benefit to distinguishing race from caste: “Caste” calls structural racism into attention. A White person might be completely without racism and yet still benefit from structural racism inherent in their society.

Race, caste and class are three intersecting but different categories.

Wilkerson, interviewed here, draws an interesting distinction between race and class. A person can be a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, like her – occupying a high class in society – and still face obstacles because of race.

She tells a story about a shopkeeper who was eager to be interviewed when they spoke on the phone, but when she showed up to do the interview in person, he insisted she leave – he refused to believe that she was the New York Times journalist he had spoken to (which, to be clear, she was). He kept telling her she had to leave because he was expecting to do a very important interview. And she kept saying, yes, SHE was the journalist doing the interview.

Two questions unanswered from this interview with Wilkerson: Did she find the experience humiliating?

And what did the shopkeeper think when he realized that she was the person who was supposed to do the interview, and instead he’d thrown her out of the store? I expect he must of known it was her and would not admit to that knowledge because he didn’t want to admit to being racist.

If I’m expecting to be interviewed and somebody shows up at the time of the interview, they announce themselves as the journalist doing the interview, and they show me a driver’s license with the same name as the journalist I’m expecting, I would have to be wilfully obtuse to insist that person is lying.

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner