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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents / : (by Isabel Wilkerson, 2020) -

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents / :    (by Isabel Wilkerson, 2020) -

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents / : (by Isabel Wilkerson, 2020) -

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents / : (by Isabel Wilkerson, 2020) -
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2020
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Isabel Wilkerson
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Robin Miles
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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents / : :

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: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

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The Man in the Crowd There is a famous black-and-white photograph from the era of the Third Reich. It is a picture taken in Hamburg, Germany, in 1936, of shipyard workers, a hundred or more, facing the same direction in the light of the sun. They are heiling in unison, their right arms rigid in outstretched allegiance to the F?hrer. If you look closely, you can see a man in the upper right who is different from the others. His face is gentle but unyielding. Modern-day displays of the photograph will often add a helpful red circle around the man or an arrow pointing to him. He is surrounded by fellow citizens caught under the spell of the Nazis. He keeps his arms folded to his chest, as the stiff palms of the others hover just inches from him. He alone is refusing to salute. He is the one man standing against the tide. Looking back from our vantage point, he is the only person in the entire scene who is on the right side of history. Everyone around him is tragically, fatefully, categorically wrong. In that moment, only he could see it. His name is believed to have been August Landmesser. At the time, he could not have known the murderous path the hysteria around him would lead to. But he had already seen enough to reject it. He had joined the Nazi Party himself years before. By now though, he knew firsthand that the Nazis were feeding Germans lies about Jews, the outcastes of his era, that, even this early in the Reich, the Nazis had caused terror, heartache, and disruption. He knew that Jews were anything but Untermenschen, that they were German citizens, human as anyone else. He was an Aryan in love with a Jewish woman, but the recently enacted Nuremberg Laws had made their relationship illegal. They were forbidden to marry or to have sexual relations, either of which amounted to what the Nazis called racial infamy. His personal experience and close connection to the scapegoated caste allowed him to see past the lies and stereotypes so readily embraced by susceptible membersthe majority, sadlyof the dominant caste. Though Aryan himself, his openness to the humanity of the people who had been deemed beneath him gave him a stake in their well-being, their fates tied to his. He could see what his countrymen chose not to see. In a totalitarian regime such as that of the Third Reich, it was an act of bravery to stand firm against an ocean. We would all want to believe that we would have been him. We might feel certain that, were we Aryan citizens under the Third Reich, we surely would have seen through it, would have risen above it like him, been that person resisting authoritarianism and brutality in the face of mass hysteria. We would like to believe that we would have taken the more difficult path of standing up against injustice in defense of the outcaste. But unless people are willing to transcend their fears, endure discomfort and derision, suffer the scorn of loved ones and neighbors and co-workers and friends, fall into disfavor of perhaps everyone they know, face exclusion and even banishment, it would be numerically impossible, humanly impossible, for everyone to be that man. What would it take to be him in any era? What would it take to be him now? Part One TOXINS IN THE PERMAFROST AND HEAT RISING ALL AROUND CHAPTER ONE The Afterlife of Pathogens I n the haunted summer of 2016, an unaccustomed heat wave struck the Siberian tundra on the edge of what the ancients once called the End of the Land. Above the Arctic Circle and far from the tectonic plates colliding in American politics, the heat rose beneath the earths surface and also bore down from above, the air reaching an inconceivable 95 degrees on the Russian peninsula of Yamal. Wildfires flared, and pockets of methane gurgled beneath the normally frozen soil in the polar region. Soon, the children of the indigenous herdsmen fell sick from a mysterious illness that many people alive had never seen and did not recognize. A twelve-year-old boy developed a high fever and acute stomach pangs, and passed away. Russian authorities declared a state of emergency and began airlifting hundreds of the sickened herding people, the Nenets, to the nearest hospital in Salekhard. Scientists then identified what had afflicted the Siberian settlements. The aberrant heat had chiseled far deeper into the Russian permafrost than was normal and had exposed a toxin that had been encased since 1941, when the world was last at war. It was the pathogen anthrax, which had killed herds of reindeer all those decades ago and lain hidden in the animal carcasses long since buried in the permafrost. A thawed and tainted carcass rose to the surface that summer, the pathogen awakened, intact and as powerful as it had ever been. The pathogen spores seeped into the grazing land and infected the reindeer and spread to the herders who raised and relied upon them. The anthrax, like the reactivation of the human pathogens of hatred and tribalism in this evolving century, had never died. It lay in wait, sleeping, until extreme circumstances brought it to the surface and back to life. On the other side of the planet, the worlds oldest and most powerful democracy was in spasms over an election that would transfix the Western world and become a psychic break in American history, one that will likely be studied and dissected for generations. That summer and into the fall and in the ensuing years to come, amid talk of Muslim bans, nasty women, border walls, and shithole nations, it was common to hear in certain circles the disbelieving cries, This is not America, or I dont recognize my country, or This is not who we are. Except that this was and is our country and this was and is who we are, whether we have known or recognized it or not. The heat rose in the Arctic and in random encounters in America. Late that summer, in New York City, an indigo harbor in a safely blue state, a white man in Brooklyn, an artist, was helping a middle-aged white woman carry her groceries to a southbound subway in the direction of Coney Island. By then, it was impossible to avoid talk of the campaign. It had been a political season unlike any other. For the first time in history, a woman was running as a major party candidate for president of the United States. A household name, the candidate was a no-nonsense national figure overqualified by some estimates, conventional and measured if uninspiring to her detractors, with a firm grasp of any policy or crisis that she might be called upon to address. Her opponent was an impetuous billionaire, a reality television star prone to insulting most anyone unlike himself, who had never held public office and who pundits believed had no chance of winning his partys primaries much less the presidency. Before the campaign was over, the male candidate would stalk the female candidate from behind during a debate seen all over the world. He would boast of grabbing women by their genitals, mock the disabled, encourage violence against the press and against those who disagreed with him. His followers jeered the female candidate, chanting Lock her up! at mass rallies over which the billionaire presided. His comments and activities were deemed so coarse that some news reports were preceded by parental advisories. Here was a candidate so transparently unqualified for the job, wrote The Guardian in 2016, that his candidacy seemed more like a prank than a serious bid for the White House. On the face of it, what is commonly termed race in America was not at issue. Both candidates were white, born to the countrys historic dominant majority. But the woman candidate represented the more liberal party made up of a patchwork of coalitions of, roughly speaking, the humanitarian-minded and the marginalized. The male candidate represented the conservative party that in recent decades had come to be seen as protecting an old social order benefitting and appealing largely to white voters. The candidates were polar opposites, equally loathed by the fans of their respective adversary. The extremes of that season forced Americans to take sides and declare their allegiances or find a way to dance around them. So, on an otherwise ordinary day, as the Brooklyn artist was helping the older woman with her groceries, she turned to him, unbidden, and wanted to know who he was voting for. The artist, being a progressive, said he was planning to vote for the Democrat, the more experienced candidate. The older woman with the groceries must have suspected as much and was displeased with his answer. She, like millions of other Americans in the historic majority, had brightened to the blunt-spoken appeals of the nativist billionaire. Only weeks before, the billionaire had said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his followers would still vote for him, devoted as they were. The woman overladen with groceries was one of them. In the bluest of sanctuaries, she had heard his call and decoded his messages. She took it upon herself to instruct the artist on the error of his thinking and why it was urgent that he vote the right way. Yes, I know he mouths off at times, she conceded, drawing closer to her potential convert. But, he will restore our sovereignty. It was then, before the debates and cascading revelations to come, that the Brooklyn man realized that, despite the odds and all historic precedent, a reality star with the least formal experience of perhaps anyone who had ever run for president could become the leader of the free world. The campaign had become more than a political rivalryit was an existential fight for primacy in a country whose demographics had been shifting beneath us all. People who looked like the Brooklyn artist and the woman headed toward Coney Island, those whose ancestry traced back to Europe, had been in the historic ruling majority, the dominant racial caste in an unspoken hierarchy, since before the founding of the republic. But in the years leading to this moment, it had begun to spread on talk radio and cable television that the white share of the population was shrinking. In the summer of 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau announced its projection that, by 2042, for the first time in American history, whites would no longer be the majority in a country that had known of no other configuration, no other way to be. Then, that fall, in the midst of what seemed a cataclysmic financial crisis and as if to announce a potential slide from preeminence for the caste that had long been dominant, an African-American, a man from what was historically the lowest caste, was elected president of the United States. His ascension incited both premature declarations of a post-racial world and an entire movement whose sole purpose was to prove that he had not been born in the United States, a campaign led by the billionaire who was now in 2016 running for president himself. A low rumble had been churning beneath the surface, neurons excited by the prospect of a cocksure champion for the dominant caste, a mouthpiece for their anxieties. Some people grew bolder because of it. A police commander in southern New Jersey talked about mowing down African-Americans and complained that the woman candidate, the Democrat, would give in to all the minorities. That September, he beat a handcuffed black teenager who had been arrested for swimming in a pool without authorization. The commander grabbed the teenagers head and, witnesses said, rammed it like a basketball into a metal doorjamb. As the election drew near, the commander told his officers that the reality television star is the last hope for white people. Observers the world over recognized the significance of the election. Onlookers in Berlin and Johannesburg, Delhi and Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo, stayed up late into the night or the next morning to watch the returns that first Tuesday in November 2016. Inexplicably to many outside the United States, the outcome would turn not on the popular vote, but on the Electoral College, an American invention from the founding era of slavery by which each state has a say in declaring the winner based on the electoral votes assigned them and the outcome of the popular ballot in their jurisdiction. By then, there had been only five elections in the countrys history in which the Electoral College or a similar mechanism had overruled the popular vote, two such cases occurring in the twenty-first century alone. One of those two was the election of 2016, a collision of unusual circumstance. The election would set the United States on a course toward isolationism, tribalism, the walling in and protecting of ones own, the worship of wealth and acquisition at the expense of others, even of the planet itself. After the votes had been counted and the billionaire declared the winner, to the shock of the world and of those perhaps less steeped in the countrys racial and political history, a man on a golf course in Georgia could feel freer to express himself. He was a son of the Confederacy, which had gone to war against the United States for the right to enslave other humans. The election was a victory for him and for the social order he had been born to. He said to those around him, I remember a time when everybody knew their place. Time we got back to that. The sentiment of returning to an old order of things, the closed hierarchy of the ancestors, soon spread across the land in a headline-grabbing wave of hate crime and mass violence. Shortly after Inauguration Day, a white man in Kansas shot and killed an Indian engineer, telling the immigrant and his Indian co-worker to get out of my country as he fired upon them. The next month, a clean-cut white army veteran caught a bus from Baltimore to New York on a mission to kill black people. He stalked a sixty-six-year-old black man in Times Square and stabbed him to death with a sword. The attacker would become the first white supremacist convicted on terrorism charges in the state of New York. On a packed commuter train in Portland, Oregon, a white man hurling racial and anti-Muslim epithets, attacked two teenaged girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Get the fuck out, he ranted. We need Americans here. When three white men rose to the girls defense, the attacker stabbed the men for doing so. Im a patriot, the attacker told the police en route to jail, and I hope everyone I stabbed died. Tragically two of the men did not survive their wounds. Then in that summer of 2017, a white supremacist drove into a crowd of anti-hate protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a young white woman, Heather Heyer, in a standoff over monuments to the Confederacy that drew the eyes of the world. The year 2017 would become the deadliest to date for mass shootings in modern American history. In Las Vegas, there occurred the countrys largest such massacre, followed by one mass shooting after another in public schools, parking lots, city streets, and superstores across the nation. In the fall of 2018, eleven worshippers were slain at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh in the worst anti-Semitic attack on U.S. soil. Outside Louisville, Kentucky, a man attempted a similar assault on a black church, yanking the locked doors to try to break in and shoot parishioners at their Bible study. Unable to pry the doors open, the man went to a nearby supermarket and killed the first black people he sawa black woman in the parking lot headed in for groceries and a black man buying poster board with his grandson. An armed bystander happened to see the shooter in the parking lot, which got the shooters attention. Dont shoot me, the shooter told the onlooker, and I wont shoot you, according to news reports. Whites dont kill whites. In the ensuing months, as the new president pulled out of treaties and entreated dictators, many observers despaired of the end of democracy and feared for the republic. On his own, the new leader withdrew the worlds oldest democracy from the 2016 Paris Agreement, in which the nations of the world had come together to battle climate change, leaving many to anguish over an already losing race to protect the planet. Soon, a group of leading psychiatrists, whose profession permits them to speak of their diagnoses only in the event of a persons danger to oneself or to others, took the extraordinary step of forewarning the American public that the newly installed leader of the free world was a malignant narcissist, a danger to the public. By the second year of the administration, brown children were behind bars at the southern border, separated from their parents as they sought asylum. The decades-old protections of air and water and endangered species were summarily rolled back. Multiple campaign advisors faced prison terms in widening investigations into corruption, and a sitting president was being described as an agent of a foreign power. The opposition party had lost all three branches of government and fretted over what to do. It managed to win back the House of Representatives in 2018, but this left the party with only one-sixth of the governmentmeaning one-half of the legislative branchand thus hesitant at first to begin impeachment proceedings that were its purview. Many feared a backlash, feared riling up the billionaires base, in part because, though it represented a minority of the electorate, his base was made up overwhelmingly of people in the dominant caste. The single-mindedness of the presidents followers and the anguish of the opposition seemed to compromise the system of checks and balances thought to be built into the foundation and meant that, for a time, the United States was not, in the words of a Democratic Party chair in South Carolina, a fully functional democracy. At the start of the third year, the president was impeached by opponents in the lower chamber and acquitted by loyalists in the Senate, their votes falling along party lines that reflected the fractures in the country as a whole. It was only the third such impeachment trial in American history. By now, more than three hundred days had passed without a White House press briefing, a Washington ritual of accountability. It had fallen away so quietly that few seemed to notice this additional breach of normalcy. Then the worst pandemic in more than a century brought humanity to a standstill. The president dismissed it as a Chinese virus that would disappear like a miracle, called the growing uproar a hoax, disparaged those who disagreed or sought to forewarn him. Within weeks, the United States would be afflicted with the largest outbreak in the world, governors pleading for test kits and ventilators, nurses seen wrapping themselves in trash bags to shield against contagion as they aided the sick. The country was losing the capacity to be shocked; the unfathomable became just another part of ones day. What had happened to America? What could account for tens of millions of voters choosing to veer from all custom and to put the country and thus the world in the hands of an untested celebrity, one who had never served in either war or public office, unlike every man before him, and one whose rhetoric seemed a homing device for extremists? Were the coal miners and auto workers restless in a stagnating economy? Were the people in the heartland lashing back at the coastal elites? Was it that a portion of the electorate was just ready for a change? Was it really true that the woman in the race, the first to make it this close to the nations highest office, had run an unholy mess of a campaign, as two veteran political journalists put it? Was it that urban (meaning black) voters did not turn out, and the evangelical (meaning white) voters did? How could so many people, ordinary working folks, who needed healthcare and education for their children, protection of the water they drink and the wages they depended upon, vote against their own interests, as many progressives were heard to say in the fog of that turning point in political history? These were all popular theories in the aftermath, and there may have been some element of truth in a few of them. The earth had shifted overnight, or so it appeared. We have long defined earthquakes as arising from the collision of tectonic plates that force one wedge of earth beneath the other, believed that the internal shoving match under the surface is all too easily recognizable. In classic earthquakes, we can feel the ground shudder and crack beneath us, we can see the devastation of the landscape or the tsunamis that follow. What scientists have only recently discovered is that the more familiar earthquakes, those that are easily measured while in progress and instantaneous in their destruction, are often preceded by longer, slow-moving, catastrophic disruptions rumbling twenty miles or more beneath us, too deep to be felt and too quiet to be measured for most of human history. They are as potent as those we can see and feel, but they have long gone undetected because they work in silence, unrecognized until a major quake announces itself on the surface. Only recently have geophysicists had technology sensitive enough to detect the unseen stirrings deeper in the earths core. They are called silent earthquakes. And only recently have circumstances forced us, in this current era of human rupture, to search for the unseen stirrings of the human heart, to discover the origins of our discontents. By the time of the American election that fateful year, back on the northernmost edge of the world, the Siberians were trying to recover from the heat that had stricken them months before. Dozens of the indigenous herding people had been relocated, some quarantined and their tents disinfected. The authorities embarked on mass vaccinations of the surviving reindeer and their herders. They had gone for years without vaccinations because it had been decades since the last outbreak, and they felt the problem was in the past. An apparent mistake, a Russian biologist told a Russian news site. The military had to weigh how best to dispose of the two thousand dead reindeer to keep the spores from spreading again. It was not safe merely to bury the carcasses to rid themselves of the pathogen. They would have to incinerate them in combustion fields at up to five hundred degrees Celsius, then douse the cinders and surrounding land with bleach to kill the spores to protect the people going forward. Above all, and more vexing for humanity at large, was the sobering message of 2016 and the waning second decade of a still-new millennium: that rising heat in the earths oceans and in the human heart could revive long-buried threats, that some pathogens could never be killed, only contained, perhaps at best managed with ever-improving vaccines against their expected mutations. What humanity learned, one would hope, was that an ancient and hardy virus required perhaps more than anything, knowledge of its ever-present danger, caution to protect against exposure, and alertness to the power of its longevity, its ability to mutate, survive and hibernate until reawakened. It seemed these contagions could not be destroyed, not yet anyway, only managed and anticipated, as with any virus, and that foresight and vigilance, the wisdom of never taking them for granted, never underestimating their persistence, was perhaps the most effective antidote, for now. The Vitals of History When we go to the doctor, he or she will not begin to treat us without taking our historyand not just our history but that of our parents and grandparents before us. The doctor will not see us until we have filled out many pages on a clipboard that is handed to us upon arrival. The doctor will not hazard a diagnosis until he or she knows the history going back generations. As we fill out the pages of our medical past and our current complaints, what our bodies have been exposed to and what they have survived, it does us no good to pretend that certain ailments have not beset us, to deny the full truths of what brought us to this moment. Few problems have ever been solved by ignoring them. Looking beneath the history of ones country is like learning that alcoholism or depression runs in ones family or that suicide has occurred more often than might be usual or, with the advances in medical genetics, discovering that one has inherited the markers of a BRCA mutation for breast cancer. You dont ball up in a corner with guilt or shame at these discoveries. You dont, if you are wise, forbid any mention of them. In fact, you do the opposite. You educate yourself. You talk to people who have been through it and to specialists who have researched it. You learn the consequences and obstacles, the options and treatment. You may pray over it and meditate over it. Then you take precautions to protect yourself and succeeding generations and work to ensure that these things, whatever they are, dont happen again. CHAPTER TWO An Old House and an Infrared Light T he inspector trained his infrared lens onto a misshapen bow in the ceiling, an invisible beam of light searching the layers of lath to test what the eye could not see. This house had been built generations ago, and I had noticed the slightest welt in a corner of plaster in a spare bedroom and had chalked it up to idiosyncrasy. Over time, the welt in the ceiling became a wave that widened and bulged despite the new roof. It had been building beyond perception for years. An old house is its own kind of devotional, a dowager aunt with a story to be coaxed out of her, a mystery, a series of interlocking puzzles awaiting solution. Why is this soffit tucked into the southeast corner of an eave? What is behind this discolored patch of brick? With an old house, the work is never done, and you dont expect it to be. America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see. We in the developed world are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside, but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even. Many people may rightly say, I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves. And, yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures built into the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands. Unaddressed, the ruptures and diagonal cracks will not fix themselves. The toxins will not go away but, rather, will spread, leach, and mutate, as they already have. When people live in an old house, they come to adjust to the idiosyncrasies and outright dangers skulking in an old structure. They put buckets under a wet ceiling, prop up groaning floors, learn to step over that rotting wood tread in the staircase. The awkward becomes acceptable, and the unacceptable becomes merely inconvenient. Live with it long enough, and the unthinkable becomes normal. Exposed over the generations, we learn to believe that the incomprehensible is the way that life is supposed to be. The inspector was facing the mystery of the misshapen ceiling, and so he first held a sensor to the surface to detect if it was damp. The reading inconclusive, he then pulled out the infrared camera to take a kind of X-ray of whatever was going on, the idea being that you cannot fix a problem until and unless you can see it. He could now see past the plaster, beyond what had been wallpapered or painted over, as we now are called upon to do in the house we all live in, to examine a structure built long ago. Like other old houses, America has an unseen skeleton, a caste system that is as central to its operation as are the studs and joists that we cannot see in the physical buildings we call home. Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order. Looking at caste is like holding the countrys X-ray up to the light. A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places. Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The tragically accelerated, chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations. As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about powerwhich groups have it and which do not. It is about resourceswhich caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competencewho is accorded these and who is not. As a means of assigning value to entire swaths of humankind, caste guides each of us often beyond the reaches of our awareness. It embeds into our bones an unconscious ranking of human characteristics and sets forth the rules, expectations, and stereotypes that have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species. In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy, the front man, for caste. Race does the heavy lifting for a caste system that demands a means of human division. If we have been trained to see humans in the language of race, then caste is the underlying grammar that we encode as children, as when learning our mother tongue. Caste, like grammar, becomes an invisible guide not only to how we speak, but to how we process information, the autonomic calculations that figure into a sentence without our having to think about it. Many of us have never taken a class in grammar, yet we know in our bones that a transitive verb takes an object, that a subject needs a predicate; we know without thinking the difference between third person singular and third person plural. We may mention race, referring to people as black or white or Latino or Asian or indigenous, when what lies beneath each label is centuries of history and assigning of assumptions and values to physical features in a structure of human hierarchy. What people look like, or, rather, the race they have been assigned or are perceived to belong to, is the visible cue to their caste. It is the historic flash card to the public of how they are to be treated, where they are expected to live, what kinds of positions they are expected to hold, whether they belong in this section of town or that seat in a boardroom, whether they should be expected to speak with authority on this or that subject, whether they will be administered pain relief in a hospital, whether their neighborhood is likely to adjoin a toxic waste site or to have contaminated water flowing from their taps, whether they are more or less likely to survive childbirth in the most advanced nation in the world, whether they may be shot by authorities with impunity. We know that the letters of the alphabet are neutral and meaningless until they are combined to make a word which itself has no significance until it is inserted into a sentence and interpreted by those who speak it. In the same way that black and white were applied to people who were literally neither, but rather gradations of brown and beige and ivory, the caste system sets people at poles from one another and attaches meaning to the extremes, and to the gradations in between, and then reinforces those meanings, replicates them in the roles each caste was and is assigned and permitted or required to perform. Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. They can and do coexist in the same culture and serve to reinforce each other. Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place. Caste is fixed and rigid. Race is fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition to meet the needs of the dominant caste in what is now the United States. While the requirements to qualify as white have changed over the centuries, the fact of a dominant caste has remained constant from its inceptionwhoever fit the definition of white, at whatever point in history, was granted the legal rights and privileges of the dominant caste. Perhaps more critically and tragically, at the other end of the ladder, the subordinated caste, too, has been fixed from the beginning as the psychological floor beneath which all other castes cannot fall. Thus we are all born into a silent war-game, centuries old, enlisted in teams not of our own choosing. The side to which we are assigned in the American system of categorizing people is proclaimed by the team uniform that each caste wears, signaling our presumed worth and potential. That any of us manages to create abiding connections across these manufactured divisions is a testament to the beauty of the human spirit. The use of inherited physical characteristics to differentiate inner abilities and group value may be the cleverest way that a culture has ever devised to manage and maintain a caste system. As a social and human division, wrote the political scientist Andrew Hacker of the use of physical traits to form human categories, it surpasses all otherseven genderin intensity and subordination. CHAPTER THREE An American Untouchable I n the winter of 1959, after leading the Montgomery bus boycott that arose from the arrest of Rosa Parks and before the trials and triumphs to come, Martin Luther King, Jr., and his wife, Coretta, landed in India, in the city then known as Bombay, to visit the land of Mohandas Gandhi, the father of nonviolent protest. They were covered in garlands upon arrival, and King told reporters, To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim. He had long dreamed of going to India, and they stayed an entire month, at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. King wanted to see for himself the place whose fight for freedom from British rule had inspired his fight for justice in America. He wanted to see the so-called Untouchables, the lowest caste in the ancient Indian caste system, whom he had read of and had sympathy for, but who had still been left behind after India gained its independence the decade before. He discovered that people in India had been following the trials of his own oppressed people in America, knew of the bus boycott he had led. Wherever he went, the people on the streets of Bombay and Delhi crowded around him for an autograph. One afternoon, King and his wife journeyed to the southern tip of the country, to the city of Trivandrum in the state of Kerala, and visited with high school students whose families had been Untouchables. The principal made the introduction. Young people, he said, I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America. King was floored. He had not expected that term to be applied to him. He was, in fact, put off by it at first. He had flown in from another continent, had dined with the prime minister. He did not see the connection, did not see what the Indian caste system had to do directly with him, did not immediately see why the lowest-caste people in India would view him, an American Negro and a distinguished visitor, as low-caste like themselves, see him as one of them. For a moment, he wrote, I was a bit shocked and peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable. Then he began to think about the reality of the lives of the people he was fighting for20 million people, consigned to the lowest rank in America for centuries, still smothering in an airtight cage of poverty, quarantined in isolated ghettoes, exiled in their own country. And he said to himself, Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable. In that moment, he realized that the Land of the Free had imposed a caste system not unlike the caste system of India and that he had lived under that system all of his life. It was what lay beneath the forces he was fighting in America. What Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized about his country that day had begun long before the ancestors of our ancestors had taken their first breaths. More than a century and a half before the American Revolution, a human hierarchy had evolved on the contested soil of what would become the United States, a concept of birthright, the temptation of entitled expansion that would set in motion the worlds first democracy and, with it, a ranking of human value and usage. It would twist the minds of men as greed and self-reverence eclipsed human conscience to take land and human bodies that the conquering men convinced themselves they had a right to. If they were to convert this wilderness and civilize it to their liking, they decided they would need to conquer, enslave, or remove the people already on it and transport those they deemed lesser beings to tame and work the land to extract the wealth that lay in the rich soil and shorelines. To justify their plans, they took preexisting notions of their own centrality, reinforced by their self-interested interpretation of the Bible, and created a hierarchy of who could do what, who could own what, who was on top and who was on the bottom and who was in between. There emerged a ladder of humanity, global in nature, as the upper-rung people would descend from Europe with rungs inside that designation, the English Protestants at the very top as their guns and resources would ultimately prevail in the bloody fight over North America. Everyone else would rank in descending order on the basis of their proximity to those deemed most superior. The ranking would continue downward until one arrived at the very bottomAfrican captives transported to build the New World and to serve the victors for all their days, one generation after the next, for twelve generations. There developed a caste system, based upon what people looked like, an internalized ranking, unspoken, unnamed, unacknowledged by everyday citizens even as they go about their lives adhering to it and acting upon it subconsciously to this day. Just as the studs and joists and beams that form the infrastructure of a building are not visible to those who live in it, so it is with caste. Its very invisibility is what gives it power and longevity. And though it may move in and out of consciousness, though it may flare and reassert itself in times of upheaval and recede in times of relative calm, it is an ever-present through line in the countrys operation. Caste is not a term often applied to the United States. It is considered the language of India or feudal Europe. But some anthropologists and scholars of race in America have made use of the term for decades. Before the modern era, one of the earliest Americans to take up the idea of caste was the antebellum abolitionist and U.S. senator Charles Sumner as he fought against segregation in the North. The separation of children in the Public Schools of Boston, on account of color or race, he wrote, is in the nature of Caste, and on this account is a violation of Equality. He quoted a fellow humanitarian: Caste makes distinctions where God has made none. We cannot fully understand the current upheavals or most any turning point in American history, without accounting for the human pyramid encrypted into us all. The caste system, and the attempts to defend, uphold, or abolish the hierarchy, underlay the American Civil War and the civil rights movement a century later and pervade the politics of twenty-first-century America. Just as DNA is the code of instructions for cell development, caste is the operating system for economic, political, and social interaction in the United States from the time of its gestation. In 1944, the Swedish social economist Gunnar Myrdal and a team of the most talented researchers in the country produced a 2,800-page, two-volume work that is still considered perhaps the most comprehensive study of race in America, An American Dilemma. Myrdals investigation into race led him to the realization that the most accurate term to describe the workings of American society was not race, but caste, that perhaps it was the only term that addresses what seemed a stubbornly fixed ranking of human value. He came to the conclusion that America had created a caste system and that the effort to maintain the color line has, to the ordinary white man, the function of upholding that caste system itself, of keeping the Negro in his place. The anthropologist Ashley Montagu was among the first to argue that race is a human invention, a social construct, not a biological one, and that in seeking to understand the divisions and disparities in the United States, we have typically fallen into the quicksand and mythology of race. When we speak of the race problem in America, he wrote in 1942, what we really mean is the caste system and the problems which that caste system creates in America. There was little confusion among some of the leading white supremacists of the previous century as to the connections between Indias caste system and that of the American South, where the purest legal caste system existed in the United States. A record of the desperate efforts of the conquering upper classes in India to preserve the purity of their blood persists until this very day in their carefully regulated system of castes, wrote Madison Grant, a popular eugenicist, in his 1916 bestseller, The Passing of the Great Race. In our Southern States, Jim Crow cars and social discriminations have exactly the same purpose. A caste system has a way of filtering down to every inhabitant, its codes absorbed like mineral springs, setting the expectations of where one fits on the ladder. The mill worker with nobody else to look down on, regards himself as eminently superior to the Negro, observed the Yale scholar Liston Pope in 1942. The colored man represents his last outpost against social oblivion. It was in 1913 that a prominent southern educator, Thomas Pearce Bailey, took it upon himself to assemble what he called the racial creed of the South. It amounted to the central tenets of the caste system. One of the tenets was Let the lowest white man count for more than the highest negro. That same year, a man born to the bottom of Indias caste system, born an Untouchable in the central provinces, arrived in New York City from Bombay. That fall, Bhimrao Ambedkar came to the United States to study economics as a graduate student at Columbia, focused on the differences between race, caste, and class. Living just blocks from Harlem, he would see firsthand the condition of his counterparts in America. He completed his thesis just as the film Birth of a Nation, the incendiary homage to the Confederate South, premiered in New York City in 1915. He would study further in London and return to India to become the foremost leader of the Untouchables and a preeminent intellectual who would help draft a new Indian constitution. He would work to dispense with the demeaning term Untouchable. He rejected the term Harijans applied to them by Gandhi, patronizingly so to their minds. He spoke of his people as Dalits, meaning broken people, which, due to the caste system, they were. It is hard to know what effect his exposure to the social order in America had on him personally. But over the years, he paid close attention, as did many Dalits, to the subordinate caste in America. Indians had long been aware of the plight of enslaved Africans and of their descendants in the preCivil War United States. Back in the 1870s, after the end of slavery and during the brief window of black advancement known as Reconstruction, an Indian social reformer named Jotiba Phule found inspiration in the abolitionists. He expressed hope that my countrymen may take their noble example as their guide. Many decades later, in the summer of 1946, acting on news that black Americans were petitioning the United Nations for protection as minorities, Ambedkar reached out to the best known African-American intellectual of the day, W.E.B. Du Bois. He told Du Bois that he had been a student of the Negro problem from across the oceans and recognized their common fates. There is so much similarity between the position of the Untouchables in India and of the position of the Negroes in America, Ambedkar wrote to Du Bois, that the study of the latter is not only natural but necessary. Du Bois wrote back to Ambedkar to say that he was, indeed, familiar with him, and that he had every sympathy with the Untouchables of India. It had been Du Bois who seemed to have spoken for the marginalized in both countries as he identified the double-consciousness of their existence. And it was Du Bois who, decades before, had invoked an Indian concept in channeling the bitter cry of his people in America: Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? I embarked upon this book with a similar desire to reach out across the oceans to better understand how all of this began in the United States: the assigning of meaning to unchangeable physical characteristics, the pyramid passed down through the centuries that defines and directs politics and policies and personal interactions. What are the origins and workings of the hierarchy that intrudes upon the daily life and life chances of every American? That had intruded upon my own life with disturbing regularity and consequences? I began investigating the American caste system after nearly two decades of examining the history of the Jim Crow South, the legal caste system that grew out of enslavement and lasted into the early 1970s, within the life spans of many current-day Americans. I discovered, while working on The Warmth of Other Suns, that I was not writing about geography and relocation, but about the American caste system, an artificial hierarchy in which most everything that you could and could not do was based upon what you looked like and that manifested itself north and south. I had been writing about a stigmatized people, six million of them, who were seeking freedom from the caste system in the South, only to discover that the hierarchy followed them wherever they went, much in the way that the shadow of caste, I would soon discover, follows Indians in their own global diaspora. For this book, I wanted to understand the origins and evolution of classifying and elevating one group of people over another and the consequences of doing so to the presumed beneficiaries and to those targeted as beneath them. Moving about the world as a living, breathing caste experiment myself, I wanted to understand the hierarchies that I and many millions of others have had to navigate to pursue our work and dreams. To do so meant, for one, looking into the worlds most recognized caste system, Indias, and examining the parallels, overlaps, and contrasts between the one that prevailed in my own country and the original. I also sought to comprehend the molecular, concentrated evil that had produced the caste system imposed in Nazi Germany and found startling, unsettling connections between the United States and Germany in the decades leading to the Third Reich. Searching the histories of all three hierarchies and poring over a wealth of studies on caste across many disciplines, I began to compile the parallels in a more systematic way and identified the essential shared characteristics of these hierarchies, what I call the eight pillars of caste, traits disturbingly present in all of them. Scholars have devoted tremendous energy to studying the Jim Crow caste system, under whose shadow the United States still labors, while others have intensely studied the millennia-old caste system of India. Scholars have tended to regard them in isolation, specializing in one or the other. Few have held them side by side, and those who have done so have often been met with resistance. Undeterred by what, for me, became a mission, I sought to dig up the taproots of hierarchy and the distortions and injustice it yields. Beyond the United States, my research took me to London, Berlin, Delhi, and Edinburgh, following the historic threads of inherited human rank. To further document this phenomenon, I chose to describe scenes of caste throughout this worksome drawn reluctantly from my own encounters with caste and others told to me by the people who experienced them or who had intimate knowledge of them. While this book seeks to consider the effects on everyone caught in the hierarchy, it devotes significant attention to the poles of the American caste system, those at the top, European Americans, who have been its primary beneficiaries, and those at the bottom, African-Americans, against whom the caste system has directed its full powers of dehumanization. The American caste system began in the years after the arrival of the first Africans to Virginia colony in the summer of 1619, as the colony sought to refine the distinctions of who could be enslaved for life and who could not. Over time, colonial laws granted English and Irish indentured servants greater privileges than the Africans who worked alongside them, and the Europeans were fused into a new identity, that of being categorized as white, the polar opposite of black. The historian Kenneth M. Stampp called this assigning of race a caste system, which divided those whose appearance enabled them to claim pure Caucasian ancestry from those whose appearance indicated that some or all of their forebears were Negroes. Members of the Caucasian caste, as he called it, believed in white supremacy, and maintained a high degree of caste solidarity to secure it. Thus, throughout this book you will see many references to the American South, the birthplace of this caste system. The South is where the majority of the subordinate caste was consigned to live for most of the countrys history and for that reason is where the caste system was formalized and most brutally enforced. It was there that the tenets of intercaste relations first took hold before spreading to the rest of the country, leading the writer Alexis de Tocqueville to observe in 1831: The prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those states where servitude has never been known. To recalibrate how we see ourselves, I use language that may be more commonly associated with people in other