The Omnipresent Caste System in America

Raised fist, a symbol of strength and unity by Oladimeji Odunsi.

When it comes to the subject of activism and the act of combating systemic racism and oppression within our society, oftentimes the images of countless peaceful protesters and the idea of nonviolent resistance come to mind. Yet various literary and analytical texts are constantly overlooked, when in reality they also serve as effective methods of resisting injustice. Through forms of written communication, authors are able to successfully shed light upon significant matters by providing profound insight into these issues from their varying perspectives. For instance, the renowned nonfiction book by journalist Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, exemplifies her take on the issue of racial discrimination and the invisible, yet very real caste system in America. In a simple yet impressive manner, she leaves an extraordinary impression on readers and prompts them to question the society in which they live, and truly ponder how to create change within their community. 

By using effective analogies regarding the American racial caste system, Wilkerson allows readers to better understand the situation in which they live today. A metaphor that leaves a lasting impression is often difficult to accomplish, but she does it flawlessly. When Wilkerson writes, “Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away,” she refers to the racial issues that are engraved within our society. Battered by the acts of racism and discrimination throughout history, the “house” becomes riddled with problems (Wilkerson, 15). By comparing the progress of America to an old, dilapidated house, she expresses that avoiding these omnipresent issues will only allow the “house” to continue worsening, just as blatant, willful ignorance within our daily lives will only cause the racial caste system to further assimilate into the society and this notion to be passed down to the generations to come. Wilkerson makes clear the lasting, undying effects of the American caste system, and its shocking prevalence within our society.  

Indeed, these issues that were introduced centuries ago may not have a direct correlation with us today, but we cannot idly sit by and pretend as though all is well because failing to address these matters is equivalent to tolerating and fueling them. It is thus our duty, in this day and age, to gradually repair these issues and make forward progress in order to prevent the framework of the “house” from collapsing. As the longevity of hatred among humankind becomes increasingly evident, readers become aware that as members of American society, we must not remain ignorant.

Reframing race relations in America as a caste system allowed me, personally, to further realize and understand the discrimination that various racial groups face on a daily basis, and how deeply casteism is embedded into our society. The sheer amount of time that the American caste system has existed is utterly appalling, and even until this day, those that are not considered to be a part of the dominant caste face racial discrimination and oppression that we and future generations must fight against.

In the present day, while many are attempting to understand the challenges that others face regularly, certain racial stereotypes are still perceived as fixed standards and are rarely questioned. For instance, backhanded compliments are generally disregarded or overlooked, as the casteism within one’s mindset often begins to act as a natural instinct due to the constant descriptions that label each racial group. These comments and expressions may initially seem as though they offer a positive connotation, yet in reality, they further the stereotypes that set a template for how a certain racial group should act. As a person of color, I have been told that I am “pretty for someone of [my] race,” and that I am expected to behave in a certain manner because otherwise I am not who I am, or rather, who I am supposed to be. Are we not all the same–valued members of American society? My parents immigrated to America in search of a better future, yet it is as though they, and countless others, were greeted by closed doors. 

Is it not of sanctimonious hypocrisy that the idea of equality by which America was founded has never been a reality? 

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