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86 pages 2 hours read

Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Part 2, Chapters 7-9Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2: “The Arbitrary Construction of Human Divisions”

Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary: “Through the Fog of Delhi to the Parallels of India and America”

Wilkerson describes her first trip to India in 2018, struck by the pollution and the traffic. She points out that her journey was a quest for similarity, as both India and the United States “adopted social hierarchies and abide great chasms between the highest and the lowest in their respective lands” (74). Furthermore, “The younger country, the United States, would become the most powerful democracy on earth. The older country, India, the largest” (74). Both countries have abolished the legal structures of their caste systems, but their legacies persist in social and cultural life. Resistance to egalitarian policy has proliferated in both countries also:

What is called ‘affirmative action’ in the United States is called ‘reservations’ in India, and they are equally unpopular with the upper castes in both countries, language tracking in lockstep, with complaints of reverse discrimination in one and reverse casteism in the other (75).

Despite substantive overlaps, caste in India is far more elaborate, with “thousands of subcastes” in contrast to the American system that rests primarily on Whiteness (75). India’s caste system is distinguishable from surnames rather than skin color and to some degree on dress, accent, and occupation. Its ideological basis is Hinduism.

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