Saturday, October 31, 2020

Ruby Sales, Civil Rights Leader, "Where does it hurt?"



 Civil rights legend Ruby Sales learned to ask “Where does it hurt?” because it’s a question that drives to the heart of the matter — and a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now. Sales says we must be as clear about what we love as about what we hate if we want to make change. And even as she unsettles some of what we think we know about the force of religion in civil rights history, she names a “spiritual crisis of white America” as a calling of today.

For more click here.

In the time of Trumpism there is plenty of hurt to go around. Civil Rights leader, Ruby Sales, takes a different approach to the trauma of racism than to accuse, blame, and judge. She takes the road of compassion and asks all people, victims and victimizers, where does it hurt?

This On Being podcast is well worth listening to.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Symbols of Caste


 
Across the United States, there are more than seventeen hundred monuments to the Confederacy, monuments to a breakaway republic whose constitution and leaders were unequivocal in declaring the purpose of their new nation. “Its foundations are laid,” said Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, “its corner-stone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth….With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.”
 
Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste (Oprah's Book Club) (p. 335). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
 
With the glorification and honoring of perpetrators of treason and leaders of subjugation of Blacks, the Blacks in post civil war America had Confederate Leaders looking down on them from pedestals, forcing them to ride on roads dedicated to their honored memory as well as attend schools and do business in buildings named to honor their tormentors and oppressors. Even public holidays in some states such as Robert E Lee day in Mississippi and Alabama celebrate the leader of those who impose the caste system in their states. Flying of the Confederate flag until 2020, a symbol of oppression and subjugation, was a daily reminder of the values and status of the ranks of the caste system unless anyone forget their place.
 
Is it way past time to remove these symbols of the caste system on which America built its civilization? Are we to be a better nation where the inherent worth and dignity of all people is affirmed and promoted rather than denied and denigrated?



Thursday, October 29, 2020

Is the caste system immoral and a sign of spiritual impoverishment?


 
Question - What do you think? Are Trumpists just ignorant and don't realize they are being conned or do they have some other incentive in voting for his authoritarian view of government?
 
Answer - Heck yes the Trumpists vote for their interests! Their interests have to do with keeping Christian prayer and Christmas in schools. They want to keep abortion illegal. They want to keep taxes low for a variety of reasons - some don’t want to pay for anyone’s welfare at all, while others want to keep the money to pay for their kids’ education or a decent neighborhood.  (This is true of high-caste, middle-caste and low-caste). 
 
The Trumpists interests are about hiring whomever they want to hire whether that person is best for the job or she’s their sister-in-law.  They want to keep criminals locked up.  They want to keep their guns to protect their homes and families.  They choose their jobs over the unnecessary environmental regulations. Dad would have a new pick-up if he didn’t have to pay $400 in taxes out of his paycheck and for what? 
 
The masks are a symbol but the people are killing themselves to make their symbolic statement. It’s like “Don’t Tread on Me.”  There are people who do NOT want the government controlling so much of their lives and charging big bucks to do it.  They want the government controlling criminals - not guns - not Bibles - not their small business. 
 
Comment - Very good summary of the incentives of Trumpists. They are the descendants of the Reagan Republicans who were taught that government is the problem not the solution and it's every person for him or herself. I think about this attitude as a moral and spiritual issue not only a political and sociological one.
 
America has always been a highly immoral nation when it comes to human rights and its economic system. With all the religiosity one might think that American values would be more just, equitable, and compassionate, the the Christianity these folks proclaim is not anything that Jesus would recognize as being based on His teachings.
 
I think Marianne Williamson had it right when she said that the United States needs a moral and spiritual revolution. How low will America have to go before it dawns on us that we cannot continue down this path of avarice and judgmentalism and a subjugating caste system?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

What fuels the support for the Trumpist view of a racist America?

 

 
Why, some people on the left kept asking, why, oh, why, were these people voting against their own interests? The questioners on the left were unseeing and yet so certain. What they had not considered was that the people voting this way were, in fact, voting their interests. Maintaining the caste system as it had always been was in their interest. And some were willing to accept short-term discomfort, forgo health insurance, risk contamination of the water and air, and even die to protect their long-term interest in the hierarchy as they had known it.
 
Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste (Oprah's Book Club) (p. 327). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
 
What do you think? Are Trumpists just ignorant and don't realize they are being conned or do they have some other incentive in voting for his authoritarian view of government?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Whiteness or democracy?




