Oprah Winfrey’s book clubs are legendary. So, when Oprah sent out a new book to 100 American CEOs and 400 leaders soon after the transformative #BlackLivesMatters protest and called it the most important book club selection ever, the world had to pay attention. And when that book mentions ‘India’ 136 times, it becomes mandatory reading for us.
And yet Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American author Isabel Wilkerson, a book that The New York Times calls an ‘Instant American Classic’ is not stirring up Indian public debate or hitting our bookshelves.
Wilkerson is not the first Western scholar to focus on India’s caste system. She is the latest entrant in the list of Célestin Bouglé, Max Weber, Louis Dumont, Émile Senart, McKim Marriott, Nicholas Dirk, Gail Omvedt, Rosalind O’Hanlon, Susan Bayly, Joan P. Mencher, the Rudolfs and many more. But what sets Wilkerson apart is that she brings her lived Black identity to the understanding of caste as a pathology.