Caste in US politics


(Photo: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images).
(Photo: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images).

 

By Amit Roy

IT IS easy to sympathise with the Pulitzer prize­winning American jour­nalist, Isabel Wilkinson, who has drawn lessons for the US from her per­sonal experiences out­lined in her book, Caste: The Lies That Divide Us (Allen Lane, £20).

On one occasion, when she went to interview a shop owner in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the city’s premier commer­cial district, she was told to leave because he was “preparing for an impor­tant appointment with The New York Times”.

This anecdote reminds me of a black colleague whom I won’t name but we sat opposite each oth­er for a number of years. On one occasion he, too, went to interview some­one who rang the office after waiting for a while to complain: “There’s no one here.” All the while, the reporter was standing next to him.

After the Black Lives Matter movement be­came active again in America following the killing of George Floyd, I did wonder whether the race divisions in the country were so deep that the only solution was a partition of the US to create a separate land for African Americans.

Although this is a little far-fetched, Wilkinson has likened the cracks in American society to the caste divisions in India: “Caste is more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an illusion of their own entitlement, the subordi­nate trapped in the pur­gatory of someone else’s definition of who they should be.”