By Jon Koll, Alexandria, MN
Racism in the USA is part of a larger and ubiquitous system of Caste. Isabel Wilkerson, in her recent book on this topic, describes a caste system as an artificially constructed ranking of human value that sets the presumed superiority of one group over the presumed inferiority of others. Casteism is an investment in the power necessary to keep the hierarchy as is, in order to maintain the ranking and privilege of those at the top. Caste is determined by skin color, educational status, occupational status or wealth. Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, privilege, and resources based upon where one is on the hierarchy.
Organizing pillars of caste are Divine Will and Laws of Nature. Throughout modern history those enforcing the caste system do so because they have been persuaded, or have rationalized, that the structure of caste, is as it is, because it is the will of God. Laws of Nature have been put in place by God, thus legitimizing the caste. The caste is the way it is because God designed it that way. It is God’s will, and not to be altered. Slavery was justified this way.
Historians have documented that when the Third Reich developed plans to get Jews (and others of low caste) out of Germany, Hitler wanted the Reich to study the USA because America, he determined, was successful at keeping black people “in their place.”
Another pillar of caste is the fundamental belief that the purity of the dominant caste could be contaminated or polluted by lower castes. A phenomenon called “dominant-group-status-threat” profoundly affects the thinking and behavior of those at the top. History has shown that the dominant caste will conquer, brutalize, enslave and kill in order to maintain the illusion of superiority. Keeping members of lower castes in a state of terror has existed throughout the history of castes. After the Civil war, systems of terror included lynching, night riders, and Klansmen. By the hundreds, Confederate monuments were erected to remind past slaves where they live and to whom they must show subservience. After WWII, ironically, the German people erected monuments to those killed by the Third Reich. Germany outlawed display of a swastika and enforced fines for any violation. In the USA, Mississippi incorporated the Confederate flag into the state flag as a reinforcer of caste. As a white, older man, raised in an upper middle-class community, with almost no people of color, it is difficult to fully realize what it must feel like to see such a flag.
What does this mean for folks who live in west central Minnesota? Start by remembering people of color live here. Remember that to not speak is to speak. To not act is to act. Silence is complicity. Silence in the face of injustice is, itself, unjust. For believers in the God of Abraham, remember that God will not hold you guiltless. Karma teaches that whatever we put into the life of another comes back into our own life. I believe this to be true. Speak, act, even if it is uncomfortable.