Image source: Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures - Isabel Wilkerson, Livestream (2022)
Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Civilization, Climate Change, Existentialism, Fascism
"While I was at the hotel today, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great Laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me, I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion, I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position, the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied with its correctness—and that is the case of Judge Douglas’s old friend, Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject) that I have never had the least apprehension that my friends or I would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.] I will add one further word, which is this: [that] I do not understand that there is any place where an alteration of the social and political relations of the negro and the white man can be made except in the State Legislature—not in the Congress of the United States—and as I do not really apprehend the approach of any such thing myself, and as Judge Douglas seems to be in constant horror that some such danger is rapidly approaching, I propose as the best means to prevent it that the Judge be kept at home and placed in the State Legislature to fight the measure. [Uproarious laughter and applause.] I do not propose dwelling longer at this time on this subject."
Teaching History, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, 4th Debate, Part 1.
The man who would be known as "the great emancipator" could turn a phrase at an event at the time that would dwarf our current 1-1/2 hour modern performances: they were hours in duration. People brought lunches and took notes. Old Abe appeared to have been the "George Carlin" of his day. He was exploitative in his digs, not knowing at the time the same people he derided he would need fighting for him to win the war of secession.
Lincoln exploited racist tropes to make Judge Douglas - his Democratic (the conservative party then) opponent, look like a conspiratorial fool. As we look to history, we see the pedestals that our heroes occupy are made of cracked porcelain; their balance isn't steady because human bodies aren't perfectly proportioned, and they often fall from their lofty perches after scrutiny.
Despite this obvious bias Lincoln had towards "his tribe," another Douglass, Frederick Douglass, would petition him for the involvement of our ancestors on the side of the Union in the Civil War as well as make the case for the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite the many docuseries with them briefly onscreen together generally getting along, Frederick Douglass wasn't an initial fan of the 16th president:
Douglass was concerned about the unequal pay of Black soldiers, who received $3 dollars less per month than white privates. He was also incensed by the Union government’s response to the Confederate treatment of Black prisoners of war, who were being tortured, killed, and sometimes sold into slavery. He focused his anger on President Abraham Lincoln. “The slaughter of Blacks taken as captives,” wrote Douglass in his Douglass’ Monthly, “seems to affect him [Lincoln] as little as the slaughter of beeves [cows] for the use of his army.”
So, when I hear people saying they're tired of voting for "the lesser of two evils," their naivete seems to reflect back to halcyon days that never existed, not realizing African Americans have voted that way since we were allowed to vote without interference (poll taxes, lynching, cross burnings, voter purges). As long as a caste system of complexion has existed on these shores, there has never been a conservative or liberal "great again."
The following (or a version of this) I posted on Rotten Tomatoes after seeing the movie:
"I read “Caste: The Source of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson before I saw “Origin,” directed by Ava DuVernay. I highly recommend reading the book, seeing the movie, and staying for the after-the-credits discussion by the director. It is POWERFUL and relevant to the times we all find ourselves in. Seeing the reenactment of Nazi book burning has a modern analogy in practice.
"The Caste System in America is based on skin color and the debasement of people who have no control over how they present themselves or how they are perceived. This extends easily to other groups under the boot of patriarchy.
"See it while it is available. It is a threat to patriarchal oligarchy and for the downcast, the Dalits, the under-the-boot marginalized: the relieving breath of being seen.
"I recommend this movie, seen with a group, and a discussion at a coffee shop or a restaurant afterward. You will need to decompress."
A caste system, whether divinely inspired, fueled by American slave codes, black codes, Jim Crow, eugenics, or Europe, Italian and Nazi fascism, in India, Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers, administrators, warriors), Vaishyas (artisans, merchants, tradesmen, farmers), Shudras (laborers) Dalits (Harijans or Untouchables), propped up by myth, superstition, and pseudoscience, is about resources and power, who "deserves" to have it, and who those deeming themselves deserving, deeming others as not deserving.
We can see the effects of the caste system in everything:
The global south suffered more from the pandemic than the global north.
The deleterious effects of climate change also affect the Global South more than it does the North. Our apathy for solving it lies in arrogance, caste, and xenophobia.
The Nazis plagiarized the South's black codes for the Nurenberg Laws to oppress the Jews.
It would take 500 years for African Americans to catch up to their (currently) majority neighbors. The March on Washington was on the eighth anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till, but the essence of the assembly was a demand for reparations. We're still cashing a check returned, as Dr. King said, for "insufficient funds."
For Europeans, the outsiders are from the African continent (Akebulan), driven by conflicts supplied by European and American military-industrial complexes, STARTED by European and American business interests for one-sided extraction profits.
There's a scene in Sean Penn's "Superpower" documentary where Volodymyr Zelinzky and Vladimir Putin occupy the same stage. Putin glares at Zelinsky for contradicting him in a question-and-answer session with the press. In the obvious two-tier caste system, Russian pride cannot suffer his Ukrainian lesser upstaging him on camera. The motivation for the war, in a wounded strongman's twisted mind, might be as simple as that.
China is on Akebulan to extract the abundant resources from the continent to fuel what is arguably a communist-capitalist system. Their underdogs are Uygers, and they are treated like Dalits and Dr. Martin Luther King.
In fact, when King visited a local school for Dalit children in the southern Indian state of Kerala in 1959, the principal introduced him thus: "Young people, I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America." Although King was initially shocked by this introduction, he later understood the deeper connections of oppression, exclusion, and exile that African Americans in the US and Dalits in India shared. The broader Black freedom struggle has continued to inspire Dalit struggles in this region, from the formation of the Dalit Panthers in the 1970s to the recent emergence of Dalit Lives Matter groups in Nepal and India.
MLK and the Civil Rights Movement’s Global Perspective, University of Dayton blogs
In Israel-Palestine, the caste system also has only two tiers, as did its WWII analog. There will always be a "two-state solution" in Israel-Palestine because it is never meant as a problem to solve. The two-state solution is meant to sound reasonable because it IS reasonable, but part of a two-state solution would mean returning lands seized since 1948 (or at least 1967). That has another word in America: reparations. If you can do it in the Near East, the fear is the clamor to do it in the United States couldn't justifiably be resisted.
Power and resources, hoarded to the one percent of any nation's pyramid, are imbalanced, and it is a caste system that is unsustainable.
A caste system is a societal pathology, and I don't see such a society lasting long enough to build interplanetary or interstellar vessels. "Fermi's paradox" may have a grim answer.