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Stimulated by "Caste"

By Richard Myers
Posted: 04/22/2024
Tags: caste, linda pope, isabel wilkerson

Notes by Sharon Jarrett


On Friday, April 19 2024, we had our regular discussion meeting of the " 1619 The Lingering Imprint." The focus of this discussion was personal reactions and reflections of the book "Caste," by Isabel Wilkerson, which was originally published in 2020 and has recently been released in paperback.  Isabel Wilkerson is a journalist and the author of "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" (2010) and "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents" (2020). She is the recipient of the Polk Award, the Pulitzer Prize, Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Anisfield Wolf Award. In 2023, Ava DuVernay released the film Origin, a biographical drama about the author and the process of writing Caste.

Linda Pope, one of our regular attendees led the discussion with her personal thoughts and feelings experienced while reading the book. Dr. Pope began by asking participants to indicate if they had read Caste or seen the film Origin.  She asked for the general thoughts and impressions of those who had read the book or seen the film or both.  She indicated she found the book important because it extended interest in issues effecting the African American community beyond slavery and helped her understanding of how patterns of thought and conduct which emerged from slavery shaped our current societal structure. 

She provided a brief audio biographical sketch of herself. She indicated that in 1954, her father, who was a baseball player, moved the family from a Philadelphia neighborhood of Black professionals to Houston.  This was a very unpleasant experience for the family and her first experience with overt racism.
She next shared a story her father used when she asked about the treatment of African Americans in Texas.  He shared that elephants are trained when young to stay in one area, by binding their legs.  Over time, the bindings are loosed and reduced until only a small rope remains.  But the elephant is so accustomed to the binding that they do not resist.
She continued with slavery is foundational to history and it's effects extend to the current century.  She asked the following questions:
Where are we ?
How did we get here?
Why are we here?
What can we do about it?
The following thoughts emerged from these questions:
There is a growing group of individuals who are losing their status and are trying to maintain it. At the same time, some are trying to get out of systems that seek to maintain the status quo.
One participant indicated the status system was deeply embedded and after reading Caste has  begun a process of re thinking "from the ground up". Another participant suggested some family structures were most important, who you are genetically being most important.  Yet another participant suggested the current environment is embedded in fear not hate.  Fear of losing being worse than potental gain.
Dr. Pope then suggested some proactive steps that might move people forward in healing:
Seek first to understand then be understood.
I may forget what you did, but, not how you made me feel.
Become an ally.
Dr. Pope then shared a recent experience on a flight.  She was seated next to a white couple and engaged them in conversation in order that she would be seen by them.  She encouraged all participants to engage with someone different from them and report back on what they did, how it was received and what they learned.
During the course of the discussion, two books were recommended, "Poverty by America" by Matthew Desmond and "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.
The recording of our discussion is available for viewing on our Youtube channel as  " Stimulated by Caste."
The group will not meet on May 3rd. The next meeting will be May 17th at noon. On May 17th, our presentation will be an acknowledgement of the Civil Rights Struggle. We will have a short film about Brown v Board of Education to commemorate that event and to hold a discussion about what it meant then and what it means now. We are also anticipating a series of events coming up, which will commemorate different, important events in the Civil Rights struggle of the 60s. This series of presentations will be independent of the 1619 discussions, but clearly on a related topic. These are also expected to be in person events, so atttendance will be limited. We will provide more information about these events in our 1619 communication, as details of the program are determined. 

We have some other interesting discussions ahead but final commitments for timing have not yet been made. We will let you know as our schedule firms up. We hope to see you all in the months ahead. 



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