She is sitting in a cotton housedress on a baby blue, plastic-covered easy chair by the window. Then, as now, it was promoted by the American ruling elite with the Carnegie corporation funding a study by the Swedish sociologist Gunner Myrdal all together constituting the caste school of sociology of race relations. And it’s a tough thing to do. I have never grown weary of talking about it. But after giving it some thought, he recalled the experience of his people, the people he was advocating and fighting for, who were at that very moment not being given the right to vote. Tippett: And really, this is a version of crossing between East Germany and West Germany when the Iron Curtain divided Europe. Wilkerson: Well, I think I want to start to answer the question with a fundamental, sad recognition with these police shootings and then get to the answer. They arrived making the least for the hardest work. The depth of the connection between the anti-colonial struggle in India and the black freedom struggle in the United States was linked to the commonality of the struggle against racism and the struggle against imperialism. But this is where we are. And one fact about this whole idea of where we are right now just sort of cosmically, I think, in terms of this — let me put it this way: no adult alive today will live to see a time when the time of enslavement was equal to the time of freedom. Tippett: And as much as — the dynamics here and abroad — there’s a lot that is a fearful backlash, a kind of fearful and frightening resistance to this knowledge, that also comes from those primitive parts of our brain. Part of this erasure, is the erasure of the anti-colonial struggle and the attack on Mahatma Gandhi currently very intense in western universities. My hope is that through open-hearted understanding, through seeking to engage with the history, by a willingness to really look at our country—which I describe as an old house that needs constant work and reassessment and often repairs—that we seek to set right and transcend the divisions that were erected so long ago, to illuminate the walls so that we can scale them. Empathy is not pity or sympathy in which you are — pity, you’re looking down on someone and feeling sorry for them. I interviewed her as part of the inaugural Faith in Literature Festival at the University of North Carolina Asheville in partnership with public radio station WCQS and the Wake Forest School of Divinity. I mean, on the one side, people don’t want to really think about the awful things going on around them. Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times and was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama in 2016 “for championing the stories of an unsung history.” Her book The Warmth of Other Suns won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. They never were being written about. So on the eve of the Oprah’s Book Club announcement, I called Wilkerson for a conversation about why she believes Caste is a hopeful book—and, of course, what it was really like getting that surprising phone call from Oprah. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your account. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson points this out as she reflects on her epic work of narrative nonfiction. It means that they were able to do what a president, Abraham Lincoln, was not fully able to do. Copyright © 2020. Why is it that basic human response to a person in distress — why is it that first aid cannot be administered to people once they are bleeding on the ground? Wilkerson: It’s a reflection of the structures that they confronted upon arrival. The historian Rayford Logan described that era—which began after Reconstruction when the south reclaimed its control over that region after losing the Civil War—as setting in motion the restrictions of the caste system that I talk about here. Wilkerson: Yeah, if they were spirited and expressive, there was a need to reign that in. And I think that, as a species, we know how to do that. It traces the roots of American racism back to another continent centuries ago, and uses the metaphor of an old house to describe how we can begin to take responsibility for something we didn’t ourselves initiate. And they — before the doctor will even see you, he wants to know your history. Caste spoke to the all-encompassing comprehensive nature of this artificial hierarchy that keeps people in their place. Before the exploration of the world by European explorers, there was no need to think of one’s self on the basis of skin color or what one looked like. They arrived consigned to neighborhoods in which — that were declining, but had been declining from the moment they arrived. And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, private family foundation dedicated to its founders’ interests in religion, community development, and education. Because you go to refugee camps around the world now, and you hear the word “refugee camp,” and you think it’s tents. I mean, there are so, so many people that you could — that’s one way of recognizing the impact that it had. A woman whose — she said Ida Mae reminded her — was exactly like her Norwegian grandmother. I love old houses. But the nadir was about a hundred years ago, when an African American was being lynched every three or four days in the American South, which is why the summer of 1919 was called “the red summer.” This was an era in which African Americans had no political rights, and they could come under attack for any tiny breach of the caste system. Am I reading that into it? He actually taught Tuskegee airmen. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

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