tv Author Discussion on Race and Caste in America CSPAN December 26, 2020 11:01pm-11:52pm EST
>> welcome everyone to the brooklyn book festival. today is the seventh day of the eight day festival we presented over 100 programs and almost 300 authors. it has been a tremendous week we are very grateful to have our guest with us tonight. i would like to say one thing show the love by a ship purchasing the book and now i will turn it over to them to continue the conversation. thank you very much.
>> thank you very kindly i am honored to be here today with a woman who is among the three or four greatest writers in america arguably try and find a brighter today. will make an argument it is an extra ordinary honor to be with you miss isabel wilkerson to have this opportunity to chat with you they will call the conversation by will act like a fan boy and ask you questions. [laughter] and see if we can stimulate a conversation. a remarkable book to be certain and i want to begin with a kind of conceptual inquiry. in the warmth of other sons you take the massive movement and mobilization of black people from the south out as
an intro to the american diaspora if you will in the way that people say my mom is from alabama my daddy from georgia i live in chicago that's a suburb of mississippi. [laughter] the negro in louisiana from los angeles to texas that's why snoop dogg has fallen back on that asked so the verbal patterns and the rhetorical habits of black people. but you can imagine that book the mass mobilization and migration both the push and pull of those instances were black people would stand out. and it seems in this book to take it as a step or two back so allies behind the great
migration is a magisterial tone that i word recommend all of you get your hands on as soon as you can and read it posthaste. but in that book you imagine with political economic and social factors what it is meant for black people to exist but then you backstop and say go way back to the beginning on the attraction of those souls from their resting place and the mass migration but here in north america now you have taken on something even larger so this is a philosophical argument that we
don't want to miss because some people talk about race and ethnicity and class so how philosophically and conceptually why it is you want to cast your site across the horizon and give us a philosophical depth to the notion that for some people is rather interesting and offers the purchase that initially they think and then you say my god how you grasp a hold of that notion. >> first let me say i am honored to be here with you. i can tell already we will have and interesting time. and a good time i think and i hope. let me start with that. [laughter]
>> it really goes back because in that book i have to look at what it was like to live in the jim crow south and what that really meant and we all get exposed to the imagery of the black and white water fountains of colored only restrooms and why only restrooms we know about that talking to the hundreds of people to narrow down to the three people i came to realize a lot of language we are used to using was not fully encompassed of who we were dealing with living in a world for them to play checkers in birmingham and living in a world where in courtrooms with a black and with the hand of
god and the jim crow south. and so that said to me there was a huge investment and not just the idea that they fell hatred for another group by the investment and the degradation and subjugation and in order to maintain that hierarchy they created. so and doing the research and they came out using the word cast with ancient language to describe essentially the artificial arbitrary with
meaning or what they endured or suffered. and what they were escaping with the great migration. >> think of class and caste and race in the anthropology goal studies and the reason i say this is because those that are deeply inscribed in the text is a role model and who try to make more than five people understand what the hell they are talking about. went to translate that stuff you get deeper and it takes time and you take your time by going to different countries and studying and interviewing different people and using the narrative impetus of a lived experience to articulate what
is hard to understand that you make it plain and it's extremely important despite the elegance and the eloquence of the language but the philosophical depth of what you're saying. so to think about the fact and those of racial formation and they say there is a big difference between ethnicity and race and people get that mixed up, talk about shared language and culture or a biologically determined existence that you masterfully deconstruct is artificial anyway. then think of orlando patterson when he says we will
look at the societies and we will find out what makes the experience in our culture so different? so now i'm bringing it down to what you do in the comparative analysis with now one - - nazi germany, india and the rigid regimentation and restrictions and rules and some would say ruin of life and then look at the caste system in america the homegrown terror introduced. now some people be tripping. oh my god. how do you dare compare what was going on here to not see germany and india and i defy anybody to read this tone for which you read them one - - weave them together but you know philosophically and theoretically it is problematic to some people so
explain the beauty and the power to bring in a comparative analysis looking through the lenses of three different societies that has a core belief that characterize what that is. >> one of the reasons why the idea of cast is so illuminating we are customizing ourselves to certain language to look at something for so long you stop being able to see it and this is a way of learning from how other societies have been formed and how they operate and what we can learn about ourselves with that point of intersection so that i was
looking at most particularly as i was using the word cast is the hierarchy and india from thousands and thousands of years old and extremely regimented and regulated and deep and complicated system and then the outcast on the untouchables and then the descendents of enslavement so that was one of the first places i was looking to see what is the points of intersection and one of the things i found to be true with these three systems of india and the 12 year concentrated years of terror in germany was the obsession with purity of
