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💬 "A Black and Asian Female V.P. Doesn’t Mean We’ve Escaped Caste"

Sway - A New York Times Podcast

Photo by Michael / Unsplash

Host: Kara Swisher
Guest: Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist & Historian
Category: Society & Culture | 💬 Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:26] “[A]mong the many scenes [in the Capitol] that struck me to my core was after the rampage had been quelled, […] later into the night, […] the cleaning crew is brought in to clean up after the damage that had been done. […] And I saw instantly the people assigned to the subordinated caste for 400 years, since before there was the United States, still consigned to their historic role of serving and cleaning up after those who had been programmed to see themselves as dominant and superior and supreme. And we know that, had people who looked like those janitors […], if they had deigned to burst into the Capitol like that, we know what would have come of that. They wouldn’t have lived to tell.”

[3:30] “[I]n so many of the peaceful protests for basic human rights, protesting against police brutality, we have seen tanks rolled out […]. We have seen riot police flanked and in position in anticipation of an outbreak. And we saw a situation in which masses of people were able to overrun the officers. […] We saw people climbing walls to get into the Capitol, attacking police officers. We saw […] the complete opposite of how the protesters for basic human rights throughout the entire summer, how people were treated there. This is an indication of the — what I describe, when it comes to caste - caste is essentially this graded ranking of human value. But what it does is it determines one’s standing, respect, benefit of the doubt, access to resources, assumptions of competence and intelligence and worthiness, and then also whether the authorities will protect you or attack you. This is a function of where you are perceived to be, your value and sense of worthiness in the hierarchy.”

[6:18] “[A]ny hierarchical society can use any number of […] arbitrary metrics to rank people in a caste system. So you could use ethnicity, […] religion, […] language, […] place of origin. And in our country, the metric that the early colonists used to divide and to rank people to determine who would be a slave or free, just to start with, the metric that was used was what we look like. It became the tool, the signifier, the signal of one’s place in the hierarchy. And it took what would be neutral characteristics otherwise, neutral characteristics that would just be part of the range of human manifestation, and turn that into a new designation, a new way of ranking and categorizing people known as race.”

[9:26] “[Y]ou could say there are three out of many ways that a society can decide the different aspects of identity. One of them would be caste, which I would describe as the bones, and race, which is the skin. It’s the visible manifestation of the structure that undergirds whatever we might be able to see. And then class becomes, essentially, the outward — the things that we add to ourselves — clothes, the dictions, the accents, education, all the things that we do have some control over that we can use to try to adjust what we might have been born to in our society. And so, […] if you can act your way out of it, it’s class. If you cannot act your way out of it, it’s caste.”

[18:16] “If you multiply [the] times, […] tens of thousands of times a day, when some assumptions about another individual impedes the ability for something to happen in our society, impedes a transaction, impedes an interview, impedes something that really truly needs to happen and it doesn’t happen - how do you even begin to measure the cost, not just to the individual who is suffering, but also to the entire society, all the things that don’t get done, all the missed opportunities because of these assumptions and stereotypes that are all an inheritance of the original caste system that predated our country?

[24:22] “I only came to looking at Germany after Charlottesville, because it was there that we saw the conflation of, the merging of these symbols from across time and across the ocean of the Confederacy and of Nazi Germany. The people protesting the possible removal of the Statue of Robert E. Lee, they brought those symbols together, those belief systems together. And that sparked my interest to look and see what had Germany done in the years since the war. And I was just stunned to discover that, in the years leading up to the war, that German eugenicists were actually turning to and consulting with American eugenicists to build upon their brewing sense of Aryan superiority. It turned out that American eugenicists were writing books that were huge bestsellers in Germany, and in fact were used in the school curriculum that the Nazis created for themselves and for the students in that world. […] And they were looking at the various ways of enforcement, the lynchings and others. They were also looking at antimiscegenation laws, the laws that prevented people from marrying across race. They adjusted some of these things to make up what would ultimately become the Nuremberg laws, one of them having the idea of the one drop rule, which was part of some Southern jurisprudence that would say that, in defining who was Black, all it took was one drop of Black blood to make that person Black. And among the Nazis, that was more than they were willing to do in defining who could be Jewish.”

[29:11] “[I]n Germany, the history is front and center in understanding what happened in World War II. You go to Berlin, […] right in the middle of a major world city is this massive, massive installation, the memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust. It is unmissable.[…] They learn the history and they know why it’s there. It’s there for anyone to see. You’re going about your day and you’re reminded. There are markers and reminders everywhere in that city, in addition to the stumbling stones, which beckon in front of the last known residence of the individuals who perished in the Holocaust. I mean, there are reminders everywhere, as they should be.”

[31:22] “[T]here’s a difference between remembering something and celebrating something. And I think that is where the disconnect when it comes to, what do we do with our history? We want people to know the history. It’s necessary to know the history. We do not want to forget. We’re not on the same page with our history. That is why you can have, in a country such as Germany, all of the markers that […] remind people, to not forget what happened. And we’ve not done that. We have simply not done that because we’re not on the same page about basic facts and basic aspects of our own history.”

[32:52] “[T]he conversation [after the Capitol siege] has been going toward the idea of moving quickly toward healing, which is the same thing that happened after the Civil War and Reconstruction. There’s the same natural reaction to want to move on. But the issue is that these wounds are 400 years in the making. There’s no single pill that you can take for something that is this longstanding. It’s on the systems level […]. And these are system level issues that require so much more than just a single answer. […] It requires a closer examination, first recognizing our history, how did we get here. And then and only then can you begin to even think about crafting a plan for moving forward.”

[37:27] “I feel as if this is the country’s karmic moment of truth. And we are here alive to see it playing out before our eyes. What we saw last week on January 6 may have looked like another country, but it is our country. It may have looked like a different century, but it is our century. It may have looked like a long ago battle over justice, waged and presumably won back in another era. But it is ours. We are living this right now. And I think that that moment has forced us into a karmic reckoning that is long overdue.”

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 38 min | 🗓️ 01/21/2021
✅ Time saved: 33 min

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