"The phrase, 'there are no black people in Africa,' jumped out at me from the book. Similarly, as you know, there were no 'American Indians' on our soil before Columbus landed on the wrong continent and mistook the Sioux, Cheyenne, Lakota, Dakota, Cherokee, Apache and Essellen tribes for the people with shiny spices on the other side of the globe. We are all simply human. It is categorically absurd to label people by pigmentation and it must end." —Ira Israel
We delve into books for so many different reasons: guidance, knowledge, curiosity and oftentimes to lose ourselves in a captivating tale that can take us to the farthest stretches of our imagination. Esalen News invites our faculty to share what’s on their nightstand and why.
Esalen faculty Ira Israel is the author of How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening and the creator of the best-selling video series, A Beginner's Guide to Happiness, A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness Meditation, Mindfulness for Anxiety, and Mindfulness for Depression.
As a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, a Marriage and Family Therapist, and Mindful Relationship Coach, Ira knows how to swim deep waters. He shares his latest book pick with Esalen News.
Esalen News: What is the latest book you read?
Ira Israel: Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
What drew you to the book?
For the past 35 years, the Sunday New York Times has been my portal into Western civilization or lack thereof. I read the review of Caste and in light of the recent public execution of George Floyd, I knew that this book would be revelatory. Wilkerson juxtaposes the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews in Germany, the Brahmins’ treatment of the Dalits (untouchables) in India, and the white people’s treatment of the black people in America.
Last year I read Capitalisme et Idéologie by Thomas Piketty and I had a feeling that Caste was going to reframe racism in terms of classism just as Piketty evokes in his opening salvo: “Every human society must justify its inequalities: unless reasons for them are found, the whole political and social edifice stands in danger of collapse. Every epoch therefore develops a range of contradictory discourses and ideologies for the purpose of legitimizing the inequality that already exists or that people believe should exist.”
What did you find most inspiring about the book?
The phrase, “there are no black people in Africa,” jumped out at me. Similarly, as you know, there were no “American Indians” on our soil before Columbus landed on the wrong continent and mistook the Sioux, Cheyenne, Lakota, Dakota, Cherokee, Apache and Essellen tribes for the people with shiny spices on the other side of the globe. We are all simply human. It is categorically absurd to label people by pigmentation and it must end.
What are several other things that really stood out?
Wilkerson systemically avoids words such as “white,” “black” and “race” and replaces them with “dominant caste,” “favored caste,” “upper caste” and “lower caste.” It’s utterly brilliant!
What other things did you learn?
I was ignorant regarding the extent of the horrifying ramifications of the Jim Crow laws. Wilkerson recounts the story of a young black boy in the middle of last century sending a Christmas card to a young white girl from the store in which they both worked.
The girl’s father and some other men took the boy and his father to a lake, handcuffed the boy and made his father watch his own son drown. I broke into tears and almost vomited when I read this passage.
The atrocities that human beings commit against other human beings are truly unfathomable. And obviously unnecessary. There is something profoundly wrong with us and we need to found our next society on compassion, not competition.
How would you sum up the book in a few words?
Harrowing, staggering, apocalyptic.
Learn more about Ira Israel at http://www.iraisrael.com.