I’ve started reading “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s an extraordinarily painful book to read, painful for the deep truths she speaks which are not easy to hear.
I’m a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter, and like most supporters, I see the title of my post — “All Lives Matter” — as primarily propaganda to try to de-legitimatize the horrific experience of black people in the United States. But Wilkerson’s book brings out a surprising nubbin of truth in this statement that I feel none of us can afford to miss in this fight for justice.
Wilkerson talks about the caste system in the US. It was developed, incrementally, in the early 1600’s, when the black slave trade was first finding a major market in the new colonies in North America. It is still very much with us. It is caste based on skin color.
Blacks are the “untouchables” in this caste system. They are the lowest of all. Here is the quote that caught my attention:
It was in 1913 that a prominent southern educator, Thomas Pearce Bailey, took it upon himself to assemble what he called the racial creed of the South. It amounted to the central tenets of the caste system. One of the tenets was “Let the lowest white man count for more than the highest negro.”— Wilkerson, pg. 25 kindle edition
The result has been what may be one of the longest-running systemic human atrocities in the history of the human race. Begun in the 1600’s, and still running today, it spans nearly 400 years.
Lest anyone think the word “atrocity” is used loosely, it’s also worth noting that the early Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930’s, looking for a model for the extermination of the Jewish people, turned first and with great admiration to the United States, particularly in the US legal models of intermarriage and immigration regarding blacks.
The treatment of blacks in the US has been, since the 1600’s, an ongoing atrocity, a deep crime against humanity. The American system of caste is a global atrocity, a crime against humanity.
Which raises the question of why there are so many racists in the US. Are white people in the US just that depraved?
There are days when I think the answer is, yes. But that hasn’t hardened quite yet into a dedicated misanthropy.
Here’s the thing I’ve realized: the United States has never actually treated anyone very well, apart from the very top creme-de-la-creme, the half-million or so individuals — a relatively constant number since 1776 — at the very top rung of the caste system.
Most of us older people today lived through the one notable exception to that rule, the Golden Years from, say, 1945 to 1980. If you go back to before 1930, or after 2000, you find a society where everyone was pretty much on their own, expected to “pull their own weight” as well as the weight of the healthy profit margins of whoever they worked for. If ill health struck, or you were injured, or your employer decided arbitrarily to end your employment, you were then (and are now) pretty much out on the street.
Homeless? “Get a job.” Don’t expect a handout, or a hand up, or anything but the back of the hand. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or just fucking roll over and die, already.
We are all treated as expendable, our general worthlessness mitigated by — and only by — our measure of contribution to making the top rung of the caste wealthier, by making the rung above us wealthier.
Which comes to the point.
We are, all of us white people, on various rungs of the caste system, just like the black people. Apart from those thirty-five years after the end of WWII, if we fall off our rung, if we cannot somehow catch ourselves as we fall, we fall all the way to the bottom.
Well…. Not quite the bottom. There is always the black man below us. We may have a cop chasing us from the steam tunnel vent where we try to keep warm through the night, but at least he isn’t kneeling on our throats, like he does with the black man.
The United States has been called many things, but I’m starting to see how it is also a sociopathocracy, based upon a four-century-old caste system that basically states, No Lives Matter.
So there is a certain dark comfort in knowing, as a white person, that there are certain rights and privileges that cannot be taken from me because of my skin color. Because I cannot fall lower than the negro. It’s part of the creed of the South, which has bled into the North, and the West, and become the creed of much of the US.
I think this is the deeper logic of racism. No lives matter, in the US. But (to misquote George Orwell) some lives matter less than others.
I don’t think it’s sufficient to merely offer solidarity with black people in their pursuit of justice. We have to do something about this entire caste system. We need to recognize our naked sociopathocracy as a nation — our roots in something the Nazi genocides were admiringly patterned upon — and move toward a society in which lives matter. Drop the “Black” and the “Blue” and the “All” — Lives Matter.
Because in the US, they just don’t.