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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Part 6, Chapters 25-27

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 6: “Backlash”

Part 6, Chapter 25 Summary: “A Change in the Script”

Wilkerson turns to 2008 and Obama’s election to “look into the caste system’s response to his ascension and the challenges it would place in his path” (311). Obama’s election depended on both contingent historical events—like the 2008 recession and John McCain’s campaign errors—and his unimpeachable qualifications. Additionally, his “personal origin story was one that the caste system would be more willing to accept” as he had no family ties to enslaved people and no personal experience with the Jim Crow South (313). Though some White Americans used his victory to argue that race had lost significance in American life, Wilkerson makes the opposite point: “he won despite the bulk of the white electorate” (313). All Democratic victories since 1964 have been achieved without a majority of White voters.

Obama’s victory also had emotional consequences for those invested in dominant caste status: “Obama’s victory signaled that the dominant caste could undergo a not altogether certain but still unthinkable wane in power over the destiny of the United States […] and their sovereign place in the world” (315). Wilkerson notes that Republican politicians, especially Arizona governor Jan Brewer, did not treat the president with respect; Brewer was photographed wagging her finger disapprovingly at Obama.

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