Sunday, October 4, 2020

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. 

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