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?

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