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  • Reverend James Squire

Oprah Winfrey and Caste

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Oprah has chosen Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents by Dr. Isabel Wilkerson as her book club selection. What is unusual is that she indicated that it is the most important book that she has ever read and has sent 500 copies to the nation’s governors, CEOs and college professors.

Oprah had many renown experts on her daytime show that turned up in my Ethics course. She was an oft quoted resource by students, many of whom would tape her show, so that they could view it later in the day. I have not seen her show very much, but she gets my attention because of how much she meant to my students as a resource.

A good many of my posts on my blog have to do the faith, understanding Black Lives Matter, what we can learn during the Pandemic, and understanding how we can make sense of human nature. I ordered a copy of Caste and I am glad for the recommendation from Oprah herself.

I gauge the importance and greatness of a book by the number of times that I say to myself, “I never knew that” and how much I have highlighted the book to go back to key passages. Suffice it to say “I never knew that!” is a thought by that I have on almost every page. The highlighting is so frequent that the pages look yellow.

One review of the book indicates that “it examines race as a social hierarchy, with African Americans confined to the bottom. The book defines racism in the country as an American caste system, comparing it to social hierarchical systems in India and Nazi Germany.”

I think that it is important to know how ideas and systems of thought are derived from historical events.

For example, in my Ethics class I taught that bioethics grew out of two historical events. One was the Tuskegee Experiments where African Americans underwent experiments that were sanctioned by the U.S. Government to follow the progression of the disease of syphilis. The cure was penicillin which was withheld from the test group to see what would happen if they were not treated. This had horrific results as many men died as a result of the study. Some of their wives and children contracted the disease as well. This led to the formation of consent being needed for any medical procedures. The African American community is well aware of this unethical behavior at Tuskegee which means that they will be hesitant to accept the vaccine during this Pandemic as soon as it is available.

The second historical event that created the field of bioethics was the Nuremberg Trial of Nazi war criminals. Their defense was that they were not responsible for their actions because they were just doing what they were told. That defense was rejected. The result of this rejection is that in a court of law the “Nuremberg Defense” is no longer sufficient to justify that one’s actions came from someone else’s authority.

In essence Caste shows just how we got to the hatred and division that we are faced with today regarding Black Lives Matter. I believe that we tolerate (not agree with but move forward to solve a problem) when we understand it more fully. Caste does just that and its ideas have the potential to move our nation forward to unity.

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