cultures, to suggest a new way of understanding our hierarchy: Dominant caste, ruling majority, favored caste, or upper caste, instead of, or in addition to, white. Middle castes instead of, or in addition to, Asian or Latino. Subordinate caste, lowest caste, bottom caste, disfavored caste, historically stigmatized instead of African-American. Original, conquered, or indigenous peoples instead of, or in addition to, Native American. Marginalized people in addition to, or instead of, women of any race, or minorities of any kind. Some of this may sound like a foreign language. In some ways it is and is meant to be. Because, to truly understand America, we must open our eyes to the hidden work of a caste system that has gone unnamed but prevails among us to our collective detriment, to see that we have more in common with each other and with cultures that we might otherwise dismiss, and to summon the courage to consider that therein may lie the answers. In embarking upon this work, I devoured books about caste in India and in the United States. Anything with the word caste in it lit up my neurons. I discovered kindred spirits from the pastsociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers, writerswhose work carried me through time and across generations. Many had labored against the tide, and I felt that I was carrying on a tradition and was not walking alone. In the midst of the research, word of my inquiries spread to some Indian scholars of caste, based here in America. They invited me to speak at an inaugural conference on caste and race at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the town where W.E.B. Du Bois was born and where his papers are kept. There, I told the audience that I had written a six-hundred-page book about the Jim Crow era in the American South, the time of naked white supremacy, but that the word racism did not appear anywhere in the narrative. I told them that, after spending fifteen years studying the topic and hearing the testimony of the survivors of the era, I realized that the term was insufficient. Caste was the more accurate term, and I set out to them the reasons why. They were both stunned and heartened. The plates of Indian food kindly set before me at the reception thereafter sat cold due to the press of questions and the sharing that went into the night. At a closing ceremony that I had not been made aware of ahead of time, the hosts presented to me a bronze-colored bust of the patron saint of the low-born of India, Bhimrao Ambedkar, the Dalit leader who had written to Du Bois all those decades before. It felt like an initiation into a caste to which I had somehow always belonged. Over and over, they shared scenarios of what they had endured, and I responded in personal recognition, as if even to anticipate some particular turn or outcome. To their astonishment, I began to be able to tell who was high-born and who was low-born among the Indian people among us, not from what they looked like, as one might in the United States, but on the basis of the universal human response to hierarchyin the case of an upper-caste person, an inescapable certitude in bearing, demeanor, behavior, a visible expectation of centrality. After one session, I went up to a woman presenter whose caste I had ascertained from observing her interactions. I noticed that she had reflexively stood over the Dalit speaker and had taken it upon herself to explain what the Dalit woman had just said or meant, to take a position of authority as if by second nature, perhaps without realizing it. We chatted a bit, and then I said to her, I believe you must be upper caste, are you not? She looked crestfallen. How did you know? she said, I try so hard. We talked for what seemed an hour more, and I could see the effort it took to manage the unconscious signals of encoded superiority, the presence of mind necessary to counteract the programming of caste. I could see how hard it was even for someone committed to healing the caste divide, who was, as it turned out, married to a man from the subordinate caste and who was deeply invested in egalitarian ideals. On the way home, I was snapped back to my own world when airport security flagged my suitcase for inspection. The TSA worker happened to be an African-American who looked to be in his early twenties. He strapped on latex gloves to begin his work. He dug through my suitcase and excavated a small box, unwrapped the folds of paper and held in his palm the bust of Ambedkar that I had been given. This is what came up in the X-ray, he said. It was heavy like a paperweight. He turned it upside down and inspected it from all sides, his gaze lingering at the bottom of it. He seemed concerned that something might be inside. Ill have to swipe it, he warned me. He came back after some time and declared it okay, and I could continue with it on my journey. He looked at the bespectacled face with the receding hairline and steadfast expression, and seemed to wonder why I would be carrying what looked like a totem from another culture. So who is this? he asked. The name Ambedkar alone would not have registered; I had learned of him myself only the year before, and there was no time to explain the parallel caste system. So I blurted out what seemed to make the most sense. Oh, I said, this is the Martin Luther King of India. Pretty cool, he said, satisfied now, and seeming a little proud. He then wrapped Ambedkar back up as if he were King himself and set him back gently into the suitcase. An Invisible Program In the imagination of two late-twentieth-century filmmakers, an unseen force of artificial intelligence has overtaken the human species, has managed to control humans in an alternate reality in which everything one sees, feels, hears, tastes, smells, touches is in actuality a program. There are programs within programs, and humans become not just programmed but are in danger of and, in fact, well on their way to becoming nothing more than programs. What is reality and what is a program morph into one. The interlocking program passes for life itself. The great quest in the film series The Matrix involves those humans who awaken to this realization as they search for a way to escape their entrapment. Those who accept their programming get to lead deadened, surface lives enslaved to a semblance of reality. They are captives, safe on the surface, as long as they are unaware of their captivity. Perhaps it is the unthinking acquiescence, the blindness to ones imprisonment, that is the most effective way for human beings to remain captive. People who do not know that they are captive will not resist their bondage. But those who awaken to their captivity threaten the hum of the matrix. Any attempt to escape their imprisonment risks detection, signals a breach in the order, exposes the artifice of unreality that has been imposed upon human beings. The Matrix, the unseen master program fed by the survival instinct of an automated collective, does not react well to threats to its existence. In a crucial moment, a man who has only recently awakened to the program in which he and his species are ensnared consults a wise woman, the Oracle, who, it appears, could guide him. He is uncertain and wary, as he takes a seat next to her on a park bench that may or may not be real. She speaks in code and metaphor. A flock of birds alights on the pavement beyond them. See those birds, the Oracle says to him. At some point a program was written to govern them. She looks up and scans the horizon. A program was written to watch over the trees and the wind, the sunrise and sunset. There are programs running all over the place. Some of these programs go without notice, so perfectly attuned they are to their task, so deeply embedded in the drone of existence. The ones doing their job, she tells him, doing what they were meant to do are invisible. Youd never even know they were here. So, too, with the caste system as it goes about its work in silence, the string of a puppet master unseen by those whose subconscious it directs, its instructions an intravenous drip to the mind, caste in the guise of normalcy, injustice looking just, atrocities looking unavoidable to keep the machinery humming, the matrix of caste as a facsimile for life itself and whose purpose is maintaining the primacy of those hoarding and holding tight to power. Part Two THE ARBITRARY CONSTRUCTION OF HUMAN DIVISIONS CHAPTER FOUR A Long-Running Play and the Emergence of Caste in America D ay after day, the curtain rises on a stage of epic proportions, one that has been running for centuries. The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the characters they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very being, to merge the assignment with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world. The costumes were handed out at birth and can never be removed. The costumes cue everyone in the cast to the roles each character is to play and to each characters place on the stage. Over the run of the show, the cast has grown accustomed to who plays which part. For generations, everyone has known who is center stage in the lead. Everyone knows who the hero is, who the supporting characters are, who is the sidekick good for laughs, and who is in shadow, the undifferentiated chorus with no lines to speak, no voice to sing, but necessary for the production to work. The roles become sufficiently embedded into the identity of the players that the leading man or woman would not be expected so much as to know the names or take notice of the people in the back, and there would be no need for them to do so. Stay in the roles long enough, and everyone begins to believe that the roles are preordained, that each cast member is best suited by talent and temperament for their assigned role, and maybe for only that role, that they belong there and were meant to be cast as they are currently seen. The cast members become associated with their characters, typecast, locked into either inflated or disfavored assumptions. They become their characters. As an actor, you are to move the way you are directed to move, speak the way your character is expected to speak. You are not yourself. You are not to be yourself. Stick to the script and to the part you are cast to play, and you will be rewarded. Veer from the script, and you will face the consequences. Veer from the script, and other cast members will step in to remind you where you went off-script. Do it often enough or at a critical moment and you may be fired, demoted, cast out, your character conveniently killed off in the plot. The social pyramid known as a caste system is not identical to the cast in a play, though the similarity in the two words hints at a tantalizing intersection. When we are cast into roles, we are not ourselves. We are not supposed to be ourselves. We are performing based on our place in the production, not necessarily on who we are inside. We are all players on a stage that was built long before our ancestors arrived in this land. We are the latest cast in a long-running drama that premiered on this soil in the early seventeenth century. It was in late August 1619, a year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, that a Dutch man-of-war set anchor at the mouth of the James River, at Point Comfort, in the wilderness of what is now known as Virginia. We know this only because of a haphazard line in a letter written by the early settler John Rolfe. This is the oldest surviving reference to Africans in the English colonies in America, people who looked different from the colonists and who would ultimately be assigned by law to the bottom of an emerging caste system. Rolfe mentions them as merchandise and not necessarily the merchandise the English settlers had been expecting. The ship brought not anything but 20 and odd Negroes, Rolfe wrote, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualles. These Africans had been captured from a slave ship bound for the Spanish colonies but were sold farther north to the British. Historians do not agree on what their status was, if they were bound in the short term for indentured servitude or relegated immediately to the status of lifetime enslavement, the condition that would befall most every human who looked like them arriving on these shores or born here for the next quarter millennium. The few surviving records from the time of their arrival show they held at the outset a singularly debased status in the eyes of white Virginians, wrote the historian Alden T. Vaughan. If not yet consigned formally to permanent enslavement, black Virginians were at least well on their way to such a condition. In the decades to follow, colonial laws herded European workers and African workers into separate and unequal queues and set in motion the caste system that would become the cornerstone of the social, political, and economic system in America. This caste system would trigger the deadliest war on U.S. soil, lead to the ritual killings of thousands of subordinate-caste people in lynchings, and become the source of inequalities that becloud and destabilize the country to this day. With the first rough attempts at a colonial census, conducted in Virginia in 1630, a hierarchy began to form. Few Africans were seen as significant enough to be listed in the census by name, as would be the case for the generations to follow, in contrast to the majority of European inhabitants, indentured or not. The Africans were not cited by age or arrival date as were the Europeans, information vital to setting the terms and time frame of indenture for Europeans, or for Africans, had they been in the same category, been seen as equal, or seen as needing to be accurately accounted for. Thus, before there was a United States of America, there was the caste system, born in colonial Virginia. At first, religion, not race as we now know it, defined the status of people in the colonies. Christianity, as a proxy for Europeans, generally exempted European workers from lifetime enslavement. This initial distinction is what condemned, first, indigenous people, and, then, Africans, most of whom were not Christian upon arrival, to the lowest rung of an emerging hierarchy before the concept of race had congealed to justify their eventual and total debasement. The creation of a caste system was a process of testing the bounds of human categories and not the result of a single edict. It was a decades-long sharpening of lines whenever the colonists had a decision to make. When Africans began converting to Christianity, they posed a challenge to a religion-based hierarchy. Their efforts to claim full participation in the colonies was in direct opposition to the European hunger for the cheapest, most pliant labor to extract the most wealth from the New World. The strengths of African workers became their undoing. British colonists in the West Indies, for example, saw Africans as a civilized and relatively docile population, who were accustomed to discipline, and who cooperated well on a given task. Africans demonstrated an immunity to European diseases, making them more viable to the colonists than were the indigenous people the Europeans had originally tried to enslave. More pressingly, the colonies of the Chesapeake were faltering and needed manpower to cultivate tobacco. The colonies farther south were suited for sugarcane, rice, and cottoncrops with which the English had little experience, but that Africans had either cultivated in their native lands or were quick to master. The colonists soon realized that without Africans and the skills that they brought, their enterprises would fail, wrote the anthropologists Audrey and Brian Smedley. In the eyes of the European colonists and to the Africans tragic disadvantage, they happened to bear an inadvertent birthmark over their entire bodies that should have been nothing more than a neutral variation in human appearance, but which made them stand out from the English and Irish indentured servants. The Europeans could and did escape from their masters and blend into the general white population that was hardening into a single caste. The Gaelic insurrections caused the English to seek to replace this source of servile labor entirely with another source, African slaves, the Smedleys wrote. The colonists had been unable to enslave the native population on its own turf and believed themselves to have solved the labor problem with the Africans they imported. With little further use for the original inhabitants, the colonists began to exile them from their ancestral lands and from the emerging caste system. This left Africans firmly at the bottom, and, by the late 1600s, Africans were not merely slaves; they were hostages subjected to unspeakable tortures that their captors documented without remorse. And there was no one on the planet willing to pay a ransom for their rescue. Americans are loath to talk about enslavement in part because what little we know about it goes against our perception of our country as a just and enlightened nation, a beacon of democracy for the world. Slavery is commonly dismissed as a sad, dark chapter in the countrys history. It is as if the greater the distance we can create between slavery and ourselves, the better to stave off the guilt or shame it induces. But in the same way that individuals cannot move forward, become whole and healthy, unless they examine the domestic violence they witnessed as children or the alcoholism that runs in their family, the country cannot become whole until it confronts what was not a chapter in its history, but the basis of its economic and social order. For a quarter millennium, slavery was the country. Slavery was a part of everyday life, a spectacle that public officials and European visitors to the slaving provinces could not help but comment on with curiosity and revulsion. In a speech in the House of Representatives, a nineteenth-century congressman from Ohio lamented that on the beautiful avenue in front of the Capitol, members of Congress, during this session, have been compelled to turn aside from their path, to permit a coffle of slaves, males and females chained to each other by their necks to pass on their way to this national slave market. The secretary of the U.S. Navy expressed horror at the sight of barefoot men and women locked together with the weight of an ox-chain in the beating sun, forced to walk the distance to damnation in a state farther south, and riding behind them, a white man on horse back, carrying pistols in his belt, and who, as we passed him, had the impudence to look us in the face without blushing. The Navy official, James K. Paulding, said: When they [the slaveholders] permit such flagrant and indecent outrages upon humanity as that I have described; when they sanction a villain, in thus marching half naked women and men, loaded with chains, without being charged with a crime but that of being black, from one section of the United States to another, hundreds of miles in the face of day, they disgrace themselves, and the country to which they belong. Slavery in this land was not merely an unfortunate thing that happened to black people. It was an American innovation, an American institution created by and for the benefit of the elites of the dominant caste and enforced by poorer members of the dominant caste who tied their lot to the caste system rather than to their consciences. It made lords of everyone in the dominant caste, as law and custom stated that submission is required of the Slave, not to the will of the Master only, but to the will of all other White Persons. It was not merely a torn thread in an otherwise perfect cloth, wrote the sociologist Stephen Steinberg. It would be closer to say that slavery provided the fabric out of which the cloth was made. American slavery, which lasted from 1619 to 1865, was not the slavery of ancient Greece or the illicit sex slavery of today. The abhorrent slavery of today is unreservedly illegal, and any current-day victim who escapes, escapes to a world that recognizes her freedom and will work to punish her enslaver. American slavery, by contrast, was legal and sanctioned by the state and a web of enforcers. Any victim who managed to escape, escaped to a world that not only did not recognize her freedom but would return her to her captors for further unspeakable horrors as retribution. In American slavery, the victims, not the enslavers, were punished, subject to whatever atrocities the enslaver could devise as a lesson to others. What the colonists created was an extreme form of slavery that had existed nowhere in the world, wrote the legal historian Ariela J. Gross. For the first time in history, one category of humanity was ruled out of the human race and into a separate subgroup that was to remain enslaved for generations in perpetuity. The institution of slavery was, for a quarter millennium, the conversion of human beings into currency, into machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners, to be worked as long as the owners desired, who had no rights over their bodies or loved ones, who could be mortgaged, bred, won in a bet, given as wedding presents, bequeathed to heirs, sold away from spouses or children to cover an owners debt or to spite a rival or to settle an estate. They were regularly whipped, raped, and branded, subjected to any whim or distemper of the people who owned them. Some were castrated or endured other tortures too grisly for these pages, tortures that the Geneva Conventions would have banned as war crimes had the conventions applied to people of African descent on this soil. Before there was a United States of America, there was enslavement. Theirs was a living death passed down for twelve generations. The slave is doomed to toil, that others may reap the fruits is how a letter writer identifying himself as Judge Ruffin testified to what he saw in the Deep South. The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, wrote William Goodell, a minister who chronicled the institution of slavery in the 1830s. What he chooses to inflict upon him, he must suffer. He must never lift a hand in self-defense. He must utter no word of remonstrance. He has no protection and no redress, fewer than the animals of the field. They were seen as not capable of being injured,Goodell wrote. They may be punished at the discretion of their lord, or even put to death by his authority. As a window into their exploitation, consider that in 1740, South Carolina, like other slaveholding states, finally decided to limit the workday of enslaved African-Americans to fifteen hours from March to September and to fourteen hours from September to March, double the normal workday for humans who actually get paid for their labor. In that same era, prisoners found guilty of actual crimes were kept to a maximum of ten hours per workday. Let no one say that African-Americans as a group have not worked for our country. For the ceaseless exertions of their waking hours, many subsisted on a peck of corn a week, which they had to mill by hand at night after their labors in the field. Some owners denied them even that as punishment and allowed meat for protein only once a year. They were scarcely permitted to pick up crumbs that fell from their masters tables, George Whitefield wrote. Stealing food was a crime, punished by flogging. Your slaves, I believe, work as hard, if not harder, than the horses whereon you ride, Whitefield wrote in an open letter to the colonies of the Chesapeake in 1739. These, after their work is done, are fed and taken proper care of. Enslavers bore down on their hostages to extract the most profit, whipping those who fell short of impossible targets, and whipping all the harder those who exceeded them to wring more from their exhausted bodies. Whipping was a gateway form of violence that led to bizarrely creative levels of sadism, wrote the historian Edward Baptist. Enslavers used every modern method of torture, he observed, from mutilation to waterboarding. Slavery made the enslavers among the richest people in the world, granting them the ability to turn a person into cash at the shortest possible notice. But from the time of enslavement, southerners minimized the horrors they inflicted and to which they had grown accustomed. No one was willing, Baptist wrote, to admit that they lived in an economy whose bottom gear was torture. The vast majority of African-Americans who lived in this land in the first 246 years of what is now the United States lived under the terror of people who had absolute power over their bodies and their very breath, subject to people who faced no sanction for any atrocity they could conjure. This fact is of great significance for the understanding of racial conflict, wrote the sociologist Guy B. Johnson, for it means that white people during the long period of slavery became accustomed to the idea of regulating Negro insolence and insubordination by force with the consent and approval of the law. Slavery so perverted the balance of power that it made the degradation of the subordinate caste seem normal and righteous. In the gentlest houses drifted now and then