College to host meet, greet with Common Book author


Emmy Hardy, Copy Desk Chief

Brookhaven Campus will host a virtual meet and greet with Isabel Wilkerson, author of the book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” on March 1. The book was selected as the 2021-2023 Common Book for Dallas College by staff and faculty.

The Dallas College Common Book and Virtual Meet and Greet will be held 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on March 1 in the Performance Hall. All Dallas College students, staff and faculty are welcome to attend in person or virtually via live stream, which will be provided through a link. Members of the public are encouraged to attend as well.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Wilkerson said while researching for her previous title “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” she came upon some interesting details. Wilkerson said she found the word racism to be insufficient in capturing the rigid social hierarchy and repression African Americans were born into.

Instead, she chose the word caste to describe this system of oppression. She is not the first person to use the word in this way. Several historians, past and present, have come to the same conclusion after specifically observing the hierarchical structure of the period between the Reconstruction Era and the Jim Crow Era.

Wilkerson agreed with this assessment. Wilkerson said: “That is the term that is more precise. It is more comprehensive. And it gets to the underlying infrastructure that often we cannot see but is there.”

Another distinction Wilkerson made during the writing process was the difference between a caste system and systemic racism. Wilkerson considers caste the bones, while race is the skin. In other words, race serves as the signal of where one fits into the artificially constructed caste system. It is a tool to serve the larger oppressive hierarchy.

Wilkerson said the concept of the caste system has its origins in a time long before the more modern idea of race. Thus, racism is a modern way in which an old system, the caste, is being reinforced.

Building on the idea of race as a comparatively new idea, Wilkerson said the idea of white supremacy is only several hundred years old, finding its roots in the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. Before this period, Europeans were largely only exposed to each other.

This all changed when colonizers began to settle in the New World as it was dubbed by them. Enslaved people were shipped to this area, and were immediately placed at the very bottom of the social hierarchy, simply because of the color of their skin. This, Wilkerson said, was the beginning of a more unified white identity in the world.

What Wilkerson is trying to show in her book is the idea that race is just the most visible aspect of a greater and historical hierarchical system — one which can be found throughout the course of human history in nearly every place on earth. From the tiers of society in Hindu culture, to the nobles vs working class history of Britain, there is an underlying societal system in place wherever one looks.

Wilkerson will be present virtually during the Common Book event, discussing many of these ideas and answering the question. If a student wishes to read a copy of “Caste,” they can check out a copy from the Learning Commons at Brookhaven.

“We still have copies of the book downstairs in circulation,” Natalia Vargas, Learning Commons regional manager, said. “Faculty can come and pick up the book, and students can check [out] our copies that they need to return later.” Vargas said the Common Book presentation is an important event for the institution.