“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” a book by Isabel Wilkerson, explores the legacy of institutionalized racism and the resulting racial hierarchy in American society. Along the way, however, the author manages to peddle misleading and bigoted views about the Hindu faith, parroting the very white supremacist narrative she is castigating.
A recent article by Suraj Pandit, titled “The Other Side of Bigotry: An American Hindu’s Perspective on Isabel Wilkerson’s ‘Caste’,” points out how this book has clubbed Hindus and Nazis together, thereby implying that 1.2 billion Hindus are no different from one of the most ruthless and genocidal groups in history.
The Other Side of Bigotry: An American Hindu’s Perspective on Isabel Wilkerson’s ‘Caste’ by Suraj Pandit
Excerpts from Pandit’s article:
“According to Wilkerson, “a caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of the other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract” (p. 17). While racism refers to prejudice against someone based on their race, caste is a deeper system of classifying human values and is often heavily artificial and arbitrary. The laws for determining one’s race in America are also very arbitrary, which has resulted in caste and race both being used as tools of white supremacy to keep people of color, and in particular African Americans, impoverished.”
“While making strong points about the state of caste in America, the unfortunate irony about “Caste” is that in her attempt to dismantle caste-based white supremacy in America, Wilkerson inadvertently peddles misleading and bigoted views about Indian people and the Hindu faith, analogous to claims made by the same white supremacists she is castigating.”
“Wilkerson correctly notes that the word caste in reference to India comes from “the Portuguese, who were among the earliest European traders in South Asia, [who] applied the term to the people of India upon observing Hindu divisions” (p. 67).”
“What she fails to mention is that the Portuguese were not only traders but rather colonists, who viewed Indian culture through a colonial lens.”
“Wilkerson also misrepresents Hindu scriptures. She chooses a select few verses condoning caste discrimination from a single, antiquated reference, the Manu Smriti.”