the sound of dragging chains and shackles, the bay of the hounds, the report of pistols on the trail of the runaway, wrote the southern writer Wilbur J. Cash. And as the advertisements of the time incontestably prove, mutilation and the mark of the branding iron. The most respected and beneficent of society people oversaw forced labor camps that were politely called plantations, concentrated with hundreds of unprotected prisoners whose crime was that they were born with dark skin. Good and loving mothers and fathers, pillars of their communities, personally inflicted gruesome tortures upon their fellow human beings. For the horrors of the American Negros life, wrote James Baldwin, there has been almost no language. This was what the United States was for longer than it was not. It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United States that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United States will have been an independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on its soil. No current-day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaved. That will not come until the year 2111. It would take a civil war, the deaths of three-quarters of a million soldiers and civilians, the assassination of a president, Abraham Lincoln, and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to bring the institution of enslavement in the United States of America to an end. For a brief window of time, the twelve years known as Reconstruction, the North sought to rebuild the South and help the 4 million people who had been newly liberated. But the federal government withdrew for political expediency in 1877, and left those in the subordinate caste in the hands of the very people who had enslaved them. Now, nursing resentments from defeat in the war, people in the dominant caste took out their hostilities on the subordinate caste with fresh tortures and violence to restore their sovereignty in a reconstituted caste system. The dominant caste devised a labyrinth of laws to hold the newly freed people on the bottom rung ever more tightly, while a popular new pseudoscience called eugenics worked to justify the renewed debasement. People on the bottom rung could be beaten or killed with impunity for any breach of the caste system, like not stepping off the sidewalk fast enough or trying to vote. The colonists made decisions that created the caste system long before the arrival of the ancestors of the majority of people who now identify as Americans. The dominant caste controlled all resources, controlled whether, when, and if a black person would eat, sleep, reproduce, or live. The colonists created a caste of people who would by definition be seen as dumb because it was illegal to teach them to read or write, as lazy to justify the bullwhip, as immoral to justify rape and forced breeding, as criminal because the colonists made the natural response to kidnap, floggings, and torturethe human impulse to defend oneself or break freea crime if one were black. Thus, each new immigrantthe ancestors of most current-day Americanswalked into a preexisting hierarchy, bipolar in construction, arising from slavery and pitting the extremes in human pigmentation at opposite ends. Each new immigrant had to figure out how and where to position themselves in the hierarchy of their adopted new land. Oppressed people from around the world, particularly from Europe, passed through Ellis Island, shed their old selves, and often their old names to gain admittance to the powerful dominant majority. Somewhere in the journey, Europeans became something they had never been or needed to be before. They went from being Czech or Hungarian or Polish to white, a political designation that only has meaning when set against something not white. They would join a new creation, an umbrella category for anyone who entered the New World from Europe. Germans gained acceptance as part of the dominant caste in the 1840s, according to immigration and legal scholar Ian Haney L?pez, the Irish in the 1850s to 1880s, and the eastern and southern Europeans in the early twentieth century. It was in becoming American that they became white. In Ireland or Italy, L?pez wrote, whatever social or racial identities these people might have possessed, being White wasnt one of them. Serbs and Albanians, Swedes and Russians, Turks and Bulgarians who might have been at war with one another back in their mother countries were fused together, on the basis not of a shared ethnic culture or language or faith or national origin but solely on the basis of what they looked like in order to strengthen the dominant caste in the hierarchy. No one was white before he/she came to America, James Baldwin once said. Their geographic origin was their passport to the dominant caste. The European immigrants experience was decisively shaped by their entering an arena where Europeannessthat is to say, whitenesswas among the most important possessions one could lay claim to, wrote the Yale historian Matthew Frye Jacobson. It was their whiteness, not any kind of New World magnanimity that opened the Golden Door. To gain acceptance, each fresh infusion of immigrants had to enter into a silent, unspoken pact of separating and distancing themselves from the established lowest caste. Becoming white meant defining themselves as furthest from its oppositeblack. They could establish their new status by observing how the lowest caste was regarded and imitating or one-upping the disdain and contempt, learning the epithets, joining in on violence against them to prove themselves worthy of admittance to the dominant caste. They might have arrived as neutral innocents but would have been forced to choose sides if they were to survive in their adopted land. Here they had to learn how to be white. Thus Irish immigrants, who would not have had anything against any one group upon arrival and were escaping famine and persecution of their own under the British, were pitted against black residents when they were drafted to fight a war over slavery from which they did not benefit and that they did not cause. Unable to attack the white elites who were sending them to war and who had prohibited black men from enlisting, Irish immigrants turned their frustration and rage against the scapegoats who they by now knew were beneath them in the American hierarchy. They hung black men from lamp poles and burned to the ground anything associated with black peoplehomes, businesses, churches, a black orphanagein the Draft Riots of 1863, considered the largest race riot in American history. A century later and in living memory, some four thousand Italian and Polish immigrants went on a rampage when a black veteran tried to move his family into the all-white suburb of Cicero, Illinois, in 1951. Hostility toward the lowest caste became part of the initiation rite into citizenship in America. Thus, people who had descended from Africans became the unifying foil in solidifying the caste system, the bar against which all others could measure themselves approvingly. It was not just that various white immigrant groups economic successes came at the expense of nonwhites, Jacobson wrote, but that they owe their now stabilized and broadly recognized whiteness itself in part to those nonwhite groups. The institution of slavery created a crippling distortion of human relationships where people on one side were made to perform the role of subservience and to sublimate whatever innate talents or intelligence they might have had. They had to suppress their grief over the loss of children or spouses whose bodies had not died but in a way had died because they had been torn from them never to be seen again and at the hands of the very people they were forced to depend upon for their very breaththe reward for all this being that they might not be whipped that day or their remaining son or daughter might not be taken from them this time. On the other side, the dominant caste lived under the illusion of an innate superiority over all other groups of humans, told themselves that the people they forced to work for up to eighteen hours, without the pay that anyone had a right to expect, were not, in fact, people, but beasts of the field, childlike creatures, not men, not women, that the performance of servility that had been flogged out of them arose from genuine respect and admiration for their innate glory. These disfigured relationships were handed down through the generations. The people whose ancestors had put them atop the hierarchy grew accustomed to the unearned deference from the subjugated group and came to expect it. They told themselves that the people beneath them did not feel pain or heartache, were debased machines that only looked human and upon whom one could inflict any atrocity. The people who told themselves these things were telling lies to themselves. Their lives were to some degree a lie and in dehumanizing these people whom they regarded as beasts of the field, they dehumanized themselves. Americans of today have inherited these distorted rules of engagement whether or not their families had enslaved people or had even been in the United States. Slavery built the man-made chasm between blacks and whites that forces the middle castes of Asians, Latinos, indigenous people, and new immigrants of African descent to navigate within what began as a bipolar hierarchy. Newcomers learn to vie for the good favor of the dominant caste and to distance themselves from the bottom-dwellers, as if everyone were in the grip of an invisible playwright. They learn to conform to the dictates of the ruling caste if they are to prosper in their new land, a shortcut being to contrast themselves with the degraded lowest caste, to use them as the historic foil against which to rise in a harsh, every-man-for-himself economy. By the late 1930s, as war and authoritarianism were brewing in Europe, the caste system in America was fully in force and into its third century. Its operating principles were evident all over the country, but caste was enforced without quarter in the authoritarian Jim Crow regime of the former Confederacy. Caste in the South, wrote the anthropologists W. Lloyd Warner and Allison Davis, is a system for arbitrarily defining the status of all Negroes and of all whites with regard to the most fundamental privileges and opportunities of human society. It would become the social, economic, and psychological template at work in one degree or another for generations. A few years ago, a Nigerian-born playwright came to a talk that I gave at the British Library in London. She was intrigued by the lecture, the idea that 6 million African-Americans had had to seek political asylum within the borders of their own country during the Great Migration, a history that she had not known of. She talked with me afterward and said something that I have never forgotten, that startled me in its simplicity. You know that there are no black people in Africa, she said. Most Americans, weaned on the myth of drawable lines between human beings, have to sit with that statement. It sounds nonsensical to our ears. Of course there are black people in Africa. There is a whole continent of black people in Africa. How could anyone not see that? Africans are not black, she said. They are Igbo and Yoruba, Ewe, Akan, Ndebele. They are not black. They are just themselves. They are humans on the land. That is how they see themselves, and that is who they are. What we take as gospel in American culture is alien to them, she said. They dont become black until they go to America or come to the U.K., she said. It is then that they become black. It was in the making of the New World that Europeans became white, Africans black, and everyone else yellow, red, or brown. It was in the making of the New World that humans were set apart on the basis of what they looked like, identified solely in contrast to one another, and ranked to form a caste system based on a new concept called race. It was in the process of ranking that we were all cast into assigned roles to meet the needs of the larger production. None of us are ourselves. CHAPTER FIVE The Container We Have Built for You H er name is Miss. It is only Miss. It is Miss for a reason. She was born in Texas in the 1970s to parents who came of age under Jim Crow, the authoritarian regime that laid the ground rules for the rest of a willing country. The overarching rule was that the lowest caste was to remain low in every way at all times, at any cost. Every reference was intended to reinforce their inferiority. In describing a train wreck, for instance, newspapers would report, two men and two women were killed, and four Negroes. Black men were never to be addressed as Mister, and black women were never to be addressed as Miss or Mrs., but rather by their first name or auntie or gal, regardless of their age or marital status. These rules were as basic as the change in the seasons, and a mayoral campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, turned almost entirely on a breach of a sacrosanct protocol. The supremacist police chief, Bull Connor, had a favorite in that 1961 race. He decided to secure the election of the man he wanted to win by framing the man he wanted to lose: he paid a black man to shake the opposing candidates hand in public as a photographer lay in wait. The story took up a full page in a local newspaper, and the opponent lost the election as Bull Connor knew he would. For white southerners, it was a cardinal sin, it was harrowing, wrote the historian Jason Sokol, to call a black man Mister or to shake hands with him. A young boy growing up ninety miles south, in Selma, watched white people, complete strangers, children even, call his mother and grandmother by their first names, have the nerve to call out Pearlie! to his mother instead of Mrs. Hale, despite their upright bearing and church gloves and finery. Harold Hale came to hate this presumption of overfamiliarity, their putting his high-minded Mama and Big Mama in their place, and, worse still, knowing that there was nothing he could do about it. In early 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to town. It had been one hundred years since the end of the Civil War, and the subordinate caste was still not permitted to vote, despite the Fifteenth Amendment granting that right. Harold Hale signed up for the march Dr. King was planning from Selma to Montgomery. The Edmund Pettus Bridge that they would have to cross to begin the journey was a few blocks from Hales house. When he and the six hundred other marchers arrived at the foot of the bridge, a column of state troopers in helmets and on horseback blocked their path. The troopers stormed the protesters. They gassed, beat, and trampled them, charging horses, their hoofs flashing over the fallen, in the words of the writer George B. Leonard, who watched in horror from his black-and-white television set. ABC News had cut into the middle of Judgment at Nuremberg, a movie about Nazi war crimes, to broadcast the grainy footage from Selma, one nightmare fusing into another. Hale, a teenager far from the leaders up front, was unharmed physically. But he worried now about how long it might take for change to come. He decided then and there that if there was one thing he would do, he would make the dominant caste respect the next generation in his line. He decided he would stand up to the caste system by naming his firstborn daughter, whenever he might be so blessed, Miss. He would give no one in the dominant caste the option but to call her by the title they had denied his foremothers. Miss would be her name. When his firstborn daughter arrived, his wife, Linda, went along with the plan. Miss was now seated across from me at her lace-covered dinner table one summer evening. The homemade lasagna and strawberry cake had been put away. The kids and her husband were otherwise occupied, and she was recounting her life, north and south, how her fathers dreams have brushed up against caste as she moves about the world. A white porcelain sugar bowl sat between us on the table. She swept her hand over the top of the bowl. I find that white people are fine with me, she said, as long as I stay in my place. As long as I stay in the container we have built for you. She tapped the side of the sugar bowl, gentle, insistent taps. As soon as I get out of the container, she said, lifting the lid from its bowl, its a problem. She held the lid up to the light and then closed it back in its place. When she was a little girl, her family moved to a small town in East Texas. They were the only black family on their block. Her father took delight in keeping the front yard pristine and tended to it in his off hours. He would change out the annuals in the flower beds overnight so that people would awaken to the surprise of a practically new yard. One day, a white man who lived in the neighborhood saw her father out front mowing the lawn. The man told her father he was doing a mighty fine job and asked what he was charging for yard work. Oh, I dont charge anything, Harold Hale said. I get to sleep with the lady of the house. He smiled at the man. I live here. Once word got out, people took baseball bats and knocked down the mailbox in front of the Hales carefully tended garden. So Harold Hale set the next mailbox in concrete. One day, someone rolled by and tried to knock it down again from the car window, and when they did, the family heard a yell from outside. The person had hurt their arm trying to hurl the bat at the new mailbox, Miss said. But it was in concrete, and the bat kicked back at them. People left the mailbox alone after that. The local high schools began permitting the two castes to go to school together in the early 1970s, before the family had arrived. When she was in tenth grade, she and her friends attracted unexpected attention for the walkie-talkies they used during their breaks between classes. This was before cellphones, and it allowed her to keep in touch with her friends, whod gather at her locker at break time. The principal called her into his office one day, suspicious of the activity and wanting to know why these people were gathered around her locker. She showed him the device. He asked her name. Miss Hale, she said. Whats your first name? Its Miss. I said, what is your first name? My name is Miss. I dont have time for this foolishness. Whats your real name? She repeated the name her father had given her. The principal was agitated now, and told an assistant to get her records. The records confirmed her name. Hale. Hale, he repeated to himself, trying to figure out the origins of this breach in protocol. In small southern towns, the white people knew or expected to know all the black people, the majority of whom would be dependent on the dominant caste for their income or survival one way or the other. He was trying to figure out what black family had had the nerve to name their daughter Miss, knowing the fix it would put the white people in. Hale. I dont know any Hales, he finally said. Youre not from around here. Where is your father from? Hes from Alabama. Who does he work for? She told him the name of the company, which was based outside of Texas. She told him it was a Fortune 500 company. Her parents had taught her to say this in hopes of giving her some extra protection. I knew you werent from around here, he said. Know how I know? She shook her head, waiting to be excused. You looked me in the eye when I was talking, he said of this breach in caste. Colored folks from around here know better than to do that. She was finally excused, and when she got home that day, she told her father what happened. He had waited twenty years for this moment. What did he say? And then what did you say? And what did he say after that? He could barely contain himself. The plan was working. He told her over and over that she must live up to the name she was given. They dont have the corner on humanity, he told her. They dont have the corner on femininity. They dont have the corner on everything it means to be a whole, admirable, noble, honorable female member of the species. They havent cornered that. Years later, Miss had a chance to see life in another part of America. In college, she was invited to spend the summer with the family of a fellow student on Long Island in New York. The family welcomed her and got a kick out of her name and how her family had stuck it to those bigots down South. She was attentive to the grandmother in the family, so the grandmother grew especially fond of her. Miss had a graceful, easygoing manner, and was respectful toward the elders in the long tradition of black southern life. When the summer came to a close, and it was time to return to school, the grandmother was despondent at her leaving, so attached had she grown to her. I wish you would stay, the matriarch said, looking forlorn and hoping to convince her still. Miss reminded her that she would need to be leaving. There was a time, the matriarch said, in warning and regret, when I could have made you stay. She adjusted herself, her voice trailing off at her impotence. Each of us is in a container of some kind. The label signals to the world what is presumed to be inside and what is to be done with it. The label tells you which shelf your container supposedly belongs on. In a caste system, the label is frequently out of sync with the contents, mistakenly put on the wrong shelf and this hurts people and institutions in ways we may not always know. Back before Amazon and iPhones, I was a national correspondent at The New York Times, based in Chicago. I had decided to do a lighthearted piece about Chicagos Magnificent Mile, a prime stretch of Michigan Avenue that had always been the citys showcase, but now some big names from New York and elsewhere were about to take up residence. I figured New York retailers would be delighted to talk. As I planned the story, I reached out to them for interviews. Everyone I called was thrilled to describe their foray into Chicago and to sit down with the Times. The interviews went as expected until the last one. I had arrived a few minutes early to make sure we could start on time, given the deadline I was facing. The boutique was empty at this quiet hour of the late afternoon. The managers assistant told me the manager would be arriving soon from another appointment. I told her I didnt mind the wait. I was happy to get another big name in the piece. She went to a back corner as I stood alone in a wide-open showroom. A man in a business suit and overcoat walked in, harried and breathless. From the far corner she nodded that this was him, so I went up to introduce myself and get started. He was out of breath, had been rushing, coat still on, checking his watch. Oh, I cant talk with you now, he said, brushing past me. Im very, very busy. Im running late for an appointment. I was confused at first. Might he have made another appointment for the exact same time? Why would he schedule two appointments at once? There was no one else in the boutique but the two of us and his assistant in back. I think Im your appointment, I said. No, this is a very important appointment with The New York Times, he said, pulling off his coat. I cant talk with you now. Ill have to talk with you some other time. But I am with The New York Times, I told him, pen and notebook in hand. I talked with you on the phone. Im the one who made the appointment with you for four-thirty. Whats the name? Isabel Wilkerson with The New York Times. How do I know that? he shot back, growing impatient. Look, I said I dont have time to talk with you right now. Shell be here any minute. He looked to the front entrance and again at his watch. But I am Isabel. We should be having the interview right now. He let out a sigh. What kind of identification do you have? Do you have a business card? This was the last interview for the piece, and I had handed them all out by the time I got to him. Ive been interviewing all day, I told him. I happen to be out of them now. What about ID? You have a license on you? I shouldnt have to show you my license, but here it is. He gave it a cursory look. You dont have anything that has The New York Times on it? Why would I be here if I werent here to interview you? All of this time has passed. Weve been standing here, and no one else has shown up. She must be running late. Im going to have to ask you to leave so I can get ready for my appointment. I left and walked back to the Times bureau, dazed and incensed, trying to figure out what had just happened. This was the first time I had ever been accused of impersonating myself. His caste notions of who should be doing what in society had so blinded him that he dismissed the idea that the reporter he was anxiously awaiting, excited to talk to, was standing right in front him. It seemed not to occur to him that a New York Times national correspondent could come in a container such as mine, despite every indication that I was she. The story ran that Sunday. Because I had not been able to interview him, he didnt get a mention. It would have amounted to a nice bit of publicity for him, but the