Lots of laws were passed, actually, in the 1860s, and then they had to be revisited in the 1960s. It’s a moment of reckoning. Why is it that basic human response to a person in distress — why is it that first aid cannot be administered to people once they are bleeding on the ground? And I actually was in Singapore talking about this book, and I was speaking to a group of high school students, who can be sometimes challenging. So on the eve of the Oprah’s Book Club announcement, I called Wilkerson for a conversation about why she believes Caste is a hopeful book—and, of course, what it was really like getting that surprising phone call from Oprah. But old houses need a lot of work. Tippett: It’s almost like the refugee camps of now. Both, she identifies with “the human impulse to create hierarchies” which “runs across societies and cultures”. Something else has gone wrong. And so, these were the facts of their lives. But the nadir was about a hundred years ago, when an African American was being lynched every three or four days in the American South, which is why the summer of 1919 was called “the red summer.” This was an era in which African Americans had no political rights, and they could come under attack for any tiny breach of the caste system. Perhaps it is not a question of whether the migrants brought good or will so the cities they fled to or were pushed or pulled to their destinations, but a question of how they summoned the courage to leave in the first place or how they found the will to press beyond the forces against them and the faith in a country that had rejected them for so long. And I think that that’s what we’re called upon to do where we are right now. So, it’s so terrible, it’s so inexplicable, and you have no idea how you could make a difference.
He was well-received. You don’t want to feel your own pain. And I think that whatever you are ignoring is not going to go away.
Tippett: So, between the time you first published the book in 2010 and today, these have been years in which we have been forced to confront the fact that, with all the laws that were passed and with the progress that was made, there’s so much unfinished business, and in fact, that all the progress wasn’t there.
Race as we now know it—the idea of dividing people and addressing them as being white or Black—is a fairly new language in human history. I mean, in other words, childhood itself had to be controlled and repressed because it could mean their very lives.
Tippett: And the way people are engaging with this telling of a truth, and her work, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, I want to take that seriously because it does suggest an opening to knowing this and to grappling with this. Because you go to refugee camps around the world now, and you hear the word “refugee camp,” and you think it’s tents. Tippett: After a short break, more with Isabel Wilkerson. When Oprah called Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson to tell her that she had selected Caste to be her latest Oprah’s Book Club pick, Wilkerson was surprised—and moved by Oprah’s words.
I think — you were asking about this book and how it’s moved around in the world.
He wants to know your father’s history. Krista Tippett, host: You go to the doctor for anything, and they won’t begin to treat you without taking your history — and not just yours, but that of your parents and grandparents before you. And the laws that we’ve passed that we thought were written in granite we see can be erased and are in peril if, as a collective, we do not recognize why. ( Log Out / Every time I talk about it, I gain new appreciation and gratitude and amazement at what they were able to do. Find them at fetzer.org. If they were going from the South going to the North, and they’d crossed over the border into Illinois or into Ohio, they were afraid to move. Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents has received considerable advertisement from the American media. The On Being Project is located on Dakota land. Empathy means getting inside of them, and understanding their reality, and looking at their situation and saying not, “What would I do if I were in their position?” but, “What are they doing?
I think that what’s freeing about it — it’s liberating because it takes it away from the personal. Her new book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.
The On Being Project is Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Laurén Dørdal, Erin Colasacco, Kristin Lin, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Lucas Johnson, Suzette Burley, Zack Rose, Serri Graslie, Colleen Scheck, Christiane Wartell, Julie Siple, Gretchen Honnold, and Jhaleh Akhavan. Ultimately, Wilkerson offers very little remedy for the problems that she describes ending with an appeal to “radical empathy” and a description of a trivial event that she and her white friend had by not being served on time at an up-scale restaurant. It had been so ingrained in them, the restrictions, that they wouldn’t even take the chance. And trauma can evidence itself in so many different ways. But I don’t know. Wilkerson: And you don’t know how to react when someone says, “This is the last book that my mother or father read before they died.” But they say it with such joy and gratitude. The unemployed, in an economy that never really recovered from the 2007 Financial crisis and has suffered a new crisis after the onset of a pandemic? The 2 million languishing in the massive prisons that the United States has created?
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