86 pages 2 hours read

Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Part 4, Preface-Chapter 12

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 4: “The Tentacles of Caste”

Part 4, Preface Summary: “Brown Eyes Versus Blue Eyes”

In the 1960s, an elementary school teacher named Jane Elliott conducted a caste experiment with her exclusively White students, telling them that brown-eyed people were inferior to blue-eyed people and segregating the children’s use of the water fountain and drinking cups accordingly. By recess, the children were using eye colors as insults, and this continued after Elliott switched which eye color carried which status. Elliott stated that she watched children become unable to focus when they were assigned to subordinate groups. She then turned to the system she had introduced her students to, asking, “if you do that for a lifetime, what do you suppose that does to them?” (169-170).

Part 4, Chapter 10 Summary: “Central Miscasting”

In December 2017, Wilkerson attended an international academic conference on caste, excited when she was able to sit in the front row without any pushback, as might have occurred in the US. She attended because she wanted to take a more systematic approach to her emerging feelings of overlap between Dalits and African Americans. The conference, too, proved riddled with hierarchy, as Wilkerson found when she faced the consequences of deliberately not mentioning her status as an award-winning author. She quickly found that professors were unwilling to share papers and were generally not friendly.