 "So the real question would be," he(historian, Taylor Branch) finally said, "if people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?" Caste by Isabel Wilkerson,  p.352

The Republicans have chosen whiteness, the evidence of which is the voter suppression they have enacted in states where they are in control.

Is Taylor Branch correct in his prediction observation? In seven days we'll know the answer.





Is the United States a nation of hypocrites?




 
Comment -  think the Democrats have got over their idea that just because someone looks ahead in the polls doesn’t mean that will actually play out in the ballots.
 
Response -  Wilkerson mentions the Bradley effect on p 327 which is a reference to the phenomenon of people lying to pollsters because they want to be politically correct but in private they vote along caste (racist in America's case) lines whether consciously or unconsciously. 
 
Wilkerson describes group identity, and whites are going to stick up for whites at the expense of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, etc. People deny they are racist but they support the caste system and it is the caste system which made America great for whites by subjugating nonwhites in numerous ways justifying it as nonwhites being inferior and even subhuman.. 
 
This then leads to the 2042 phenomenon when whites numerically will become the minority race in the US. Whites are scared of being subjugated by nonwhites and sinking to the bottom of the newly emerging caste system in which they will get what they have been dishing out for 400 years.
 
So whites will support Trump at all costs, even the loss of their health insurance, a decrease in income, a more polarized society, even the loss of their democracy itself.
 
To be honest, whites have never believed in democracy unless the cards were dealt in their favor so they could cheat at the expense of nonwhites. Now that true democratic processes threaten change they work strenuously to suppress it. There has never been in the world a bigger group of hypocrites.

Monday, October 26, 2020

It is extremely important to vote in 2020 to undo the caste system.

 In Chapter Twenty Six, Turning Point and Resurgence In Caste,  Wilkerson makes the case for her argument that whites elected Trump in 2016 to maintain their dominance in the caste system. Will they do it again in 2020?



Sunday, October 25, 2020

Get your black lives matter lawn sign.

 

Are police killings of blacks today the same as lynchings in the past?

 



Comment - I finished the book yesterday, and I think I can comment on the number if lynching examples Wilkerson is giving.   She equates them with the number of police shootings nowadays. As symptomatic of the same disease but adjusted for the times.  


Response to the comment - I am not sure how the police killings today are the same as the lynchings of the past. They seem quite different to me. Lynchings of the past were intentional, premeditated, group mob mentality, and extrajudicial. The police killings of today seem in the moment, inappropriate behavior of State actors and are sworn officers carrying out official, state actioned activities of policing. 


Police killings are governmental malpractice. Lynchings of old were people engaging in vigilante activities outside of the law. Jurisdictions where police killings occur pay huge civil penalties for wrongful deaths even though there rarely is a criminal penalty for the killers.


RSR book discussion for November 2020 - How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram K. Kendi

 The book of the month for November 2020 will be How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram K. Kendi. Buy your copy now so you can join in our discussion.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The eight pillars of the American caste system



The eight pillars of the caste system

There are many aspects to a caste system but the most basic, the most fundamental are its structural components. Isabel Wilkerson, in her book Caste, identifies these components which she calls “pillars” and she names eight:
  1. Divine will and the laws of nature
  2. Heritability
  3. Endogamy and control of marriage and mating
  4. Purity vs. pollution
  5. Occupational hierarchy
  6. Dehumanization and stigma
  7. Terror of enforcement, cruelty as means of control
  8. Inherent superiority vs inherent inferiority
Naming the components makes the system stand out in a much clearer way. The saying is “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” When we are caught up in the caste system, we are too close to it to see it in perspective. If we are conscious of it at all, it is only the part of the elephant that we are in contact with.

As a white baby boomer living in the United States, I have been aware of the bits and pieces but have never had such a clear understanding of the structure which undergirds the system before. Wilkerson’s description of these eight elements make the unconscious conscious. Naming the pillars makes it much easier to manage them and hopefully minimize or eliminate them from our society.

These pillars are what Emile Durkheim, the pioneering sociologist, might call “social facts.” Once we identify a social fact we can study it and manage it,
  1. How aware had you been of the pillars of our caste system in the United States before reading Wilkerson’s description of them?
  2. In what ways has being able to identify them led to your ability to manage them?
  3. Should this knowledge about our caste system be taught in our public schools?

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The goal is to change behavior not necessarily attitudes.




