We cannot fully understand the upheavals over race and justice unless we recognize it as what it really is: the caste system.
Martin Luther King Jr and his wife, Coretta went to India to visit the land of Mohandas K Gandhi, the father of nonviolent protest.
Gandhi’s fight for freedom from British rule had inspired King’s fight for racial justice in America.
He wanted to see the so-called “untouchables”, the lowest caste in the ancient Indian system, who were consigned to the most menial jobs, even after India gained independence.
They visited with high-school students whose families had been untouchables. The principal introduced them.
“Young people, I present to you a fellow untouchable from the U.S.”
A shocked King puzzled why the lowest-caste people in India viewed him as low-caste like themselves.
Then he thought about the 20 million people, consigned to the lowest rank in the US for centuries, still in poverty, quarantined in ghettos, exiled in their own country, always in peril from police.
He realized that the land of the free had imposed a caste system, and that he had lived under that system all of his life. It lay beneath the forces he was fighting in the US.
More than 150 years before the American Revolution, a hierarchy arose, a birthright, a ranking of human worth as despised labour.
Greed and selfishness blinded Christians (in name only) to their God and conscience, and the conquerors seized land and its humans as a divine right.
They used this unwilling labour to make them rich.
They took pre-existing notions of their own superiority, selectively picked Bible verses, and created a rank of class and caste distinctions.
At the bottom were Africans kidnapped and shipped to slavery in America.
The caste system ranked by race, ancestry, appearance, bias, wealth and language.
An upper-caste person of any race exhibited arrogance by their bearing, attitude, behaviour and exaggerated importance.
Dehumanization was an important tool of the caste system.
Caste determines where you can live, your earnings, your kid’s school, the justice meted out to you, health services, whether police can kill you with impunity. Separating people by race was used in South Africa and the US. But the correct name is “caste”.
Caste, not race, is behind the US Civil War, Southern States Jim Crow laws, Civil Rights demands, all US economic, political and social interactions, and the ongoing US unrest.
Bhimrao Amdedkar, the leader of the lowest caste “untouchables” wrote to the leading African American intellectual of the day, W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1947.
He wrote: “There is so much similarity between the position of the Untouchables in India and of the position of the Negroes in America, that the study of the latter is not only natural but necessary.”
DuBois wrote back agreeing, saying Indian Untouchables and Black Americans had a common cry “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?”
The conversation on race/caste is just beginning.
Condensed from an article by Isabel Wilkerson.
Reach Gene Monin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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