Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

This month US2 encourages you to read Caste, a book that addresses both racism and
classism in the United States and maintains that the intersection of the two is what
continues to separate and segregate us. Wilkerson compares three systems of caste
from India, the Third Reich in Germany, and here, in America. US2 hopes that you can
read this book in a community, with others, and discuss the questions below with an
attitude of curiosity and deeper understanding.

Caste is available on,, from your local independent bookshop, and from your local library (often downloadable to your device with a free library card!)

Reader’s Guide:

(adapted from the publishers reading guide)

  1. Wilkerson uses several metaphors to explain and help us visualize the concept of the American caste system: the bones inside a body, the beams inside a house, even the computer program in the 1999 film The Matrix. Which of these metaphors helped the concept click for you? Why was it successful? Which one would you use to explain the concept to your students? To your coworkers? To your supervisor?
  2. Caste and class are not the same thing. What is the difference between them? How do they support each other? How does race play into class, according to Wilkerson?
  3. Who does a caste system benefit? Who does it harm? Have you seen evidence of these benefits and harms in your life? In the lives of others?
  4. “Before there was a United States of America,” Wilkerson writes, “there was a caste
    system, born in colonial Virginia.” How can Americans reckon with this fact? What does it mean to you to live in a country whose system of discrimination was cemented before the country itself?
  5. Did learning about the lens and language of caste change how you look at U.S. history and society? Specifically, public and private education? How?
  6. “Evil asks little of the dominant caste other than to sit back and do nothing,” Wilkerson writes. Whether in the dominant caste or not, what are some of the ways that each of us, personally, can stand up to the caste system? How do you stand up as an educator? For yourself, your colleagues, and especially for your students?
  7. It is a widely held convention that working-class white Americans may often “act against their own interests” by opposing policies designed to help the working class. How does the logic of caste disprove this concept and redefine that same choice from the perspective of maintaining group dominance?
  8. How does the caste system take people who would otherwise be allies and turn them against one other?
  9. What is something that you can do in your classroom, your school, and/or your district to dismantle the caste system?
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