Caste: the Origins of our Discontents, Book Discussion

Monday, February 8, 2021 - 7:00 pm

In conjunction with the Department of History's annual Phi Alpha Theta Lecture Series and in recognition of Black History Month, UNI Professor Lou Fenech, noted scholar of India, and Cheryl Dong, researcher of African-American history, will lead a book discussion of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Professor Fenech notes, "The book is an interesting one, appealing to me as an Indologist as it covers a terrain well-trod by scholars since the early twentieth century, India's millennium-old caste system. But it also provides a new frame from which to view African American history." This event is free and open to the public, and completion of the book prior to the event is encouraged.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson says racism is an insufficient term for the systemic oppression of Black people in America. Instead, she prefers to refer to America as having a "caste" system.

Wilkerson describes caste as an artificial hierarchy that helps determine standing and respect, assumptions of beauty and competence, and even who gets the benefit of the doubt and access to resources.

"Caste focuses in on the infrastructure of our divisions and the rankings, whereas race is the metric that's used to determine one's place in that," she says.

Wilkerson notes that the concept of caste has been around for thousands of years: "[Caste] predates the idea of race, which is ... only 400 or 500 years old, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade."

Caste, she adds, "is the term that is more precise [than race]; it is more comprehensive, and it gets at the underlying infrastructure that often we cannot see, but that is there undergirding much of the inequality and injustices and disparities that we live with in this country." --, August 4th 2020 (

Contact Information
Cordelia Martin
(319) 273-2097