Written by one of the most impactful writers of our time, this non-fiction masterpiece is a stark comparison of the caste system that we live with here in the U.S. and that which has existed in India for hundreds of years and that which enabled the rise of the Third Reich in Germany during World War II. In order to elevate the white, European (Aryan) male in both the U.S. and Germany, it was necessary to establish a scapegoat, or a group of humans deemed less-than, in order to maintain an identity of being higher than. Likewise, in India, it was necessary to invoke religious inspiration to insist that men are created with certain intrinsic value based on the class they are born into, rather than natural, proven talents/abilities. Those at the top convinced themselves (and are continuing to convince themselves) that those at the bottom were content with their lot – or at least, that this was a god-given right which they enshrined. The myriad historical details and the personal accounts only serve to enrich Wilkerson’s thesis and drive her very painful and compelling point home.
While this book is not an easy one to read, it is one of the most important books that help explain this moment we are living in. It is clear that the presidency of Donald Trump was not a cause but a result of a growing fear of white men of losing their power over all others (including women of all colors, by the way) in this country. The continued efforts of Republicans to gerrymander and inflict restrictive voting laws are clear evidence of their flailing attempts to grasp onto those strangleholds they view as their birthright. And, as Wilkerson so rightly points out, these restrictive and terrifying laws and movements, and the rising of the Alt Right, Neo-Nazi, and white supremacy groups, hurt everyone – including the perpetrators – physically and mentally. We all lose.
We owe Wilkerson a debt of gratitude for her years-long, painstaking research and her gorgeous writing that encapsulates it.
Again, everyone MUST READ this book – if you want to understand not only caste but the fundamental history of our country and what is happening in our country today.
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, and George Swanson Starling never knew each other, nor did they live in the same time or place — yet they all had something in common: they each participated in the Great Migration and for parallel reasons. Through this gritty chronicle of their lives, we earn a deeper appreciation for how the Jim Crow south drove millions of black folks northward and westward, in desperate search of freedom and civil rights. We also see how they experienced both successes and failures when they arrived.
This impressive work of non-fiction reads like part novel/part PhD thesis, but as a whole, it works. The parts that tell the story of each of these individuals’ lives are profoundly beautiful and what drive the book forward. The author delivers their stories with such tenderness and detail that she lifts each of them off of the page and brings them into the room with you, bringing with them their hopes and their heartaches. And interwoven with their stories is the historical context in which they are living. The author zooms out to portray the larger picture of what is happening — what wars, economic factors, or local social affairs, sometimes graphic, are impacting our 3 protagonists at the time. This sometimes gets quite dense, but it definitely contributes a great deal to the depth of the story.
The larger question is this: Did those who risked their lives, often sneaking out in the middle of the night, to migrate to the north/west fare better than those who stayed in the south? I believe this is a complex question and one the author was seeking to answer with the writing of this book. Those who left were desperately seeking a chance to be recognized as individuals who deserved their civil rights under the law, to be seen as equal to everyone else. When they arrived in the north and/or west, they were allowed to sit anywhere on the bus and to drink at any water fountain. But they definitely were not treated as equals to everyone else in their their job searches or their housing purchases.
I’d be very interested to hear your opinion about the conclusions drawn in this book. It’s an important discussion.