About Castes

La Voz de Galicia – April 7, 2023 →

Cristina PatoOver the last few weeks I have been reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. It is a revealing narrative about the relationship between power and racism through the «hidden system» of castes, or lineage, in the United States. The book is chock full of reflections that make one question many things about the two cultures which one inhabits. Wilkerson begins with a review of the different sources that, through the centuries, explored the notion of castes, among them those of the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who, in 1942, argued that the «mythology of race» is «a human invention…and not a biological one,» and that the problem resides «in the caste system.» He also speaks of American legislation (Jim Crow laws), and of its influence in Nazism, citing the «political construction of race.» And she defines castes as a kind of «ranking of human value.»

In one of the chapters, Wilkerson defines the «eight pillars of castes,» and it is there where she provides a brief description about the difference between class and caste that left me thinking for a few days: one may come to be a part (or stop being a part) of a social class, but not be able to stop being a part of a caste because a caste (for better or for worse) is hereditary. And then I began to think that I have spent my whole life confused about the terms, that when I wrote my first novel, in which I speak about the nobility of invisible classes, I believe I was referring to those other system of castes so present in Galicia, and so related to the social injustices around us…and I believe that the problem of the «dominant caste» is as complex as it is universal…

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