the dominant group at all cost and separation and boundaries with the feeling of the impulse to protect the dominant group from intrusion by and contamination of a subordinate. so for example in india they each have different ways of enforcing it and the metrics but in india for example to be 96 cases away that's one way they interpreted there's many different ways of course the united states but one way that was very similar was the idea of water the essential life-giving element on our planet that at all cost has to be protected and controlled and controlled they could not
draw from the same well as the dominant cast people and in nazi germany there were restrictions the jewish citizens could not use the beaches or the waters in germany and then in the united states of course we know the race riot of 1919 in chicago after a black boy in chicago was swimming in lake michigan and waited into what was called the white water. had you make a distinction how do you draw the line in water figure he was he was swimming
and was stoned to death for having done so so that water as a point of intersection of protecting and policing to create boundaries to the point of death it could be a matter of life and death to reaches various pillars and that is one of them and it was stunning to me that across time and oceans and continents these three hierarchies turn to and relied on the same metric to maintain power and the boundaries to protect and preserve the purity of the dominant group i found that to be one of the ways of that intersection. >> and the version of the spiritual intensity to be signified in the water like cleansing. renewal. and the inversion of those
meanings so the imposition on bodies this shows that artificial artifice of what you constructed here so very powerfully. that's why to me metaphor is so important that comparative analysis that you do and the investigation because you make these analogies between what is going on for instance i love that the cast is the bone and race is the skin and it got me to thinking. [laughter] 's of cast is the bone and race is the skin and what is
the flow or the life giving? i said ideology of racial mythology in the way that you help us understand how caste operates. it's not just simply the him - - position of the anthropological assessment but also a argument almost mystical assignment of dehumanization to other people generated a lot of what people made up even though it is settled in bodies and cast systems and rigidity it is essentially a metaphorical ideal and an invention that is as arbitrary as anything we might imagine.
>> what i make mention of is race is a social construct we know it is a creation it could be any number of metrics that could be used or have been to create hierarchy in any society religion or ethnicity or a birthplace or geography any number could be used and in america it was genotypes like what you look like to create a hierarchy these are neutral characteristics of people have and in this case you take a neutral characteristic and converting it into value and who should be positioned where any number could have been used and in this case the arbitrary description was used. so if race is the skin we have
to bring in that third descriptor which is class that's the addiction and the clothing to put on top of ourselves to help position ourselves differently so that we were born to and that's why i say that if you can act your way out of it with class if you cannot it is cast and that is a reminder of the rigidity sadly the enduring power of this creation of cast which in my description is the infrastructure of these other divisions the impulse and the control to amass power and resources and to regulate see
was a dominant group can stay on top so that's the infrastructure in any number of things could be used to assert that like gender or other aspects of human identity to create a metric. but i wanted to say a word about cast and then used in a different term and it's interesting how the language can be used for call our attention to the idea that cast is something that is about boundaries and policing of the boundaries. this is and obsession with policing boundaries as we have been seeing in these videos how is it that we have made so much progress in the current era to have two people add starbucks waiting and somebody calls the police on them and you can have a family barbecuing in a public park
and somebody calls the police? how is a man a marketing executive can unlock the door in his condo building lobby and a woman will block his path and follow him all the way to the elevator not afraid , onto the floor to make sure he actually belongs in the building. that is the policing of boundaries of the autonomic recognition and impulse to control and that they should be returned to so think about a cast in that mechanism that hold that fractured in place that's one way it was used in language if you think that cast in a play stage left or stage right everybody knows
where they are supposed to be in the play and each person knows their line. if they are really invested they will know the entire script and if you make a change and move someone from the background to the foreground and everybody has to figure out what does that mean for them? it could be threatening to have a change in the script go so these are the metaphors that help us to think about how this works in our society and it's quite interesting the word cast applies to people and fix place. >> she is doing black preaching over here. [laughter] a genius.
this is the density she is preaching the word to you. [laughter] talk about class and caste. and the whole totality of it or as the philosophers say multi- evidential and account as evidence in a number of arenas. and i love the autonomic system i think of the nervous system and it spreads the messages are communicated help me think of the following let's be honest or culturally and to have that shift in the midst of racial malaise in america to shift to the term what do we gain or lose what are we afraid of? and the familiarity of race
versus cast and does that separate us from historic legacy of a philosophical argument to make our claims or do we lose something or gain a resource that attaches us to cultures around the world like nazi germany or india or god knows that in south africa tell us that we get from it. >> this is not to say that racism is not real or races it real it is a social construct but it is because of the consequences that attach to the meaning added to the defining aspect of categorization.
