Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire (Akala)

Okay, a confession: I thought about dropping the book, a couple of times. It’s not that it’s not well-written, because it is (one of the best I’ve read actually). It’s not because it isn’t relevant; it’s been relevant for the past three hundred years. No, the problem is that I’ve been reading a lot (and I do mean A LOT) about race over the past year, so when I started Akala’s book, I think I started with a few preconcieved notions about what I was getting into, and for the most part I wasn’t surprised: it’s a brilliantly-researched, honest, opinionated, and occasionally bitter read from someone who’s elevated himself out of a place where white privileged society told him he belonged. I think the problem was that I was expecting the kind of jaw-dropping revelations that Isabel Wilkerson came up with in Caste, and I’m sure that there would’ve been a few, if I’d read this one first.

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a book that will change your perspective on everything: everything you’ve seen, everything you’ve heard, everything that’s happened before, everything that’s happening now, everything that’ll happen in the future. Once in a lifetime, you’ll come across a book that doesn’t tell you about something you haven’t already seen, or experienced, or at the very least suspected, but puts into a context that’s like a massive strobe light firing off inside your head.

Once in a lifetime, you’ll finish a book that compels you to sit in a dark room for a few hours with a bottle of something strong and NWA playing on a loop, just to make sure you have fully understood what you’ve just read.

For me, Caste is that book.

Being black, I’ve experienced a fair share of overt racism over the years: more than some, certainly a lot less than others, probably an average amount now I think on it; so when a book or article comes along that explores racism, then I’ll take a look (know your enemy and all that). The thing is, Wilkerson isn’t actually talking about racism, she’s talking about caste: a system deliberately created to elevate one group of people while keeping a knee on the neck of another, usually by ascribing an imaginary inferiority of the subordinate group through nothing more than a trait they were born with and cannot change (the colour of their skin, their parentage, their sexual orientation). On the surface, this looks a lot like like common-or-garden racism (or homophobia), so Wilkerson dives straight in and explains the difference:

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