other interviews made it unnecessary in the end. I sent him a clip of the piece along with the business card that he had asked for. To this day, I wont step inside that retailer. I will not mention the name, not because of censorship or a desire to protect any companys reputation, but because of our cultural tendency to believe that if we just identify the presumed-to-be-rare offending outlier, we will have rooted out the problem. The problem could have happened anyplace, because the problem is, in fact, at the root. CHAPTER SIX The Measure of Humanity I n a parallel universe with laws of nature similar to our own, a conquering people with powerful weaponry journeyed across the oceans and discovered people who looked different from themselves. They were startled to chance upon humans who towered above them, were taller than any humans they had ever seen before. They did not know what to make of this discovery. They had thought of, and measured themselves as, the standard for human existence. But the indigenous people they saw were at the outer limits of a particular human trait: their height. Even the women averaged over six feet, some of the men approached seven. The well-armed explorers were the opposite. Their weapons were deadly, and their bodies were closer to the ground. At this moment in human history, as the world was being claimed by competing tribes of the well-armed, two peoples who were at the extremes of a highly visible yet arbitrary human characteristicbeing tall or shortwere confronting each other for the first time. A tribe of the shortest humans were now face-to-face with the tallest. Those with the most advanced weapons prevailed and found use for the tallest people. They decided to transport them to the New World they were creating. They joined forces with other Shorts around the world, with whom they made common cause. With their superior guns and stratagems, they conquered the Talls, captured and enslaved them for a quarter millennium, and built a great democracy. They told themselves the Talls deserved no better, that they were uncultured, backward, inferior, had not made use of their strengths and resources. They were an altogether different species, born to serve the conquerors, deserving of their debasement. They were a separate and subordinate race. This story of conquest sounds preposterous to our ears, not because it did not happen, but because of the seeming absurdity of height as a means of categorizing humanity and determining race. We could have been divided up by any number of other traits. And yet height, like skin pigment, is overwhelmingly an inherited trait, controlled by as much as 80 percent of ones genes and fairly consistent in family and tribal groupings. As with the pigment of skin, height falls within a wide range among adults in the species, with most people in the middle and with extremes at the poles, from a maximum of seven feet for adults to a minimum of under four feet. Were height the measure for determining race, as arbitrary a measure as any and less arbitrary than some, the Dutch people of the Netherlands would be the same race as the Nilote people of South Sudan or the Tutsis of Rwanda, as they are all among the tallest in our species, even the women averaging well over six feet. On the other end, the Pygmies and Sardinians would be their own separate race, as they have historically been among the shortest humans. If current caste behavior were any guide, everyone else would be in the middle, perhaps playing up to whichever height was in power, wearing platform heels if the Tall people ruled, bragging that height ran in their families, choosing the tallest people to date and to marry to gain the advantages of the ruling caste. Stereotypes would calcify, as they already do for extremes in height, but magnify to justify the lowly or elevated position of whichever group was in power. In a caste system dominated by Short people, anyone in the subordinate race of Tall people would be dismissed merely as brawn, consigned to menial, servile positions, seen as good only for entertainment or servitude. Short people would be seen as born to leadership due to their presumed innate intellect and culture, admired for the longevity said to attend people smaller in stature, regarded as the standard of beauty, the default setting for human. Tall people would be made to feel insecure and self-conscious, gangly and unappealing, having been born at the opposite end of the ideal. Society would assume that any Tall person was good at sports and physical labor, whether or not he or she had interest or aptitude. Scientists might devise tests to measure the difference between Talls and Shorts beyond height alone, tests that would largely track the results of generations of either advantage or exclusion and likely affirm widely held assumptions about the Shorts inherent supremacy and the Talls misfortune of deficits. There would be few Tall people in the boardrooms and corridors of power, and a disproportionate number of them in prisons and on the streets. Being tall would become shorthand for inferior in a caste system ruled by Short people, and vice versa. Ludicrous though it may sound to us now, had height been the means of categorizing humans for centuries as it has been for skin color and facial features, people would have accepted it as the received wisdom of the laws of nature. It would have seemed ridiculous that, in an alternate universe, people would ever be divided by color, given that, clearly, it would have been obvious that height was the determining factor in beauty, intelligence, leadership, and supremacy. The idea of linking disparate groups together on the basis of an arbitrary shared characteristic of being extremely tall or short sounds farcical to us, but only because this characteristic is not the one that has been used to divide humans into seemingly immutable races. The idea of race is a recent phenomenon in human history. It dates to the start of the transatlantic slave trade and thus to the subsequent caste system that arose from slavery. The word race likely derived from the Spanish word raza and was originally used to refer to the caste or quality of authentic horses, which are branded with an iron so as to be recognized, wrote the anthropologists Audrey and Brian Smedley. As Europeans explored the world, they began using the word to refer to the new people they encountered. Ultimately, the English in North America developed the most rigid and exclusionist form of race ideology, the Smedleys wrote. Race in the American mind was and is a statement about profound and unbridgeable differences.It conveys the meaning of social distance that cannot be transcended. Geneticists and anthropologists have long seen race as a man-made invention with no basis in science or biology. The nineteenth-century anthropologist Paul Broca tried to use thirty-four shades of skin color to delineate the races, but could come to no conclusion. If all the humans on the planet were lined up by a single physical trait, say, height or color, in ascending or descending order, tallest to shortest, darkest to lightest, it would confound us to choose the line between these arbitrary divisions. One human would blend into the next and it would be nearly impossible to make the cutoff between, say, the San people of South Africa and the indigenous people along the Mara??n River in Peru, who are scientifically measured to be the same color, even though they live thousands of miles apart and do not share the same immediate ancestry. As a window into the random nature of these categories, the use of the term Caucasian to label people descended from Europe is a relatively new and arbitrary practice in human history. The word was not passed down from the ancients but rather sprang from the mind of a German professor of medicine, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, in 1795. Blumenbach spent decades studying and measuring human skullsthe foreheads, the jawbones, the eye socketsin an attempt to classify the varieties of humankind. He coined the term Caucasian on the basis of a favorite skull of his that had come into his possession from the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. To him, the skull was the most beautiful of all that he owned. So he gave the group to which he belonged, the Europeans, the same name as the region that had produced it. That is how people now identified as white got the scientific-sounding yet random name Caucasian. More than a century later, in 1914, a citizenship trial was under way in America over whether a Syrian could be a Caucasian (and thus white), which led an expert witness in the case to say of Blumenbachs confusing and fateful discovery: Never has a single head done more harm to science. The epic mapping of the human genome and the quieter, long-dreamt-of results of DNA kits ordered in time for a family reunion have shown us that race as we have come to know it is not real. It is a fiction told by modern humans for so long that it has come to be seen as a sacred truth. Two decades ago, analysis of the human genome established that all human beings are 99.9 percent the same. Race is a social concept, not a scientific one, said J. Craig Venter, the geneticist who ran Celera Genomics when the mapping was completed in 2000. We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world. Which means that an entire racial caste system, the catalyst of hatreds and civil war, was built on what the anthropologist Ashley Montagu called an arbitrary and superficial selection of traits, derived from a few of the thousands of genes that make up a human being. The idea of race, Montagu wrote, was, in fact, the deliberate creation of an exploiting class seeking to maintain and defend its privileges against what was profitably regarded as an inferior caste. We accept the illogic of race because these are the things we have been told. We see a person with skin that is whiter than that of most white people, and we accept that they are not white (and thus of a different category) because of the minutest difference in the folds of their eyelids and because perhaps their great-grandparents were born in Japan. We see a person whose skin is espresso, darker than most black people in America, and accept that he is, in fact, not black, absolutely not black (and is thus a completely separate category), because his hair has a looser curl and perhaps he was born in Madagascar. We have to be taught this illogic. Small children who have yet to learn the rules will describe people as they see them, not by the political designations of black, white, Asian, or Latino, until adults correct them to use the proper caste designations to make the irrational sound reasoned. Color is a fact. Race is a social construct. We think we see race when we encounter certain physical differences among people such as skin color, eye shape, and hair texture, the Smedleys wrote. What we actually seeare the learned social meanings, the stereotypes, that have been linked to those physical features by the ideology of race and the historical legacy it has left us. And yet, observed the historian Nell Irvin Painter, Americans cling to race as the unschooled cling to superstition. The word caste, which has become synonymous with India, did not, it turns out, originate in India. It comes from the Portuguese word casta, a Renaissance-era word for race or breed. The Portuguese, who were among the earliest European traders in South Asia, applied the term to the people of India upon observing Hindu divisions. Thus, a word we now ascribe to India actually arose from Europeans interpretations of what they saw; it sprang from the Western culture that created America. The Indian concept of rankings, however, goes back millennia and is thousands of years older than the European concept of race. The rankings were originally known as varnas, the ancient term for the major categories in what Indians have in recent centuries called the caste system. The human impulse to create hierarchies runs across societies and cultures, predates the idea of race, and thus is farther reaching, deeper, and older than raw racism and the comparatively new division of humans by skin color. Before Europeans expanded to the New World and collided with people who looked different from themselves, the concept of racism as we know it did not exist in Western culture. Racism is a modern conception, wrote the historian Dante Puzzo, for prior to the XVIth century there was virtually nothing in the life and thought of the West that can be described as racist. The R Word What we face in our current day is not the classical racism of our forefathers era, but a mutation of the software that adjusts to the updated needs of the operating system. In the half century since civil rights protests forced the United States into making state-sanctioned discrimination illegal, what Americans consider to be racism has shifted, and now the word is one of the most contentious and misunderstood in American culture. For the dominant caste, the word is radioactiveresented, feared, denied, lobbed back toward anyone who dares to suggest it. Resistance to the word often derails any discussion of the underlying behavior it is meant to describe, thus eroding it of meaning. Social scientists often define racism as the combination of racial bias and systemic power, seeing racism, like sexism, as primarily the action of people or systems with personal or group power over another person or group with less power, as men have power over women, whites over people of color, and the dominant over the subordinate. But over time, racism has often been reduced to a feeling, a character flaw, conflated with prejudice, connected to whether one is a good person or not. It has come to mean overt and declared hatred of a person or group because of the race ascribed to them, a perspective few would ever own up to. While people will admit to or call out sexism or xenophobia and homophobia, people may immediately deflect accusations of racism, saying they dont have a racist bone in their body, or are the least racist person you could ever meet, that they dont see color, that their best friend is black, and they may have even convinced themselves on a conscious level of these things. What does racist mean in an era when even extremists wont admit to it? What is the litmus test for racism? Who is racist in a society where someone can refuse to rent to people of color, arrest brown immigrants en masse, or display a Confederate flag, but not be certified as a racist unless he or she confesses to it or is caught using derogatory signage or slurs? The fixation with smoking out individual racists or sexists can seem a losing battle in which we fool ourselves into thinking we are rooting out injustice by forcing an admission that (a) is not likely to come, (b) keeps the focus on a single individual rather than the system that created that individual, and (c) gives cover for those who, by aiming at others, can present themselves as noble and bias-free for having pointed the finger first, all of which keeps the hierarchy intact. Oddly enough, the instinctive desire to reject the very idea of current discrimination on the basis of a chemical compound in the skin is an unconscious admission of the absurdity of race as a concept. This is not to say that the consequences of this social construct are not real or that abuses should not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It is to say that the word racism may not stand as the only term or the most useful term to describe the phenomena and tensions we experience in our era. Rather than deploying racism as an either/or accusation against an individual, it may be more constructive to focus on derogatory actions that harm a less powerful group rather than on what is commonly seen as an easily deniable, impossible-to-measure attribute. With no universally agreed-upon definition, we might see racism as a continuum rather than an absolute. We might release ourselves of the purity test of whether someone is or is not racist and exchange that mindset for one that sees people as existing on a scale based on the toxins they have absorbed from the polluted and inescapable air of social instruction we receive from childhood. Caste, on the other hand, predates the notion of race and has survived the era of formal, state-sponsored racism that had long been openly practiced in the mainstream. The modern-day version of easily deniable racism may be able to cloak the invisible structure that created and maintains hierarchy and inequality. But caste does not allow us to ignore structure. Caste is structure. Caste is ranking. Caste is the boundaries that reinforce the fixed assignments based upon what people look like. Caste is a living, breathing entity. It is like a corporation that seeks to sustain itself at all costs. To achieve a truly egalitarian world requires looking deeper than what we think we see. We cannot win against a hologram. Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy. Caste pushes back against an African-American woman who, without humor or apology, takes a seat at the head of the table speaking Russian. It prefers an Asian-American man to put his technological expertise at the service of the company but not aspire to CEO. Yet it sees as logical a sixteen-year-old white teenager serving as store manager over employees from the subordinate caste three times his age. Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things. What is the difference between racism and casteism? Because caste and race are interwoven in America, it can be hard to separate the two. Any action or institution that mocks, harms, assumes, or attaches inferiority or stereotype on the basis of the social construct of race can be considered racism. Any action or structure that seeks to limit, hold back, or put someone in a defined ranking, seeks to keep someone in their place by elevating or denigrating that person on the basis of their perceived category, can be seen as casteism. Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you. For those in the marginalized castes, casteism can mean seeking to keep those on your disfavored rung from gaining on you, to curry the favor and remain in the good graces of the dominant caste, all of which serve to keep the structure intact. In the United States, racism and casteism frequently occur at the same time, or overlap or figure into the same scenario. Casteism is about positioning and restricting those positions, vis-?-vis others. What race and its precursor, racism, do extraordinarily well is to confuse and distract from the underlying structural and more powerful Sith Lord of caste. Like the cast on a broken arm, like the cast in a play, a caste system holds everyone in a fixed place. For this reason, many peopleincluding those we might see as good and kind peoplecould be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group. Actual racists, actual haters, would by definition be casteist, as their hatred demands that those they perceive as beneath them know and keep their place in the hierarchy. In everyday terms, it is not racism that prompts a white shopper in a clothing store to go up to a random black or brown person who is also shopping and to ask for a sweater in a different size, or for a white guest at a party to ask a black or brown person who is also a guest to fetch them a drink, as happened to Barack Obama as a state senator, or even perhaps a judge to sentence a subordinate-caste person for an offense for which a dominant-caste person might not even be charged. It is caste or rather the policing of and adherence to the caste system. Its the autonomic, unconscious, reflexive response to expectations from a thousand imaging inputs and neurological societal downloads that affix people to certain roles based upon what they look like and what they historically have been assigned to or the characteristics and stereotypes by which they have been categorized. No ethnic or racial category is immune to the messaging we all receive about the hierarchy, and thus no one escapes its consequences. What some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system, a measure of how much we ascribe to it and how deeply we uphold it, act upon it, and enforce it, often unconsciously, in our daily lives. When we assume that the woman is not equipped to lead the meeting or the company or the country, or that a person of color or an immigrant could not be the one in authority, is not a resident of a certain community, could not have attended a particular school or deserved to have attended a particular school, when we feel a pang of shock and resentment, a personal wounding and sense of unfairness and perhaps even shame at our discomfort upon seeing someone from a marginalized group in a job or car or house or college or appointment more prestigious than we have been led to expect, when we assume that the senior citizen should be playing Parcheesi rather than developing software, we are reflecting the efficient encoding of caste, the subconscious recognition that the person has stepped out of his or her assumed place in our society. We are responding to our embedded instructions of who should be where and who should be doing what, the breaching of the structure and boundaries that are the hallmarks of caste. Race and caste are not the cause and do not account for every poor outcome or unpleasant encounter. But caste becomes a factor, to whatever infinitesimal degree, in interactions and decisions across gender, ethnicity, race, immigrant status, sexual orientation, age, or religion that have consequences in our everyday lives and in policies that affect our country and beyond. It may not be as all-consuming as its targets may perceive it to be, but neither is it the ancient relic, the long-ago anachronism, that post-racialists, post-haters of everything, keep wishing away. Its invisibility is what gives it power and longevity. Caste, along with its faithful servant race, is an x-factor in most any American equation, and any answer one might ever come up with to address our current challenges is flawed without it. CHAPTER SEVEN Through the Fog of Delhi to the Parallels in India and America T he flight to India landed in a gray veil that hid the terminal and its tower at the international airport in Delhi. It was January 2018, my first moments on the subcontinent. The pilot searched for a jetway through the drapery of mist. It was two in the morning, and it was as if we had landed in a steam kettle, were still airborne in a cloud, the night air pressing against cabin windows, and we could see nothing of the ground. I had not heard of rain in the forecast and was fascinated by this supernatural fog in the middle of the night, until I realized that it was not fog at all, but smokefrom coal plants, cars, and burning stubbletrapped in stagnant wind. The pollution was a shroud at first to seeing India as it truly was. At daybreak, the sun pushed through the haze, and, once I connected with my hosts, I raced along with them to cross an intersection, an open stretch of asphalt with cars hurtling in every direction with no lanes or speed limits. We made our way along the side streets to the conference we were attending. I saw the wayside altars and mushroom temples with their garlands and silk flowers to the Hindu deities at the base of the sacred fig trees. There, commuters can pause for reflection as they head to work or an exam or a doctors visit. The sidewalk shrines seemed exotic to me until I thought of the American ritual of spontaneous altars of flowers and balloons at the site of something very different, at the site of an accident or tragedy, as for the young woman killed at the infamous rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, just months before. Both reflect a human desire to connect with and honor something or someone beyond ourselves. The United States and India are profoundly different from each otherin culture, technology, economics, ethnic makeup. And yet, many generations ago, these two great lands paralleled each other, both protected by oceans and ruled for a time by the British, fertile and coveted. Both adopted social hierarchies and abide great chasms between the highest and the lowest in their respective lands. Both were conquered by people said to be Aryans arriving, in one case, from across the Atlantic Ocean, in the other, from the north. Those deemed lowest in each country would serve those deemed high. The younger country, the United States, would become the most powerful democracy on earth. The older country, India, the largest. Their respective hierarchies are profoundly different. And yet, as if operating from the same instruction manual translated to fit their distinctive cultures, both countries adopted similar methods of maintaining rigid lines of demarcation and protocols. Both countries kept their dominant caste separate, apart and above those deemed lower. Both exiled their indigenous peoplesthe Adivasi in India, the Native Americans in the United Statesto remote lands and to the unseen margins of society. Both