Martin Luther King, Jr. is reported as saying when asked how he would change the attitudes of racists, "Oh, I can't change their attitudes, I want to change their behavior."

His point, I think, is that you can't change prejudicial  attitudes but you can make discriminatory behavior illegal.

When behaviors become penalized they usually change even if begrudgingly.

Now, this assumes that the penalties for illegal behavior are enforced which often they are not at least for certain people who are above the law like Donald Trump who insists there are good people on both sides. As Ibram Kendi points out in his book How To Be An Antiracist there is not such thing as "not a racist." You either are a racist or an anti-racist. Not racist supports the status quo which is racist systematically.

The slogan, "Trump or Democracy," hasn't been used as much as it could and should because what we are facing is the choice of an authoritarian government or the rule of law. The Republicans have chosen the authoritarian route as long as they can retain power. It is up to the citizens of this country to choose what kind of government they want: the cult of personality or the rule of law. It's as simple as that.

Either you support what Isabel Wilkerson calls our caste system upon which the United States has been built or you object to it and work to change it.

Unitarian Universalists covenant together to affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Will you join us?



Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Nazis learned much of what they knew about racial persecution from the United States



By the time that Hitler rose to power, the United States “was not just a country with racism,” Whitman, the Yale legal scholar, wrote. “It was the leading racist jurisdiction—so much so that even Nazi Germany looked to America for inspiration.” The Nazis recognized the parallels even if many Americans did not.

Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste (Oprah's Book Club) (p. 81). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

As a student I learned about the horrors of the Nazi genocide, but nobody told me before Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste, in chapter eight, “The Nazies and the Acceleration of Caste”, that the system in the United States was the archytypcal model for the Nazis policies and practices.

The Nazis learned from Americans about how to differentiate racial categories with Blood Laws and Association Clauses. The Nazis learned about miscegenation laws, and how to restrict movement. The Nazis learned how to strike terror in the population to coerce compliance with their racial purity policies. 

The idea that the United States caste system with its policies and practices was the basis for the largest genocide in human history is appalling. And yet when one steps back and takes a look with perspective, its is easy to understand how the United States system of enslavement with the dehumanizing of groups of people allowing their exploitation, abuse, and subjugation,would lead to he Nazi genocide. The Nazi program became a logical development of such an ideology of dehumanization allowing for a set of cruel  and deadly practices.

  1. To what extent do you agree with Wilkeron’s analysis that  the policies that lead to the Nazi Holocaust were based on American policies and practices?
  2. Have you ever been taught or made aware of this connection before?
  3. We, Americans, embrace our exceptionalism when it comes to democratic values, but our economic system has been built on the most undemocratic practices of enslavement and separation of groups of people into a caste system which is rarely recognized and acknowledged. What do you think about reparations and nationally taking responsibility for atoning for our national sin of not only operating this system but exporting it to Europe?


Monday, October 5, 2020

What kind of a people are we?


The institution of slavery was, for a quarter millennium, the conversion of human beings into currency, into machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners, to be worked as long as the owners desired, who had no rights over their bodies or loved ones, who could be mortgaged, bred, won in a bet, given as wedding presents, bequeathed to heirs, sold away from spouses or children to cover an owner’s debt or to spite a rival or to settle an estate. They were regularly whipped, raped, and branded, subjected to any whim or distemper of the people who owned them. Some were castrated or endured other tortures too grisly for these pages, tortures that the Geneva Conventions would have banned as war crimes had the conventions applied to people of African descent on this soil.

Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste (Oprah's Book Club) (p. 45). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Wilkerson doesn’t mince her words like my history teachers did and movies like Gone With The Wind smoothed over. The story of American virtue and exceptionalism doesn’t hold up to the reality of how the economic power of our country was built and upon which it depends even to current times.

African Americans are still on the bottom rungs of the economic system which Americans, especially its presidents, like to brag about. The current President, Donald J. Trump, and his family’s wealth was built on discrimination against African Americans in their real estate leasing practices and in their labor and contracting practices.

Even when people didn’t own slaves such as in the northern states, they still processed cloth and clothing from cotton which was produced cheaply with slave labor, and northerners were primary investors in the capture and transport of slaves from Africa.

The idea that Africans were subhuman and property was enshrined in early versions of the American constitution and this assumption, the bedrock of America's economic system has continued to our present day and is a major factor in what we call “systemic racism.”

