Mary Ann Key Book Club Event Tomorrow

Mary Ann Key Book Club - Hennepin County Library Image Header

May 17, 2021

Our big, don't miss event is tomorrow, May 18 at 6pm. Registration is quick, easy, and required:

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. Register now.


Reflections from Myron Medcalf

Portrait of Myron Medcalf

"In the epilogue of Caste, Isabel Wilkerson argues that we can erase the system of oppression. “To imagine an end to caste in America, we need only look at the history of Germany,” she says. “It is living proof that if a caste system -- the twelve-year reign of the Nazis -- can be created, it can be dismantled.” While I loved Caste overall, I do believe this particular idea is too simplistic to state as a plausible approach for America. Germany’s caste system ended after millions died in World War II. The world recognized Adolf Hitler’s rise as a threat to all. Also, the caste system has been maintained here for hundreds of years, glued together by a special brand of racism. In America, caste is not a threat, but a benefit to those in power.

Until there is collective disgust with inequity, dismantling the system will be a difficult task. One thing, however, is certain: relief will not come aboard ships and planes carrying determined and honorable soldiers. That’s why I’m wrestling with Wilkerson’s use of Nazi Germany, a credible comparison for the operation of caste in this country, as proof of what’s possible in America’s future."

- Myron Medcalf


Reflection and discussion

What did you like about Caste, and what portions of Isabel Wilkerson’s book were more difficult to digest?


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 Shannon Gibney

Shannon Gibney shared: "Although Caste offers a bold and provocative thesis -- that the U.S. is and has been embroiled in a racial caste system akin to those practiced in India and Nazi Germany -- it ultimately fails to offer a convincing and holistic framework for how this might be. Wilkerson is an immensely gifted writer, and puts her ideas forth with beauty and grace. It is the content of her arguments, however, and their support that I take issue with.  

Where is the examination of how caste is connected to racial capitalism? This omission feels particularly striking in the contexts of Nazi Germany and the U.S., whose economies were in fact built almost entirely by racism and its after-effects. How did colonialism affect caste in the U.S. context? And what new information and insights can we gain about American social relations from adopting a caste lens, rather than one of systemic racism?  

For readers who might want to examine these questions further, I recommend this article:"


Portrait of Ramona Kitto Stately

Ramona Kitto Stately shared: "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is a book of narratives that examines race in America as similar to the others caste system. Some of the characters in the book we know well; Adolf Hitler and Andrew Jackson. Others we do not know at all but can relate to. And then there are those stories that seem way too familiar as if someone has read your mind.   Each of the narratives is told with the exquisite ability to combine words that imprint your memory. "Not to speak is to speak", "Not to act is to act" said one of those who suffered and died in a Nazi concentration camp. He was referring to the bystanders who were living next to the camp's crematorium. They were not all Nazis but believed that the opponents of the Reich were less than human "and thus the townspeople swept the ash from their steps and carried on with their day. Mothers pulled their children inside and when the wind kicked up, hurried them along, to keep them from being covered in the ash of fellow human beings." 

The human story is what links us, truth is understood in our nagi, a Dakhota word for our spirit. America has a great way of writing its history and leaving out the elements of dehumanization, the elements of violence and hate and silently passing these messages or cues on to our children. Isabel Wilkerson has the ability to bring readers in, to look at racism through the lens of the caste system and through the lens of lived experience. And best of all keeps the reader reading."


What book club members are saying

“Wilkerson's book should be required reading for all high is so rich with metaphors and offers so many entry points to think about systemic racism in our country. She is such an effective writer and magnificent storyteller providing a way to grasp the painful realities of structural inequality and racism in the US. The way she frames different comparisons of the Indian caste system/ Nazi Germany and the US - typically with the US last- does not let you escape the ugliness of what we are as a country.” 


This book has really helped fill in some gaps for me. The idea of Dominant Group Status Threat (chapter 11) made so much sense. There has been so much white pushback against the act of acknowledging white privilege, and the fear of minority groups taking jobs from white workers is well-worn and often heard. This confused me in the past; why would minority groups achieving equality in any realm be considered a loss of privilege or rights for white people? But that's the point- many white people want to retain not equality, but superiority and dominant status. Equality would be considered a step down. I'm very grateful for this book club, the opportunity to follow along and grow, and I look forward to more to come! Thank you! 


Thank you, Friends.

Friends of Hennepin County Library Logo

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


Star Tribune Logo

The Star Tribune is a valued partner of the Mary Ann Key Book Club and has made Mr. Medcalf's book club columns available to all readers, no subscription required. 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.

Contact us

Follow us

facebooktwitterinstagramyoutubelinked in
Hennepin County