countries enacted a fretwork of laws to chain the lowliest groupDalits in India and African-Americans in the United Statesto the bottom, using terror and force to keep them there. Perhaps only the Jews have as long a history of suffering from discrimination as the Dalits, wrote the Dalit journalist V. T. Rajshekar. However, when we consider the nature of the suffering endured by the Dalits, it is only the African American parallel of enslavement, apartheid and forced assimilation that comes to mind. Both countries have since abolished the formal laws that defined their caste systemsthe United States in a series of civil rights laws in the 1960s and India decades before, in the 1940s, but both caste systems live on in hearts and habits, institutions and infrastructures. Both countries still live with the residue of codes that prevailed for far longer than they have not. This description of caste history from the 2017 Indian book Ground Down by Growth could be said of the American caste system with only a few word changes, as noted by parentheses: The colonial powers officially abolished slavery in India (the United States) in 1843 (1865), but this simply led to its transformation into bondage through relations of debt, what has been called debt peonage by scholars. In both countries and at the same time, the lowest castes toiled for their mastersAfrican-Americans in the tobacco fields along the Chesapeake or in the cotton fields of Mississippi, Dalits plucking tea in Kerala and cotton in Nandurbar. Both worked as enslaved people and later for the right to live on the land that they were farming, African-Americans in the system of sharecropping, Dalits in the Indian equivalent, known as saldari, both still confined to their fixed roles at the bottom of their respective worlds. Both occupy the lowest positions on the status hierarchies in their societies, wrote Harvard political scientist Sidney Verba and his colleagues in a study of Dalits and African-Americans. Both have been particularly singled out from other groups based on characteristics ascribed to them. While doors have opened to the subordinated castes in India and in America in the decades since discrimination was officially prohibited, the same spasms of resistance have afflicted both countries. What is called affirmative action in the United States is called reservations in India, and they are equally unpopular with the upper castes in both countries, language tracking in lockstep, with complaints of reverse discrimination in one and reverse casteism in the other. There are many overarching similarities but they are not the same in how they are structured or operate. The American system was founded as a primarily two-tiered hierarchy with its contours defined by the uppermost group, those identified as white, and by the subordinated group, those identified as black, with immigrants from outside of Europe forming blurred middle castes that sought to adjust themselves within a bipolar structure. The Indian caste system, by contrast, is an elaborate fretwork of thousands of subcastes, or jatis, correlated to region and village, which fall under the four main varnas, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra, and the excluded fifth, known as Untouchables or Dalits. It is further complicated by non-HindusMuslims, Buddhists, and Christianswho are outside the caste system but have incorporated themselves into the workings of the country and, while eschewing rigid caste, may or may not have informal rankings among themselves and in relation to the varnas. Unlike the United States, which primarily uses physical features to tell the castes apart, in India it is peoples surnames that may most readily convey their caste. Dalit names are generally contemptible in meaning, referring to the humble or dirty work they were relegated to, while the Brahmins carry the names of the gods. Generally, you must know the significance of the name, learn the occupation of their forefathers, and perhaps know their village or their place in the village to ascertain their caste. But after centuries of forced submission and in-group marriage, they may also be identified by their bearing, accents, and clothing, all of which, over the centuries, were required to be lowly and menial, as well as a tendency to be darker than upper-caste people, though not always. The Indian caste system is said to be stable and unquestioned by those within it, bound as it is by religion and in the Hindu belief in reincarnation, the belief that one lives out in this life the karma of the previous ones, suffers the punishment or reaps the rewards for ones deeds in a past life, and that the more keenly one follows the rules for the caste they were born to, the higher their station will be in the next life. Some observers say that this is what distinguishes the Indian caste system from any other, that people in the lowest caste accept their lot, that it is fixed and unbending, that Dalits live out their karma decreed by the gods, and do their lowly work without complaint, knowing not to dream of anything more. In order to survive, some people in a subordinated caste may learn and believe that resistance is futile. But this condescending view disregards generations of resistance, as well as the work of Ambedkar and the reformer Jotiba Phule before him. It was also wrongly assumed of enslaved Africans, and it disregards a fundamental truth of the species, that all human beings want to be free. The Dalits were no more contented with their lot than anyone would be. In a caste system, conflating compliance with approval can be dehumanizing in itself. Many Dalits looked out beyond their homeland, surveyed the oppressed people all over the world, and identified the people closest to their lamentations. They recognized a shared fate with African-Americans, few of whom would have known of the suffering of Dalits. Some Dalits felt so strong a kinship with one wing of the American civil rights movement and had followed it so closely that, in the 1970s, they created the Dalit Panthers, inspired by the Black Panther Party. A few years ago, a group of African-American professors made a trip to a rural village in Uttar Pradesh, India. There, hundreds of villagers from the lowliest subcaste, the scavengers, came together for a ceremony to welcome the Americans. The villagers sang Dalit liberation songs for the occasion. Then they turned to their American guests and invited them to sing a liberation song of their own. A law professor from Indiana University, Kenneth Dau Schmidt, began a song that the civil rights marchers sang in Birmingham and Selma before they faced sheriffs dogs and water hoses. As he reached the refrain, the Dalit hosts joined in and began to sing with their American counterparts. Across the oceans, they well knew the words to We Shall Overcome. CHAPTER EIGHT The Nazis and the Acceleration of Caste Berlin, June 1934 I n the early stages of the Third Reich, before the world could imagine the horrors to come, a committee of Nazi bureaucrats met to weigh the options for imposing a rigid new hierarchy, one that would isolate Jewish people from Aryans now that the Nazis had taken control. The men summoned in the late spring of 1934 were not, at that time, planning, nor in a position to plan, extermination. That would come years later at a chillingly bloodless and cataclysmic meeting in Wannsee deeper into a world war that had not yet begun. On this day, June 5, 1934, they were there to debate the legal framework for an Aryan nation, to turn ideology into law, and were now anxious to discuss the findings of their research into how other countries protected racial purity from the taint of the disfavored. They sat down for a closed-door session in the Reich capital that day, and considered it serious enough to bring a stenographer to record the proceedings and produce a transcript. As they settled into their chairs to hash out what would eventually become the Nuremberg Laws, the first topic on the agenda was the United States and what they could learn from it. The man chairing the meeting, Franz G?rtner, the Reich minister of justice, introduced a memorandum in the opening minutes, detailing the ministrys investigation into how the United States managed its marginalized groups and guarded its ruling white citizenry. The seventeen legal scholars and functionaries went back and forth over American purity laws governing intermarriage and immigration. In debating how to institutionalize racism in the Third Reich, wrote the Yale legal historian James Q. Whitman, they began by asking how the Americans did it. The Nazis needed no outsiders to plant the seeds of hatred within them. But in the early years of the regime, when they still had a stake in the appearance of legitimacy and the hope of foreign investment, they were seeking legal prototypes for the caste system they were building. They were looking to move quickly with their plans for racial separation and purity, and knew that the United States was centuries ahead of them with its anti-miscegenation statutes and race-based immigration bans. For us Germans, it is especially important to know and see how one of the biggest states in the world with Nordic stock already has race legislation which is quite comparable to that of the German Reich, the German press agency Grossdeutscher Pressedienst wrote as the Nazis were solidifying their grip on the country. Western Europeans had long been aware of the American paradox of proclaiming liberty for all men while holding subsets of its citizenry in near total subjugation. The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville toured antebellum America in the 1830s and observed that only the surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint. Germany well understood the U.S. fixation on race purity and eugenics, the pseudoscience of grading humans by presumed group superiority. Many leading Americans had joined the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century, including the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the auto magnate Henry Ford, and Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard University. During the First World War, the German Society for Racial Hygiene applauded the dedication with which Americans sponsor research in the field of racial hygiene and with which they translate theoretical knowledge into practice. The Nazis had been especially taken with the militant race theories of two widely known American eugenicists, Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant. Both were men of privilege, born and raised in the North and educated in the Ivy League. Both built their now discredited reputations on hate ideology that devised a crude ranking of European stock, declared eastern and southern Europeans inferior to Nordics and advocated for the exclusion and elimination of races they deemed threats to Nordic racial purity, foremost among them Jews and Negroes. A racial slur that the Nazis adopted in their campaign to dehumanize Jews and other non-Aryansthe word Untermensch, meaning subhumancame to them from the New Englandborn eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard. A 1922 book he wrote carried the subtitle The Menace of the Under-man, which translated into Untermenschen in the German edition. The Nazis took the word as their own and would most become associated with it. They made Stoddards book on white supremacy a standard text in the Reichs school curriculum and accorded him a private audience with the purposely remote Adolf Hitler at the Reich Chancellery in December 1939. Well into World War II, Stoddard sat in on Nazi sterilization trials and commended the Nazis for weeding out the worst strains in the Germanic stock in a scientific and truly humanitarian way. He lamented, though, that, if anything, their judgments were almost too conservative. Madison Grant, a leading eugenicist from New York whose social circle included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, converted his zeal for Aryan supremacy into helping enact a series of American immigration and marriage restrictions in the 1920s, as the Nazi Party was forming across the Atlantic. Grant went far beyond southern segregationists in his contempt for marginalized people. He argued that inferior stocks should be sterilized and quarantined in a rigid system of elimination of those who are weak or unfit or perhaps worthless race types. Grant published a rabid manifesto for cleansing the gene pool of undesirables, his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, the German edition of which held a special place in the F?hrers library. Hitler wrote Grant a personal note of gratitude and said, The book is my Bible. Hitler had studied America from afar, both envying and admiring it, and attributed its achievements to its Aryan stock. He praised the countrys near genocide of Native Americans and the exiling to reservations of those who had survived. He was pleased that the United States had shot down the millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand. He saw the U.S. Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 as a model for his program of racial purification, historian Jonathan Spiro wrote. The Nazis were impressed by the American custom of lynching its subordinate caste of African-Americans, having become aware of the ritual torture and mutilations that typically accompanied them. Hitler especially marveled at the American knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death. By the time that Hitler rose to power, the United States was not just a country with racism, Whitman, the Yale legal scholar, wrote. It was the leading racist jurisdictionso much so that even Nazi Germany looked to America for inspiration. The Nazis recognized the parallels even if many Americans did not. Thus, on that day in June 1934, as seventeen Reich bureaucrats and legal scholars began to deliberate what would become unprecedented legislation for Germany, they were scrutinizing the United States, and they had done their homework. One of the men, Heinrich Krieger, had studied law in the American South, as an exchange student at the University of Arkansas. He had written extensively about foreign race regimes, having spent two years in South Africa, and was at that very moment completing a book that would be titled Race Law in the United States to be published in Germany two years hence. The Nazi lawyers had researched U.S. jurisprudence well enough to know that, from the fugitive slave cases to Plessy v. Ferguson and beyond, the American Supreme Court entertained briefs from southern states whose arguments were indistinguishable from those of the Nazis, Whitman observed. In their search for prototypes, the Nazis had looked into white-dominated countries such as Australia and South Africa, but there were no other models for miscegenation law that the Nazis could find in the world, Whitman wrote. Their overwhelming interest was in the classic example, the United States of America. These seventeen men were convening at a time of intrigue and upheaval in a country descending into dictatorship. The Nazis were in the final throes of consolidating their power after their takeover the year before. Hitler had been sworn in as chancellor but was not yet the F?hrer. That would not happen until later that summer, in August 1934, when the death of Germanys ailing president, Paul von Hindenburg, the last holdover of the Weimar regime, cleared the way for Hitler to seize total control. Hitler had made it to the chancellery in a brokered deal that conservative elites agreed to only because they were convinced they could hold him in check and make use of him for their own political aims. They underestimated his cunning and overestimated his base of support, which had been the very reason they had felt they needed him in the first place. At the height of their power at the polls, the Nazis never pulled the majority they coveted and drew only 38 percent of the vote in the countrys last free and fair elections at the onset of their twelve-year reign. The old guard did not foresee, or chose not to see, that his actual mission was to exploit the methods of democracy to destroy democracy. By the time they recognized their fatal miscalculation, it was too late. Hitler had risen as an outside agitator, a cult figure enamored of pageantry and rallies with parades of people carrying torches that an observer said looked like rivers of fire. Hitler saw himself as the voice of the Volk, of their grievances and fears, especially those in the rural districts, as a god-chosen savior, running on instinct. He had never held elected office before. As soon as he was sworn in as chancellor, the Nazis unfurled their swastikas, a Sanskrit symbol linking them to their Aryan roots, and began to close in on the Jews. They stoked ancient resentments that dated back to the Middle Ages but that rose again when the Jews were made the scapegoats for Germanys loss and humiliation at the end of World War I. Seen as dominant in banking and finance, Jews were blamed for the insufficient financial support of the war effort, although historians now widely acknowledge that Germany lost on the battlefield and not solely for lack of funds. Still, Nazi propaganda worked to turn Germans against Jewish citizens. Nazi thugs taunted and beat up Jews in the streets and any Aryans who were found to be in relationships with them. The regime began restricting Jews from working in government or in high-status professions like medicine or the law, fields that incited jealousy among ordinary Germans who could not afford the expensive cars and villas on the lake that many successful Jews had acquired. This was the middle of the Great Depression, and more than a third of Germans were out of work in 1933, the year the Nazis came to power. The Jews prestige and wealth were seen as above the station of a group that Nazis decreed were beneath the Aryans. Mindful of appearances beyond their borders, for the time being at least, the Nazis wondered how the United States had managed to turn its racial hierarchy into rigid law yet retain such a sterling reputation on the world stage. They noticed that in the United States, when it came to these racial prohibitions, public opinion accepted them as natural, wrote the historian Claudia Koonz. A young Nazi intellectual named Herbert Kier was tasked with compiling a table of U.S. race laws, and was confounded by the lengths to which America went to segregate its population. He made note that, by law in most southern states, white children and colored children are sent to different schools and that most states further demand that race be given in birth certificates, licenses and death certificates. He discovered that many American states even go so far as to require by statute segregated facilities for coloreds and whites in waiting rooms, train cars, sleeping cars, street cars, buses, steamboats and even in prisons and jails. In Arkansas, he noted, the tax rolls were segregated. He later remarked that, given the fundamental proposition of the equality of everything that bears a human countenance, it is all the more astonishing how extensive race legislation is in the USA. Kier was just one of several Nazi researchers who thought American law went overboard, Whitman wrote. With the results of their research laid out before them, the men at the June meeting began debating two main pathways to their version of a caste system: first, creating a legal definition for the categories of Jews and Aryans, and, second, prohibiting intermarriage between the two. Germany had looked at Americas miscegenation laws decades before and tested its own intermarriage ban at the turn of the twentieth century, when it forbade its settlers to mix with indigenous people in its colonies in South West Africa. In so doing, Germany went further than most colonial powers, but it did not come close to the American model. Now Nazi extremists pushed for ways to prevent any further penetration of Jewish blood into the body of the German Volk. As the debate got under way, Krieger, the former University of Arkansas law student, reported that Americans had gone so far as to make interracial marriage a crime punishable by as much as ten years imprisonment in many jurisdictions. He pointed out that the United States had divided its population in two with artificial line-drawing between white and colored people. He and other Nazis showed a fascination with the American habit of assigning humans to categories by fractions of perceived ancestry. There is a growing tendency in judicial practice, Krieger said, to assign a person to a group of coloreds whenever there is even a trace of visible Negro physical features. The men who gathered for that meeting did not agree on how much to draw from American jurisprudence. The moderates at the table, among them the chair himself, Franz G?rtner, argued for less onerous methods than the Americans were using. He suggested that education and enlightenment about the perils of race-mixing might be enough to discourage Aryans from intermarrying with others. At one point, he sought to downplay the U.S. prototype because he had a hard time believing that Americans actually enforced the laws the Nazis had uncovered. G?rtner simply refused to concede that the Americans actually went so far as to prosecute miscegenists, Whitman wrote. One of the hard-liners at the table, the Nazi radical Roland Freisler, was impatient with the pace of the proceedings. He had joined the Nazi Party back in the 1920s and was pushing for a law to punish Jews and Aryans for racial treason if they intermarried. Time and again, he and the other extremists in the room brought the discussion back to the American statutes, explained and defended them and tried to convince the skeptics. How have they gone about doing this? Freisler asked at one point, breaking down his research into the United States and its laws of human classification. The Americans, he explained, used a range of motley parameters to separate white people from everyone else. One state, he said, classified as nonwhite any and all persons from Africa, Korea or Malaysia. In another example, he said, Nevada speaks of Ethiopians or of the black race, Malaysians or of the brown race, Mongols or of the yellow race. Freisler argued that the overlapping contradictions could work to their advantage. The tangle of American definitions lent a measure of latitude and a useful inconsistency to the task of human division. The Americans had come up with a definition of race apart from logic or science, an approach that Freisler called the political construction of race. What the Nazis could not understand, however, was why, in America, the Jews, who are also of interest to us, are not reckoned among the coloreds, when it was so obvious to the Nazis that Jews were a separate race and when America had already shown some aversion by imposing quotas on Jewish immigration. Aside from what, to the Nazis, was a single vexing omission, this jurisprudence would suit us perfectly, said Freisler, who, unbeknownst to those at the table would one day be in a position to make heartless use of it in his career as the hanging judge of the Reich. I am of the opinion that we need to proceed with the same primitivity that is used by these American states, he said. Such a procedure would be crude but it would suffice. The doubters continued to question the American statutes. They went back and forth on exactly how a marriage ban would work, parsed the proposed definitions of Jew and Aryan, tried to make sense of the American fraction system. Moderates were disturbed by the idea that people who were half-Jewish and half-Aryan would be cut off from their Aryan side and deprived of caste privileges they would otherwise be accorded. Rather than defining such people as half-Jewish, the skeptics wondered, would they not also be half-Aryan? But one hard-liner, Achim Gercke, referred back to the prototype they had been studying. He proposed a definition of one-sixteenth Jewish for classification of Jews, Koonz wrote, because he did not wish to be less rigorous than the Americans. The men debated for ten hours that day and ended without agreement. We have been talking past one another, Freisler, frustrated by the lack of progress, said toward the end. The moderates had managed for now to contain the radicals who had pushed for the American prototype. But fifteen months later, the radicals would prevail. In September 1935, Hitler summoned the Reichstag to the annual Nazi rally in Nuremberg to announce new legislation that had been incubating since the Nazi takeover. By then, Hitler had either imprisoned or killed many of his political opponents, including the murders of twelve members of the Reichstag and of his longtime friend Ernst R?hm, the head of a Nazi paramilitary unit, the S.A. All of this rendered the Reichstag a puppet arm of the government, having been intimidated into submission. At that very moment, the Nazis were building concentration camps all over the country. One was soon to open in Sachsenhausen, north of the Reich