this is to say something underneath but we think we see not to say racism is not a factor in our lives but to say something underneath it more deeply embedded and more powerful because we do not see it or recognized it or named it because we do not see the way it operates so it's saying they actually work in tandem and reinforce each other to make each more powerful to say we have not been able to see it the connection of american exceptionalism or any country if you think about it that we as human beings have far more in common with each other than we often recognize and that any country could have a lot
that connection with other countries in history then we may have otherwise realized. this is to say we can learn something from the way other countries have operated in the connections and then maybe see how all these things are operating if we have any chance to really resolve them. >> that is one hell of a point because you tend to exist in a silo with the world making a definitive and in many ways it is, but is not exhaustive. not in the sense that throughout the world there are hierarchie hierarchies, but they take on specific manifestations and they manifest themselves with legal intensity predicated upon what goes on the local scene. what one notices to span the
globe when i look at what happens across europe were certainly even in africa, we have no racism we are beyond mythology and ideology but the darker people are filtered through that epidermal fetish for the way in which the skin is the resident authority to invite in a dehumanizing practice so tell us and explained in terms of cast because all over the world it seems the darker you are the worst you are treated as a
difference if you go from washington heights versus being a white cuban or even in the intramurals that we practice among ourselves white versus brown and dark how did you put it if you can explain your way out then it is class so how do you look all over the world and see the darker people of the world and is that a reality that is even more universal than race that gets rid of the american exceptionalism and what about class? >> how i would put it from a cast perspective is cast within a cast in other words the impulse to have hierarchy
to rank of that subordinating cast in the dominating cas even to make the distinction within the cast in one of the examples of that in the united states is what happens where it was bipolar cast system decimating the numbers of indigenous people driving them off of the land and then extracting africans to the united states to the colonies and enslaving them. and that creates the two-tiered caste system for the english colonist on the top and african enslaved people on the bottom and then
what happens when they come inside? if they come in from other parts of europe they have to arrive and figure out how to navigate how they will fit into what was in a bipolar system and upon arrival the earliest ones the germans and the irish did not have a choice and then were assigned to a new category that did not exist in europe 700 years ago a new category called white people so that is where race comes in a social construct but also in human history so then as we well know because people are coming in from other parts of the world it was the middle cast people have to figure out and have a
category of the dominant cast or enslaved africans. they have to figure out where they fit in where there is a way to be accepted by, approved by and meet the standards met by the dominant cast where the resources reside to set the terms of citizenship. so we are creating a ladder of hierarchy but the trans-atlantic slave trade and the colonization of sub-saharan africa is the subjugation of anyone from not part of our planet. so there you have a ranking that became a global and the closer to the dominating people of european and dissent
it is not the creation of anyone alive today and this is what we inherited, it is a cast within a cast becoming global. >> that's extremely important to talk about it is a symbolic universe to signify what goes on no matter where you are across the world the darker you are the more hesitant the truth the humanity of these people i'm just trying to get a chance to preach today. [laughter] so you have that hierarchy is not like you go to some places you say the darker people are on top in the later are at the bottom in so that exportation
globally of darkness and stigmatization is connected with the brilliant argument the cast within the cast how many cast you have? henry d1? because it is the utilitarian ethic of a cast system resting upon the colonizers, the dominant figure as well as the subordination to coerce into a submissive position and within the cultures themselves we see the bullies over those who are beneath them so there is that force that you express in terms of cast.
notion of cast, not that you get rid of those race disappears that you have that undergirding power to help us understand what's at stake. so one of the things that might be more accessible for white people and others trying to grapple with this not just personally pointed to so to speak were singled out even though we know it is deep and profound, but it is a clever manipulation that allows the heat to be taken off. know i'm racist know we are all racist know we are not. but cast - - caste is a more neutral argument those that have benefited from it advantaged and victimized to take a less heated approach to
analyze the issue. i'm saying your caste might do that. >> so what do you do before you can even began talking say they are not something? so with their own imagination if they decided to redefine language in a way that makes people feel better about themselves and made for bone language which we have come to use? what do you do? if someone says no i'm not, you are. >> exactly. >> it means having to be
nimble and flexible and wise to make use of an entire universe of language to communicate what needs to be communicated. >> that is beautifully said to avoid the unnecessary vitriol to say that more plainly. >> why people be thinking they are racist but you have no conversation the new term that is old and then purchased on a universe of thought that we ourselves have neglected because that exceptionalism that we claim that we oppose brilliantly done professor wilkerson. >> and as well yourself. [laughter] >> so when i think about the
comparative analysis i know people reading your book be tripped out your telling me the german folks the insertion of the boat and is very nicely done. [laughter] so then you have people that say the aryan people? the religious white front lawn - - right wing that came from germany to study what was going on here to figure out nazi germany? that gives pause to those that say how dare you make a comparison nothing to be compared to the uniqueness and to say we don't engage in oppression.
