(OK, we know we can’t fool you – today is the fourth Thursday)
This monthly column offers reflections from members of the Racial Justice Working Group. Anyone is welcome to write a message here – just contact one of us!
Where’s your place in the caste system?
Many of you recently participated in FCCW’s summer reading activities focused on Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste. Julianne Zimmerman led us through a discussion of the book’s focus — how ‘caste’ describes the infrastructure of society’s divisions and rankings, and ‘race’ is used as the tool to determine everyone’s place in that infrastructure.
The caste system is an artificial construct that was created, and is sustained, to maintain the status quo of society’s hierarchical groupings. People are “assigned” their places in the system based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, geography, education, religion, wealth, etc… The curating process happens automatically and invisibly without our conscious awareness. We accept, and therefore perpetuate, the system through our blind embrace of its enduring power.
The book caused me to examine my place in our country’s caste system — and the effect that my ranking has on others.
I’m a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) of British and Dutch descent. Once known as ‘The Establishment’, the social influence of WASPs has declined in recent decades, but this caste group continues to play an influential role in society.
I’m educated and live in a wealthy and safe suburb. My children went to good schools. I’m cisgender, straight, married, and financially comfortable. I haven’t fallen into a cycle of addiction, poverty, or crime.
Pretty boring, eh? And with that rather unremarkable kind of life, I’m assigned a place pretty near the top of the caste system. The spot I inhabit affords me every opportunity I could possibly desire. The only thing working against me is that I am a woman. That, and wealth, keep me from the tip top of the hierarchy.
So, that’s how the caste system impacts me (well, I think you’d agree). But how does my spot in it impact others? What I’m beginning to understand is that my active presence in that upper echelon keeps our systems of hierarchy and oppression alive and well. If it’s futile for me to fight against our country’s deeply ingrained caste system, then is there a way I can at least move my myself down the infrastructure in order to make room for the rise of others who have been artificially related to ‘inferior” categories?
That’s what this book made me think about. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I hope you will soon. And then I hope you’ll ask yourself the same question: “where is my place in the caste system and how does it impact others?” That awareness will spark further personal learning and discovery which can naturally lead to action. To me, this is the serious work we have before us as individuals, as a church, as a community, and as a nation. We have to stay with it.
The Racial Justice Working Group provides opportunities for the congregation and community to talk, learn, and act to promote greater racial justice and equity in our society.
Judy Arnold, Will Burhans, Sarah Gallop, Jonathan Goodell, Anne Hoenicke, Jerry Mechling, Kaye Nash, Julianne Zimmerman