capital, and would become one of their showcases. The plan was to announce the legislation, ultimately known as the Blood Laws, on the final day of the rally. The night before, Hitler directed a small group of deputies to draft a version for him to deliver to the Reichstag to rubber-stamp. The Nazi researchers had come across a provision in some of the U.S. miscegenation laws that could help them define whether a person who was half-Jewish should count as a Jew or an Aryan. It turned out that Texas and North Carolina had an association clause in their marriage bans that helped those states decide if an ambiguous person was black or white, privileged or disfavored. Such a person would be counted in the disfavored group if they had been married to or had been known to associate with people in the disfavored group, thus defying caste purity. This was what Hitler announced that September and expanded in the months to come: The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor defined a Jew as a person with three Jewish grandparents. It also counted as Jewish anyone descended from two Jewish grandparents and who practiced Judaism or was accepted into the Jewish community or was married to a Jew, in line with the Americans association clause. Secondly, the law banned marriage and intercourse outside of marriage between Jews and Germans, and it forbade German women under forty-five to work in a Jewish household. Thus began a campaign of ever-tightening restrictions. Jews were henceforth stripped of citizenship, prohibited from displaying the German flag, denied passports. With that announcement, Germany became a full-fledged racist regime, the historian George M. Fredrickson wrote. American laws were the main foreign precedents for such legislation. But given the Nazis own fixation on race, the American prototype had its limits. The scholars who see parallels between the American and Nazi racial classification schemes are to that extent wrong, Whitman said, but only because they understate the relative severity of American law. As cataclysmic as the Nuremberg Laws were, the Nazis had not gone as far with the legislation as their research into America had taken them. What did not gain traction on the day of the closed-door session or in the final version of the Nuremberg Laws was one aspect of the American system. While the Nazis praised the American commitment to legislating racial purity, they could not abide the unforgiving hardness under which an American man or woman who has even a drop of Negro blood in their veins counted as blacks, Whitman wrote. The one-drop rule was too harsh for the Nazis. CHAPTER NINE The Evil of Silence The ash rose from the crematorium into the air, carried by karma and breeze, and settled onto the front steps and geranium beds of the townspeople living outside the gates of death at Sachsenhausen, north of Berlin. The ash coated the swing sets and paddling pools in the backyards of the townspeople. There was no denying the slaughter and torment on the other side of the barbed wire. The fruit of evil fell upon villagers like snow dust. They were covered in evil, and some were good parents and capable spouses, and yet they did nothing to stop the evil, which had now grown too big for one person to stop, and thus no one person was complicit, and yet everyone was complicit. It had grown bigger than them because they had allowed it to grow bigger than them, and now it was raining down onto their gingerbread cottages and their lives of pristine conformity. The dissident theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the millions who suffered and perished behind the electrified walls of a Nazi concentration camp, tortured and kept in solitary confinement. Could the townspeople hear the prayers of the innocents? Silence in the face of evil is itself evil, Bonhoeffer once said of bystanders. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. The villagers were not all Nazis, in fact, many Germans were not Nazis. But they followed the Nazi leaders on the radio, waited to hear the latest from Hitler and Goebbels, the Nazis having seized the advantage of this new technology, the chance to reach Germans live and direct in their homes anytime they chose, an intravenous drip to the mind. The people had ingested the lies of an inherent Untermenschen, that these prisonersJews, Sinti, homosexuals, opponents of the Reichwere not humans like themselves, and thus the townspeople swept the ash from their steps and carried on with their days. Mothers pulled their children inside when the wind kicked up, hurried them along, to keep them from being covered in the ash of fellow human beings. In the middle of Main Street in a southern American town, there stood a majestic old tree, an elm or an oak or a sycamore, that had been planted before modern roads were paved. It held a sacred place in the hearts of the townspeople, though it was an altogether inconvenient location for a shade tree. It blocked traffic, coming and going, and motorists were forced to curve around it to get through town. It was the potential cause of many accidents, given that motorists could not always see past it or know for sure who had the right of way. And yet it could not be cut down. It was the local lynching tree, and it was performing its duty to perpetually and eternally remind the black townspeople of who among them had last been hanged from its limbs and who could be next. The tree was awaiting its appointed hour, and the white townspeople were willing to risk inconvenience, injury, and death, even to themselves, to keep the tree and the subordinate caste in their places. The tree bore silent witness to black citizens of their eternal lot, and in so doing, it whispered reassurances to the dominant caste of theirs. The townspeople of the East Texas village of Leesburg hammered a buggy axle into the ground to serve as a stake. Then they chained nineteen-year-old Wylie McNeely to it. They collected the kindling they would use for the fire at the base of his feet, despite his protestations of innocence in connection to the white girl they said he had assaulted. Five hundred people gathered that fall in 1921 to see Wylie McNeely burn to death in front of them. But first, the leaders of the lynching had to settle a matter of importance. The leaders drew lots to see who would get which piece of McNeelys body after they had burned him alive, figure out the body parts which they regarded as the choicest souvenir. This they did in front of the young man facing his final seconds on this earth, there chained up and left to hear of the disposition of his fingers and ears to the men who had kidnapped him outside of the law. The leaders debated this in front of the five hundred people who had come to watch him die and who were impatient for the festivities to begin. After the men had decided and after all was settled, they lit the match. The little girls appear to be in grade school, in light cotton dresses with a sailors collar and their hair cut in precise pageboys just below their ears. In the picture the two younger girls seem to be fidgeting in shadow, close to the women in the group, who were perhaps their mothers or aunts. The girl you notice first, though, looks to be about ten years old, positioned at the front of the group of grown-ups and children, her eyes alert and riveted. A man is at her side, crisp in his tailored white pants, white shirt, and white Panama hat, as if headed to cocktail hour at a boating party, his arms folded, face at rest, unperturbed, vaguely bored. It is July 19, 1935. They are all standing at the base of a tree in the pine woods of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Above them hangs the limp body of Rubin Stacy, his overalls torn and bloodied, riddled with bullets, his hands cuffed in front of him, head snapped from the lynching rope, killed for frightening a white woman. The girl in the front is looking up at the dead black man with wonderment rather than horror, a smile of excitement on her face as if show ponies had just galloped past her at the circus. The fascination on her young face set against the gruesome nature of the gathering was captured by a photographer and is among the most widely circulated of all lynching photographs of twentieth-century America. Lynchings were part carnival, part torture chamber, and attracted thousands of onlookers who collectively became accomplices to public sadism. Photographers were tipped off in advance and installed portable printing presses at the lynching sites to sell to lynchers and onlookers like photographers at a prom. They made postcards out of the gelatin prints for people to send to their loved ones. People mailed postcards of the severed, half-burned head of Will James atop a pole in Cairo, Illinois, in 1907. They sent postcards of burned torsos that looked like the petrified victims of Vesuvius, only these horrors had come at the hands of human beings in modern times. Some people framed the lynching photographs with locks of the victims hair under glass if they had been able to secure any. One spectator wrote on the back of his postcard from Waco, Texas, in 1916: This is the Barbecue we had last night my picture is to the left with the cross over it your son Joe. This was singularly American. Even the Nazis did not stoop to selling souvenirs of Auschwitz, wrote Time magazine many years later. Lynching postcards were so common a form of communication in turn-of-the-twentieth-century America that lynching scenes became a burgeoning subdepartment of the postcard industry. By 1908, the trade had grown so large, and the practice of sending postcards featuring the victims of mob murderers had become so repugnant, that the U.S. postmaster general banned the cards from the mails. But the new edict did not stop Americans from sharing their lynching exploits. From then on, they merely put the postcards in an envelope. In downtown Omaha, they started a bonfire and readied it for Will Brown. The newspapers had advertised the lynching in advance, and as many as fifteen thousand people gathered on the courthouse square that day in September 1919, so many people that one cannot make out the faces in the human sea in a wide shot taken from above. These thousands of dots on a gelatin printfathers, grandfathers, uncles, nephews, brothers, teenagerswere of one mind, had fused into an organism unto itself, intent on a single mission, not only to kill but to humiliate, torture, and incinerate another human being, and, together, to breathe in the smoke of burning flesh. Two days before, a white woman and her boyfriend had said that a black man had molested her when the couple were out on the town. No one alive knows what happened for sure, and there were questions even then. Resentment had been building against the influx of black southerners arriving north during the Great Migration, and Will Brown, a packinghouse worker, was the man the sheriffs arrested. There was no investigation, no due process. That day, the mob looted guns from local pawnshops and general stores and fired on the courthouse where Brown had been detained. Before they could even get to him, the mob killed two of their owna bystander and a fellow rioterwith their ragged gunshots. They set the courthouse on fire to force the sheriff to hand Brown over to them. They cut the water hoses to keep the firefighters from putting out the blaze. And when the mayor tried to appeal to the mob, the leaders put a rope around his neck, and inflicted injuries that put him in the hospital. The leaders of the mob pulled Brown from the rooftop of the courthouse where the courthouse workers had escaped from the fire and where the prisoners had been taken. Then the people in the mob began the task for which they had gathered. First, they stripped Will Brown, and those up front fought each other to beat him. They hoisted him, half-conscious, onto a lamppost outside the courthouse. Then they fired bullets into his dangling body, cheering as they fired, and it was from these gunshots that the coroner said Brown died. They burned his body in the bonfire they had made on the courthouse square. Then they tied the body to a police car and dragged the corpse through the streets of Omaha. They cut the pieces of rope they had used to hoist him, and these they sold as keepsakes for peoples display cabinets and fireplace mantels. The photographers on the scene captured the lynching from different angles and produced postcards of the men in business suits and teenagers in newsboy hats posing as if at a wedding reception, crowding into the frame above the charred torso, sparks of fire amid the ash, an image they would send to cousins and in-laws and former neighbors around the country. A fourteen-year-old boy was helping his father at his printing plant across the street from the courthouse in the middle of the riot. The boys name was Henry Fonda, and he would leave Omaha when he grew up and make a name for himself as a leading man in Hollywood. That evening in 1919, against the hollers of the mob and the man hanging from a lamppost and the cinders of the bonfire, Fonda and his father locked the plant, and drove home in silence. It was the most horrendous sight Ive ever seen, he would say years later when he was an old man. The decades had not swept the ash from his memory. It was perhaps no coincidence that he would appear in many movies in which he was the moral voice calling for a life to be spared. In the 1943 film The Ox-Bow Incident, about vigilante violence, it is Fondas character who warns a blood-lusting mob: Man just naturally cant take the law into his own hands, and hang people, without hurting everybody in the world. Part Three THE EIGHT PILLARS OF CASTE THE FOUNDATIONS OF CASTE The Origins of Our Discontents These are the historic origins, the pillars upholding a belief system, the piers beneath the surface of a caste hierarchy. As these tenets took root in the firmament, it did not matter so much whether the assumptions were true, as most were not. It mattered little that they were misperceptions or distortions of convenience, as long as people accepted them and gained a sense of order and means of justification for the cruelties to which they had grown accustomed, inequalities that they took to be the laws of nature. These are the pillars of caste, the ancient principles that I researched and compiled as I examined the parallels, overlap, and commonalities of three major caste hierarchies. These are the principles upon which a caste system is constructed, whether in America, India, or Nazi Germany, beliefs that were at one time or another burrowed deep within the culture and collective subconscious of most every inhabitant, in order for a caste system to function. PILLAR NUMBER ONE Divine Will and the Laws of Nature B efore the age of human awareness, according to the ancient Hindu text of India, Manu, the all-knowing, was seated in contemplation, when the great men approached him and asked him, Please, Lord, tell us precisely and in the proper order the Laws of all the social classes as well as of those born in between. Manu proceeded to tell of a time when the universe as we know it was in a deep sleep, and the One who is beyond the range of senses, brought forth the waters and took birth himself as Brahma, the grandfather of all the worlds. And then, to fill the land, he created the Brahmin, the highest caste, from his mouth, the Kshatriya from his arms, the Vaishya from his thighs, and, from his feet, the Shudra, the lowest of the four varnas, or divisions of man, millennia ago and into the fullness of time. The fragment from which each caste was formed foretold the position that each would fill and their placement, in order, in the caste system. From lowest to highest, bottom to top: The Shudra, the feet, the servant, the bearer of burdens. The Vaishya, the thighs, the engine, the merchant, the trader. The Kshatriya, the arms, the warrior, the protector, the ruler. And above them all, the Brahmin, the head, the mouth, the philosopher, the sage, the priest, the one nearest to the gods. The Brahmin is by Law the lord of this whole creation, according to the Laws of Manu. It is by the kindness of the Brahmin that other people eat. Unmentioned among the original four varnas were those deemed so low that they were beneath even the feet of the Shudra. They were living out the afflicted karma of the past, they were not to be touched and some not even to be seen. Their very shadow was a pollutant. They were outside of the caste system and thus outcastes. These were the Untouchables who would later come to be known as Dalits, the subordinate caste of India. In the words of the sacred text of the Western world, the Old Testament, there had been a Great Flood. The windows of heaven had opened, along with the fountains of the deep, and all of humankind was said to have descended from the three sons of the patriarch Noah. By divine instruction, they survived the floodwaters in an ark, for more than forty days and forty nights, and thereafter, Noah became a man of the soil. His sons were Shem, Ham, and Japheth, who would become the progenitors of all humanity. One season, Noah planted a vineyard, and he later drank of the wine of the fruit of the vineyard. The wine overtook him, and he lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, who would become the father of a son, Canaan, happened into the tent and saw his fathers nakedness and told his two brothers outside. Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders. They walked backward into the tent and covered their fathers nakedness. Their faces were turned in the other direction so that they would not see their father unclothed. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what Ham had done, he cursed Hams son, Canaan, and the generations to follow, saying, Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. The story of Hams discovery of Noahs nakedness would pass down through the millennia. The sons of Shem, Ham, and Japheth spread across the continents, Shem to the east, Ham to the south, Japheth to the west, it was said. Those who decreed themselves the descendants of Japheth would hold fast to that story and translate it to their advantage. As the riches from the slave trade from Africa to the New World poured forth to the Spaniards, to the Portuguese, to the Dutch, and lastly to the English, the biblical passage would be summoned to condemn the children of Ham and to justify the kidnap and enslavement of millions of human beings, and the violence against them. From the time of the Middle Ages, some interpreters of the Old Testament described Ham as bearing black skin and translated Noahs curse against him as a curse against the descendants of Ham, against all humans with dark skin, the people who the Europeans told themselves had been condemned to enslavement by Gods emissary, Noah himself. They found further comfort in Leviticus, which exhorted them, Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. This they took as further license to enslave those they considered religious heathens to build a new country out of wilderness. And thus, a hierarchy evolved in the New World they created, one that set those with the lightest skin above those with the darkest. Those who were darkest, and those who descended from those who were darkest, would be assigned to the subordinate caste of America for centuries. The curse of Ham is now being executed upon his descendants, Thomas R. R. Cobb, a leading Confederate and defender of slavery, wrote, 240 years into the era of human bondage in America. The great Architect had framed them both physically and mentally to fill the sphere in which they were thrown. His wisdom and mercy combined in constituting them thus suited to the degraded position they were destined to occupy. Slavery officially ended in 1865, but the structure of caste remained intact, not only surviving but hardening. Let the negro have the crumbs that fall from the white mans table, Thomas Pearce Bailey, a twentieth-century author, recorded in his list of the caste codes of the American South, echoing the Indian Laws of Manu. The United States and India would become, respectively, the oldest and the largest democracies in human history, both built on caste systems undergirded by their reading of the sacred texts of their respective cultures. In both countries, the subordinate castes were consigned to the bottom, seen as deserving of their debasement, owing to the sins of the past. These tenets, as interpreted by those who put themselves on high, would become the divine and spiritual foundation for the belief in a human pyramid willed by God, a Great Chain of Being, that the founders would further sculpt in the centuries to follow, as circumstances required. And so we have what could be called the first pillar of caste, Divine Will and the Laws of Nature, the first of the organizing principles inherent in any caste system. PILLAR NUMBER TWO Heritability T o work, each caste society relied on clear lines of demarcation in which everyone was ascribed a rank at birth, and a role to perform, as if each person were a molecule in a self-perpetuating organism. You were born to a certain caste and remained in that caste, subject to the high status or low stigma it conferred, for the rest of your days and into the lives of your descendants. Thus, heritability became the second pillar of caste. In India, it was generally the father who passed his rank to his children. In America, dating back to colonial Virginia, children inherited the caste of their mother both by law and by custom. And in disputes beyond these parameters, a child was generally to take the status of the lower-ranking parent. The Virginia General Assembly declared the status of all people born in the colony. Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or free, the Assembly decreed in 1662, be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand Assembly, that all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother. With this decree, the colonists were breaking from English legal precedent, the only precepts they had ever known, the ancient order that gave children the status of the father. This new law allowed enslavers to claim the children of black women, the vast majority of whom were enslaved, as their property for life and for ensuing generations. It invited them to impregnate the women themselves if so inclined, the richer it would make them. It converted the black womb into a profit center and drew sharper lines around the subordinate caste, as neither mother nor child could make a claim against an upper-caste man, and no child springing from a black womb could escape condemnation to the lowest rung. It moved the colonies toward a bipolar hierarchy of whites and nonwhites, and specifically a conjoined caste of whites at one end of the ladder and, at the other end, those deemed black, due to any physical manifestation of African ancestry. Tied conveniently as it was to what one looked like, membership in either the upper or the lowest caste was deemed immutable, primordial, fixed from birth to death, and thus regarded as inescapable. He may neither earn nor wed his way out, wrote the scholars Allison Davis and Burleigh and Mary Gardner in Deep South, their seminal 1941 study of caste in America. It is the fixed nature of caste that distinguishes it from class, a term to which it is often compared. Class is an altogether separate measure of ones standing in a society, marked by level of education, income, and occupation, as well as the attendant characteristics, such as accent, taste, and manners, that flow from socioeconomic status. These can be acquired through hard work and ingenuity or lost through poor decisions or calamity. If you can act your way out of it, then it is class, not caste. Through the years, wealth and class may have insulated some people born to the subordinate caste in America but not protected them from humiliating attempts to put them in their place or to remind them of their caste position. Centuries after the American caste system took shape along the Chesapeake, the most accomplished of lower-caste people have often found ways to transcend caste, but rarely to fully escape it. Like the Hindu caste system, the black-white distinction in the United States has supplied a social hierarchy determined at birth, and arguably immutable, even by achievement, wrote the legal scholars Raymond T. Diamond and Robert J. Cottrol. Blacks became like a group of American untouchables, ritually separated from the rest of the population. In the winter of 2013, the Academy Awardwinning actor Forest Whitaker, a distinguished, middle-aged, African-American man, walked into a gourmet delicatessen on the West Side of Manhattan for a bite to eat. Seeing it crowded or not finding what he wanted, he turned to leave without making a purchase, as many customers might. An employee thought it suspicious and blocked him at the door. That level of intervention was uncharacteristic at an establishment frequented by celebrities and college students. The employee frisked him up and down in front of other customers. Finding nothing, he allowed Whitaker, visibly shaken, to leave. The delicatessen owners later apologized for the incident and fired the employee. But the degradation of that moment stayed with the actor. Its a humiliating thing for someone to come and do that, Whitaker said afterward. Its attempted disempowerment. Neither wealth nor celebrity has insulated those born to the subordinate caste from the police brutality that seems disproportionately trained on those at the bottom of the hierarchy. In 2015, New York City police officers broke an NBA players leg outside of a nightclub in Manhattan. The injury left the player, a forward for the Atlanta Hawks, disabled for the rest of the season. It resulted in a $4 million settlement, the proceeds of which the player promptly said he would donate to a foundation for public defenders. In 2018, police officers slammed a former NFL player to the ground after a disagreement he had with another motorist who had thrown coffee at his car, according to news reports. The video that surfaced that spring shows officers twisting Desmond Marrows arms and legs and shoving him facedown onto the pavement. Then they turn him over and hold him down by the throat. He passes out under their weight. After the video went viral, an internal investigation was conducted and an officer was fired. No matter how great you become in life, no matter how wealthy you become, how people worship you, or what you do, NBA star LeBron James told reporters just the year before, if you are an African-American man or African-American woman, you will always be that. PILLAR NUMBER THREE Endogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating T he framers of the American caste system took steps, early in its founding, to keep the castes separate and to seal off the bloodlines of those assigned to the upper rung. This desire led to the third pillar of casteendogamy, which means restricting marriage to people within the same caste. This is an ironclad foundation of any caste system, from ancient India, to the early American colonies, to the Nazi regime in Germany. Endogamy was brutally enforced in the United States for the vast majority of its history and did the spade work for current ethnic divisions. Endogamy enforces caste boundaries by forbidding marriage outside of ones group and going so far as to prohibit sexual relations, or even the appearance of romantic interest, across caste lines. It builds a firewall between castes and becomes the primary means of keeping resources and affinity within each tier of the caste system. Endogamy, by closing off legal family connection, blocks the chance for empathy or a sense of shared destiny between the castes. It makes it less likely that someone in the dominant caste will have a personal stake in the happiness, fulfillment, or well-being of anyone deemed beneath them or personally identify with them or their plight. Endogamy, in fact, makes it more likely that those in the dominant caste will see those deemed beneath them as not only less than human but as an enemy, as not of their kind, and as a threat that must be held in check at all costs. Caste, wrote Bhimrao Ambedkar, the father of the anti-caste movement in India, means an artificial chopping off of the population into fixed and definite units, each one prevented from fusing into another through the custom of endogamy. Thus, in showing how endogamy is maintained, he added, we shall practically have proved the genesis and also the mechanism of Caste. Before there was a United States of America, there was endogamy, said to be ordained by God. One of the earliest references to what would come to be known as race in America arose over the matter of sexual relations between a European and an African. In 1630, the Virginia General Assembly sentenced Hugh Davis to a public whipping for having abused himself to the dishonor of God and the shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a Negro. The assembly went to the trouble of specifying that Africans, who might not normally be permitted to observe the punishment of a dominant-caste man, had to attend and witness the whipping of Davis. This served a dual function in the emerging caste system. It further humiliated Davis before an audience of people deemed beneath him. And it signaled a warning to those being banished to the lowest caste in a country that did not yet even exist: If this was the fate of a white man who did not adhere to caste boundaries, so much worse will it be for you. By the time of Daviss sentencing, European men had been having sex with African women, often without consent or consequence to themselves, throughout the era of the slave trade, and had grown accustomed to acting upon their presumed sovereignty over Africans. So, for the colonial fathers to condemn Hugh Davis to public humiliation for behavior that many took as a birthright meant that he had crossed a line they found threatening to the hierarchy, something about the way he related to his mate that got their attention and required their intervention. The emerging caste system permitted the exploitation of the lowest caste but not equality, or the appearance of equality, which is why endogamy, which confers an alliance between equals in the eyes of the law, was strictly policed and rape of lower-caste women ignored. The case of Hugh Davis was not only the first mention of race and hierarchy in America, but also the first attempt at setting the boundaries of publicly known relationships across caste lines. Ten years later, another white man, Robert Sweet, was forced to do penance when it came to light that he had gotten an enslaved black woman, owned by another white man, pregnant. By then, the focus of caste enforcement had shifted. In that case, it was the pregnant woman who was whipped, a sign of her degraded caste status despite a medical condition that would have protected her in most civilized nations. In 1691, Virginia became the first colony to outlaw marriage between blacks and whites, a ban that the majority of states would take up for the next three centuries. Some states forbade the marriage of whites to Asians or Native Americans in addition to African-Americans, who were uniformly excluded. While there was never a single nationwide ban on intermarriage, despite several attempts to enact one, forty-one of the fifty states passed laws making intermarriage a crime punishable by fines of up to $5,000 and up to ten years in prison. Some states went so far as to forbid the passage of any future law permitting intermarriage. Outside of the law, particularly in the South, African-Americans faced penalty of death for even the appearance of breaching this pillar of caste. The Supreme Court did not overturn these prohibitions until 1967. Still, some states were slow to officially repeal their endogamy laws. Alabama, the last state to do so, did not throw out its law against intermarriage until the year 2000. Even then, 40 percent of the electorate in that referendum voted in favor of keeping the marriage ban on the books. It was the caste system, through the practice of endogamyessentially state regulation of peoples romantic choices over the course of centuriesthat created and reinforced races, by permitting only those with similar physical traits to legally mate. Combined with bans on immigrants who were not from Europe for much of American history, endogamy laws had the effect of controlled breeding, of curating the population of the United States. This form of social engineering served to maintain the superficial differences upon which the hierarchy was based, race ultimately becoming the result of who was officially allowed to procreate with whom. Endogamy ensures the very difference that a caste system relies on to justify inequality. What we look like, wrote the legal scholar Ian Haney L?pez, the literal and racial features we in this country exhibit, is to a large extent the product of legal rules and decisions. This pillar of caste was well enough understood and accepted that, as late as 1958, a Gallup poll found that 94 percent of white Americans disapproved of marriage across racial lines. You know the Negro race is inferior mentally, a southern physician told researchers back in 1940, expressing a commonly held view. Everyone knows that, and I dont think God meant for a superior race like the whites to blend with an inferior race. As this was the prevailing sentiment for most of the countrys history, an unknowable number of lives were lost due to this defining pillar of caste, the presumed breach of which triggered the most publicized cases of lynchings in America. The protocol was strictly enforced against lower-caste men and upper-caste women, while upper-caste men, the people who wrote the laws, kept full and flagrant access to lower-caste women, whatever their age or marital status. In this way, the dominant gender of the dominant caste, in addition to controlling the livelihood and life chances of everyone beneath them, eliminated the competition for its own women and in fact for all women. For much of American history, dominant-caste men controlled who had access to whom for romantic liaisons and reproduction. This inverted the natural expression of manhoodtotal freedom for one group and life-or-death policing of anotherand served further to reinforce caste boundaries and the powerlessness of subordinated men who might dare try to protect their own daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers. At the same time, it reminded everyone in the hierarchy of the absolute power of dominant-caste men. This was a cloud that hung over the lives of everyone consigned to the lowest caste for most of the time that there has been a United States of America. In the mid-1830s in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, white men burned a black man alive and stuck his head on a pole at the edge of town for all to see, as a lesson to men in the subordinate caste. The black man had been tortured and beheaded after he stood up and killed the dominant-caste man who owned his wife and was in the habit of sleeping with her, according to a contemporaneous account. As he faced death for taking an extreme and assuredly suicidal step to protect his wife in that world, the doomed husband said that he believed he should be rewarded in heaven for it. More than a century later, in December 1943, an earnest fifteen-year-old boy named Willie James Howard was working during the holiday school break at a dime store in Live Oak, Florida. He was an only child and, having made it to the tenth grade, was expected to exceed what anyone else in the family had been able to accomplish. That December, he made a fateful gesture, unknowing or unmindful of a central pillar of caste. He was hopeful and excited about his new job and wanted so badly to do well that he sent Christmas cards to everyone at work. In one Christmas card, the one to a girl his age named Cynthia, who worked there and whom he had a crush on, he signed, with L (for love). It would seem an ordinary gesture for that time of the year, sweet even, but this was the Jim Crow South; the boy was black, and the girl was white. She showed the card to her father. Word got back to Willie James that his card had somehow disturbed her. So, on New Years Day 1944, he hand-delivered an apologetic note trying to explain himself: I know you dont think much of our kind of people but we dont hate you, all we want [is] to be your friends but you [wont] let us please dont let anybody else see this I hope I havent made you mad. He added a rhyme: I love your name, I love your voice, for a S.H. (sweetheart) you are my choice. The next day, the girls father and two other white men dragged Willie James and his father to the banks of the Suwannee River. They hog-tied Willie James and held a gun to his head. They forced him to jump and forced his father at gunpoint to watch him drown. Held captive and outnumbered as the father was, he was helpless to save his only child. The men admitted to authorities that they had abducted the boy and bound his hands and feet. They said he just jumped and drowned on his own. Within days, the boys parents fled for their lives. A young Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP alerted the Florida governor, to no avail. The NAACP field secretary, Harry T. Moore, managed to convince the boys parents to overcome their terror and to sign affidavits about what had happened the day their son was killed. A local grand jury refused to indict the boys abductors, and federal prosecutors would not intervene. No one was ever held to account or spent a day in jail for the death of Willie James. His abduction and death were seen as upholding the caste order. Thus the terrors of the southern caste system continued, carried forth without penalty. Sanctioned as it was by the U.S. government, the caste system had become not simply southern, but American. PILLAR NUMBER FOUR Purity versus Pollution T he fourth pillar of caste rests upon the fundamental belief in the purity of the dominant caste and the fear of pollution from the castes deemed beneath it. Over the centuries, the dominant caste has taken extreme measures to protect its sanctity from the perceived taint of the lower castes. Both India and the United States at the zenith of their respective caste systems, and the short-lived but heinous regime of the Nazis, raised the obsession with purity to a high, if absurdist, art. In some parts of India, the lowest-caste people were to remain a certain number of paces from any dominant-caste person while walking out in publicsomewhere between twelve and ninety-six steps away, depending on the castes in question. They had to wear bells to alert those deemed above them so as not to pollute them with their presence. A person in the lowest subcastes in the Maratha region had to drag a thorny branch with him to wipe out his footprints and prostrate himself on the ground if a Brahmin passed, so that his foul shadow might not defile the holy Brahmin. Touching or drawing near to anything that had been touched by an Untouchable was considered polluting to the upper castes and required rituals of purification for the high-caste person following this misfortune. This they might do by bathing at once in flowing water or performing Pranayama breaths along with meditation to cleanse themselves of the pollutants. In Germany, the Nazis banned Jewish residents from stepping onto the beaches at the Jews own summer homes, as at Wannsee, a resort suburb of Berlin, and at public pools in the Reich. They believed the entire pool would be polluted by immersion in it of a Jewish body, Jean-Paul Sartre once observed. In the United States, the subordinate caste was quarantined in every sphere of life, made untouchable on American terms, for most of the countrys history and well into the twentieth century. In the South, where most people in the subordinate caste were long consigned, black children and white children studied from separate sets of textbooks. In Florida, the books for black children and white children could not even be stored together. African-Americans were prohibited from using white water fountains and had to drink from horse troughs in the southern swelter before the era of separate fountains. In southern jails, the bedsheets for the black prisoners were kept separate from the bedsheets for the white prisoners. All private and public human activities were segregated from birth to death, from hospital wards to railroad platforms to ambulances, hearses, and cemeteries. In stores, black people were prohibited from trying on clothing, shoes, hats, or gloves, assuming they were permitted in the store at all. If a black person happened to die in a public hospital, the body will be placed in a corner of the dead house away from the white corpses, wrote the historian Bertram Doyle in 1937. This pillar of caste was enshrined into law in the United States in 1896, after a New Orleans man challenged an 1890 Louisiana law that separated the white and colored races in railroad cars. Louisiana had passed the law after the collapse of Reconstruction and the return to power of the former Confederates. A committee of concerned citizens of color came together and raised money to fight the law in court. On the appointed day, June 7, 1892, Homer A. Plessy, a shoemaker who looked white but was categorized as black under the American definition of race, bought a first-class ticket from New Orleans to Covington on the East Louisiana Railroad and took his seat in the whites-only car. In that era, a person of ambiguous racial origin was presumed not to be white, so the conductor ordered him to the colored car. Plessy refused and was arrested, as the committee had anticipated. His case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled seven to one in favor of Louisianas separate but equal law. It set in motion nearly seven decades of formal, state-sanctioned isolation and exclusion of one caste from the other in the United States. In southern courtrooms, even the word of God was segregated. There were two separate Biblesone for blacks and one for whitesto swear to tell the truth on. The same sacred object could not be touched by hands of different races. This pillar of purity, as with the others, endangered the lives of the people in the subordinate caste. One day in the 1930s, a black railroad switchman was working in Memphis and slipped and fell beneath a switch engine. He lay bleeding to death, his right arm and leg severed. Ambulances rushed to the mans aid, according to reports of the incident. They took one look, saw that he was a Negro, and backed away. The Sanctity of Water The waters and shorelines of nature were forbidden to the subordinate castes if the dominant caste so desired. Well into the twentieth century, African-Americans were banned from white beaches and lakes and pools, both north and south, lest they pollute them, just as Dalits were forbidden from the waters of the Brahmins, and Jews from Aryan waters in the Third Reich. This was a sacred principle in the United States well into the second half of the twentieth century, and the dominant caste went to great lengths to enforce it. In the early 1950s, when Cincinnati agreed under pressure to allow black swimmers into some of its public pools, whites threw nails and broken glass into the water to keep them out. In the 1960s, a black civil rights activist tried to integrate a public pool by swimming a lap and then emerging to towel off. The response was to drain the pool entirely, wrote the legal historian Mark S. Weiner, and refill it with fresh water. Decades before, in 1919, a black boy paid with his life and set off a riot in Chicago for inadvertently breaching this pillar of caste. Seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams was swimming in Lake Michigan, at a public beach on the citys South Side, and happened to wade past the imaginary line that separated the races. He unknowingly passed into the white water, which flowed into and looked no different from the black water. He was stoned and drowned to death for doing so. The tensions over the breaching of boundaries that summer incited the dominant caste and set off one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. In the decades after, in middle American places like Newton, Kansas, and Marion, Indiana, in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, people in the upper caste rose up in hysterics at the sight of a subordinate-caste person approaching their water. In August 1931, a new public park opened in Pittsburgh, with pools the size of a football field and big enough for ten thousand swimmers. But soon afterward, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, each Negro who entered the pool yesterday was immediately surrounded by whites and slugged or held beneath the water until he gave up his attempts to swim and left. In the summer of 1949, the city of St. Louis had what was considered the largest city pool in the country, at its Fairground Park. When the city, under pressure from black citizens, took up the issue of allowing black people into the pool, the backlash was immediate. A man who happened to have the same name as the official in charge of integrating the pool required police protection due to the mistaken threats against him. Lifeguards considered quitting in protest. The day the first African-Americans arrived to swim, a crowd gathered with knives, bricks, and bats. They set upon the black children who had come to swim, forcing them to walk a gauntlet, striking and taunting them. The mob grew to five thousand people, who chased after any black person they saw approaching the parkchildren on bicycles, a man stepping off a streetcar, a truck stalled in traffic, a black man on a porch at a house next to the park. They kicked him as he lay on the ground, limp and bleeding. The town of Newton, Kansas, went to the state supreme court to keep black people out of the pool it built in 1935. The city and its contractor argued that black people could never be permitted in the pool, not on alternate days, not at separate hours, not ever, because of the type of pool it was. They told the court that it was a circulatory type of pool, in which the water is only changed once during the swimming season. White people, they argued, would not go into water that had touched black skin. The only way white residents would swim in a pool after blacks, wrote the historian Jeff Wiltse, was if the water was drained and the tank scrubbed. The operators couldnt do all that every time a black person went into the pool, so they banned black people altogether. The court sided with the city, and, for decades more, the towns only public pool remained for the exclusive use of the dominant caste. A public pool outside Pittsburgh solved this problem by keeping black people out until after the season was over in September, which meant it was closed to black swimmers at the precise time that they or anyone else would have wanted to use it. The manager said this was the only way the maintenance crew could get sufficient time to properly cleanse and disinfect it after the Negroes have used it. A white woman in Marion, Indiana, seemed to be speaking for many in the dominant caste across America when she said that white people wouldnt swim with colored people because they didnt want to be polluted by their blackness. Far from her, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, whites blocked African-Americans at the stairwells and entrances the week the city first allowed black swimmers to its public pool. There, and elsewhere, every black swimmer that entered the water quite literally risked his or her life, Wiltse wrote. It was in this atmosphere, in 1951, that a Little League baseball team in Youngstown, Ohio, won the city championship. The coaches, unthinkingly, decided to celebrate with a team picnic at a municipal pool. When the team arrived at the gate, a lifeguard stopped one of the Little Leaguers from entering. It was Al Bright, the only black player on the team. His parents had not been able to attend the picnic, and the coaches and some of the other parents tried to persuade the pool officials to let the little boy in, to no avail. The only thing the lifeguards were willing to do was to let them set a blanket for him outside the fence and to let people bring him food. He was given little choice and had to watch his teammates splash in the water and chase each other on the pool deck while he sat alone on the outside. From time to time, one or another of the players or adults came out and sat with him before returning to join the others, his childhood friend, the author Mel Watkins, would write years later. It took an hour or so for a team official to finally convince the lifeguards that they should at least allow the child into the pool for a few minutes. The supervisor agreed to let the Little Leaguer in, but only if everyone else got out of the water, and only if Al followed the rules they set for him. First, everyonemeaning his teammates, the parents, all the white peoplehad to get out of the water. Once everyone cleared out, Al was led to the pool and placed in a small rubber raft, Watkins wrote. A lifeguard got into the water and pushed the raft with Al in it for a single turn around the pool, as a hundred or so teammates, coaches, parents, and onlookers watched from the sidelines. After the agonizing few minutes that it took to complete the circle, Al was then escorted to his assigned spot on the other side of the fence. During his short time in the raft, as it glided on the surface, the lifeguard warned him over and over again of one important thing. Just dont touch the water, the lifeguard said, as he pushed the rubber float. Whatever you do, dont touch the water. The lifeguard managed to keep the water pure that day, but a part of that little boy died that afternoon. When one of the coaches offered him a ride home, he declined. With champion trophy in hand, Watkins wrote, Al walked the mile or so back home by himself. He was never the same after that.

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