US² Readers Guide:

  1. Wilkerson uses many different 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 coworkers or direct reports? To your manager/supervisor?
  2. Who does a caste system benefit? Who does it harm?
  3. “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?
  4. Did learning about the lens and language of caste change how you look at U.S. history and society? Specifically, commerce and industry? How?
  5. Discuss how overt racism subtly transformed into unconscious bias. What are the ways that we can work to compensate for the unconscious biases inherent in a caste system?
  1. 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. Discuss how the logic of caste disproves this concept and redefines that same choice from the perspective of maintaining group dominance.
  2. How does the caste system take people who would otherwise be allies and turn them against one another?
  3. Wilkerson describes dinner with a white acquaintance who was incensed over the treatment they received from the waitstaff. Why did the acquaintance respond the way that she did, and how did it hurt or help the situation?
  4. What do we learn from Albert Einstein’s response to the American caste system upon arrival from Germany?
  5. “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 part of your organization? For yourself, others in the organization, your associates, and your clients?
  6. What are some of the steps that society, and each of us, can take toward dismantling the caste system?
  7. What is something that you can do in your office, department, building, and/or organization to dismantle the case system?
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