but when that oppression happens of the 20th century then is different than the 17th or 18th century. frederick douglass may have been the most photographed person of the 19th century but you don't have no film or video camera about what was going on or george floyd capture what was happening. so tell us about the study of american apartheid as an inspiration for the racial hierarchy and the dominance over the subordinates and the purity tell us about that that might surprise a lot of people. >> first and up looking at germany only because after charlottesville. the protesters themselves made the connection for the country
and for the world. they were in the regalia symbols of confederacy and the nazi before our eyes. after that, realizing that episode and situation was a reminder that our history, we are not on the same page on american history. we are not. reminded us that this was about memory and the knowledge of the history. so that drew me to germany to see how was it they were dealing with their history and the memory of that history? how are they atoning for that and dealing with it? and then the more i looked into the history of nazi germany, i came to discover
that they were in dialogue with and consulting with american eugenicists leading up to the third reich and then actually the nazis admired the 1924 immigration law on the basis of eugenicists beliefs and americans are writing books that were very popular in germany and the nazis adopted many books. this was stunning and now of course we know they did not need anyone to teach them how to hate but they studied the jim crow laws against the human miscegenation laws about property liens and study the
segregation laws the purity and pollution keeping african-americans separate from apart and below from white americans. they studied the american definition of race that in many states a single drop of blood. they looked at all these things and examine these laws that they were constructing this was wrenching to discover and to realize that these are the kinds of things that is a reminder of these connections that we would not have normally known and to make sure there are many people who do research on this and have done the translations and want to be sure to mention james from yale who done tremendous
research into this area so the's were aspects of interconnectedness and i should also emphasize the subtitle of the book are the origins to emphasize these were the early years of the reich and we know toward the end of the war later in the reign of terror, they did the unthinkable to murder 6 million jews far beyond anything that any would begin to imagine. so this is on the origin of the hierarchy in each of these places.
>> we are getting the hook over here. trying to pull us offstage. but before we go so what is your process of writing? you are one of the biggest writers this nation ever seen and i'm willing to stand by it with these wonderful books are you collecting notes on a new card? to assemble and then organize? do you have an outline? tell us what you do because a lot of writers think how in the world can she talk about atmospheric environmental and then put that into a quotation of lebron james i don't care how rich you are. that is how relevant she is. if you watch the game tonight think about isabel wilkerson. so tell us about your process.
>> don't forget the matrix. >> that's right. [laughter] look look look. your range of pop-culture is great. tell us about your writing style and skills and methodologies and how you put it together. >> first of all i'm always listening for and aware of inspiration wherever that may be an constantly on alert for some moment or fragment or something in the news something i might read or hear and ideas and constantly making notes at all times. constantly engaging with my environment wherever i happen to be. i'm always taking notes
constantly taking notes. i never know where it will lead. so the idea comes from those notes that i gather along the way. eight and up doing as much research as i possibly can i love the footnotes of other people's books i love the endnotes i get very excited going down these rabbit holes no matter where they may be whether the internet and the matrix was a very long rabbit hole. >> so i am constantly on alert for inspiration and i never know where it comes from.
so in a way it is like you are cooking and making stew and you have to have the ingredients. we don't know what will end up being in the stew you may go into a garden to see what sprouting and in bloom and you pull back you don't even know if you will use that are not. but you are gathering all that up with fragments of fabric to gather all these up and then it will come to be something so i do everything as a fragment of fabric. i don't have an outline i keep trying to have an outline but i have a general idea but a lot of it is intuitive to go with the flow.
and to put pieces of the book together i hope it will end up and to look at and explore and integrate. >> that is isabel wilkerson. you need to read this book it is entitled caste from the pulitzer prize winner and the national humanities metal, new york times bestseller, oprah interviewed her for herself. what else can you say? it has been our honor to chat tonight with this magnificent author and remarkable intellectual and great writer. god bless you ms. wilkerson and thank you for writing this book. >> thank you. thank you.
spring if they're going to give us more time we was more we can do a know how we are supposed to enter how this is supposed to go. [laughter] how we do this in the cast of characters a somebody comes on otherwise we can keep going. i just that we were supposed to end at 850 but if they are giving us the hook and we don't have to stop i think we do. they told me to shut up. [laughter] thank you so much again it is an honor to speak to you. [laughter] this is been great. take care. go watch lebron james with new eyes. [laughter]