Mary Ann Key Book Club: Reflections From Our Community

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May 10, 2021

Welcome to our third edition of the Mary Ann Key Book Club newsletter. This edition features reflections from our readers and community leaders. Be sure to sign up for our big panel discussion on May 18!

Reflections from Myron Medcalf

Portrait of Myron Medcalf

"When I was a young reporter, I met a veteran named Warren Herreid, who had earned a medal after he and his battalion had liberated a concentration camp in World War II. He told me he saw “stacks of charred bodies” in that camp, an image that had never left him. 

I thought about that as I reflected on the most startling portion of Caste, which discussed how the Nazis created their terrorizing campaign off America’s blueprint, yet despite their unbridled destruction, some of the components enacted in the United States were deemed to be too extreme, even for Adolf Hitler.

I keep returning to those chapters. The Nazi caste system led to swift and sweeping policies and genocide. It is a lesson to the world about the speed with which the doctrine of discrimination can become the platform for elimination."

- Myron Medcalf


Reflection and discussion

How have the last four years shaped the way you see America, its history of racism and the work that remains to achieve the racial equity necessary to change our caste system?  

Caste Book Club Questions: Reflect With 7 Exercises (via Shortform Books)


Share your feedback and questions

Tell us your thoughts as you read Caste. Share your feedback, reflections or questions. Responses and questions may be shared with Myron Medcalf and library staff, and quotes may be shared with readers through our newsletter.


Panelist perspectives

As we prepare for our big event on May 18, we asked a few of our panelists to share their reflections on Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Portrait of Mahmoud El-Kati

Mahmoud El-Kati shared: "It is my studied opinion that Isabel Wilkerson may very well have written a classic. This work is bold, clear, and cogent in a way that lay bare the underlying truth which elevates the facts. In this work Caste: The Origins of our Discontents examines the underlying structure of the American ideology, which is white supremacy. She tells us with unusual candor, what so many of us already know, and that is the answer, to answerable questions. The elephant is indeed, sitting in the room and we all see it. The toxin of caste is being exposed on a level that we can no longer avoid.  

The most arresting thing that Wilkerson does best is to draw the parallels of the afterlife of pathogens buried beneath the Siberian tundra for many years, and consequently being released by the heat of the sun, thereby killing thousands of humans and animals on the Russian peninsula. The American Caste is the smothered toxin which is now being exposed for all the world to see. In short, she opines, that America is a house, beautiful on the outside, but flawed on the inside."


Portrait of Terri Thao

Terri Thao shared: "Isabel Wilkerson presents a compelling case for how caste is the skeleton for U.S. society which integrates how race and culture has operated in the United States. She brilliantly illustrates how we have interwoven narrative and values into laws and policies that impact generations of African Americans and all US residents today. The book provides proof of the arguments being used to keep “lower castes” in their place and how it has continued to evolve today which is why the defenders of the upper caste continue to be so bold in their claims that white privilege does not exist today. 

Her comparisons to the historic caste system in India and the Nazi regime are stark reminders of the insidiousness of caste. And if caste is intentional, the book gives us all the opportunity to use these same strategies to undo this harm and make changes to shift caste at both narrative and policy levels in the United States. Right now, in Minnesota, we are being offered a time to reconsider and reimagine what is possible to break out of the caste system and all systems of oppression. I hope we let this book add to our call to action as we continue onward in this work towards justice and liberation."


Portrait of Dr. Artika R. Tyner

Dr. Artika R. Tyner shared: "Caste illuminates our path to reconciliation, healing, and atonement. It identifies the root causes of structural racism in the United States. This invisible yet pronounced and pervasive social construct has shaped the distribution of power, wealth, and status for over four centuries. It has left many burdened with persistent poverty, sentenced to death due to healthcare disparities, caged in cycles of incarceration, and placed at the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

Now is the time to free ourselves from the mental chains and bondage of the taxonomic structure of caste. Wilkerson provides us with the tools to understand our history, develop radical empathy, atone for generations of injustice, and uproot caste. This will lead us on the path to our shared humanity and common destiny."


What book club members are saying

Caste was one of the most significant and eye-opening books I have ever read. I have been struggling to understand the concepts of white privilege and systemic racism and to integrate this knowledge into my life, my behavior, my being. Wilkerson, in Caste, truly helped me grasp not only the historical and evolutionary explanations for these human flaws, she also helped me see and feel a pathway to my own actions so as to allow me to change without feeling guilty that I was born to a higher caste by virtue of being white. This is particularly meaningful to me as a Jew who would be classified as a person of lower caste in other countries, times or minds. 

One of my biggest takeaways from the book is that now I have a better understanding of why some white people feel so threatened and vote the way they do, even though it is not in their best interest. 


Upcoming events

Thursday, May 13, 7-9 p.m.

More Than a Single Story

A series of programs that strive to break down the stereotyping of people of color by celebrating their diverse voices and experiences.In this conversation, artists/activists/hair stylists Ebony J. Davis and Mahogany Plautz will lead a conversation with poets Mary Moore Easter and Saymoukda Vongsay, fashion designer Bris Carbajal, Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo Emmy-nominated multimedia artist Missy Whiteman and salon owner/hair stylist Fiona Buff on the issues of women of color and beauty. Funded by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Register today.


Tuesday, May 18, 6-8 p.m.  

This is a don't miss event. Join columnist Myron Medcalf in a discussion with community leaders Mahmoud El-Kati, Shannon Gibney, Lissa Jones-Lofgren, Ramona Kitto Stately, Terri Thao and Dr. Artika R. Tyner. Registration required.


Thank you, Friends.

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The Mary Ann Key Book Club receives generous financial support from Friends of the Hennepin County Library. Thanks to Friends members like you, the library is able to offer expanded access to digital and print editions of Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. You can help expand access to more books, programs and resources, by supporting your library today. GIVE NOW


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The Star Tribune is a valued partner of the Mary Ann Key Book Club. Mr. Medcalf is leveraging his column to further engage our community on the truths of the past, our challenges in the present, and the possibilities of the future.

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