  1. How have you and your family benefited from the economic system based on slavery?
  2. What are the subtle ways that you have unknowingly participated in this system?
  3. To what extent do you believe in an economic system based on white supremacy?
  4. Have you read Thomas DeWolf’s book Inheriting The Trade about his family’s role in the slave trade in Rhode Island?

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The lynching of Isadore Banks

 I have been listening to the podcast series Unfinished: Deep South which tells the story of a wealthy African American, Isadore Banks, who was lynched in 1954 in Marion Arkansas because he was ascending in America's caste system which would not be tolerated by the white dominant rank of this caste system.

This podcast series seems to fit very well into this month's book, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.

Unfinished: Deep South tells the story of a wealthy African American farmer named Isadore Banks who was lynched in 1954. He owned more than 1,000 acres of land along the Arkansas Delta until it all disappeared with his death. In a quest to find his killers and unpack how his murder shattered a community, we’ll get to the heart of America’s unfinished business by asking ‘Who Lynched Isadore Banks?’  

Unfinished; Deep South

Caste and race are two different things: race operationalizes the caste system in the U.S.




Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. They can and do coexist in the same culture and serve to reinforce each other. Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place.

Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste (Oprah's Book Club) (p. 19). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

As Wilkerson describes the concept of the class organization of society as being a caste system she then goes on to described the social cues which help the person determine a person's categorization in that system. How is this categorization done in the Indian caste system? It is done by surname and other demographic characteristics. How was in done in Nazi Germany?  It was done by genealogical history in ethnic and religious groups. How is it done in America? It is done by racial physical characteristics primarily skin color, hair texture, and facial characteristics.

The criteria used to determine class categorization are the operative elements of the caste structure. The structure, using a bodily metaphor, are the bones, the skeleton, over which the cosmetic cueing system, skin color is placed.

These concepts of caste and race are similar to the idea of structure and process. The structure is constituted of the "bare bones" of the system, and the process is how the system is operated.

Another analogy might be the difference in computers between the hardware and the software. The hardware of the computer system is the caste, and the software that runs it in the U.S. is race.

Using this metaphor it helps us realize that the choice of race is an arbitrary operating system for a social structure named caste.

Wilkerson goes on to say that caste is the underlying grammar of a language we speak. The language we speak in the U.S. is racism. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Book discussion, Caste, Topic 2, The metaphors


Topic two
The metaphors

In part one of her book, Caste, Isabel Wilkerson introduces some interesting metaphors to elucidate the concept of “caste.” In the first chapter she uses a geological metaphor of toxins being released from melting permafrost. In chapter two she uses the architectural metaphor of an old house which, in its aging, manifests structural faults. In chapter three she discusses the concept of race which erantly is based on a concept of fundamental biological differences when there are none. She ends part one with a comparison of caste to the movie the Matrix in which the characters are programmed by a social construction outside their consciousness.

Caste systems, for the most part, operate in societies at an unconscious level. These systems are the “puppet master” as Wlikerson names it which allow the dominant class to maintain their power. Nowadays we call it “privilege.” Continuing with the reference to The Matrix, the characters in the film are offered the option of taking the red pill which would make them aware of the program manipulating them or the blue pill allowing them to continue in blissful ignorance.

Questions:
  1. To what extent do Wilkerson’s metaphors for caste resonate with you?
  2. Would you take the red pill or the blue pill?
  3. How is caste different from race and how do they interact?

Friday, October 2, 2020

Book discussion - Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

During the month of October, 2020, we will be discussing Isabel Wilkerson's book, Caste. You are invited to read a long and add your comments.




Because even if I should speak
no one would believe me.
And they would not believe me precisely because
they would know that what I said was true.
James Baldwin

As I read the first chapters of the book, Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson I keep thinking about this short poem by James Baldwin. “Caste” as Ms. Wilkerson defines the world is invisible to most people. They don’t see it. When characteristics of the caste system are pointed out they deny it or minimize and say “I don’t know what you’re talking about - that’s just how things are,” as if God ordained it and it were not a social construction created by human beings.

I learned about many of these characteristics of a caste system as “systemic racism” or simply “the system.” The concept of “caste” crystallizes this other concept of systemic racism in a much clearer, succinct, and focused way. Caste systems by their nature are invisible to most of the participants. It is the structure of societal power relations which has been justified as natural and/or God created.

The concept of a caste system, once you see it, will change your experience of your life. Nothing will be the same again. How has becoming aware of our caste system in America changed your consciousness? My reaction has been deep shame.