D-Nice started it with his massively successful Instagram dance parties right at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. From there other DJs and musical performers took to the platform to reach out to their audience locked down in quarantine. 

One of the more creative offshoots of Instagram delivering live entertainment are the ‘Versus’ competitions where two similarly styled musical artist perform their greatest hits for us viewers to have something to talk about. There’s been Baby Face vs Teddy Riley, Jill Scott vs Erykah Badu, DMX vs Snoop Dog, Alicia Keys vs John Legend, and Brandy vs Monica. (Are white groups doing versus battles?)

The summer of 2020 has also been the battle of all things Blacks. Black books, especially on race, can’t be printed fast enough and are selling out across the country. Streaming services have assembled all the black movies under a single icon. TV specials on race and all kinda of forums have popped up providing an endless conversation, or a consistent aggravation, depending on your position on race and all the baggage it brings. 

It all became to much for me to ignore this summer, so I decided I’d read a race book or two so I’d at least sound intelligent if someone asked me questions on something more current than Alex Haley’s ‘Malcolm X’ , Carter Woodson’s ‘Miseducation of the Negro’, or David Alan Grier’s daddy’s book ‘Black Rage.’ 

There was a time when I couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing author Ibram X. Kenti being interview about his book ‘How to be an Antiracist.’ It sat on the NYT’s best seller list for weeks. If everyone else is reading it, I’ll go ahead and read it too.

Then, one day I’m listening to Larry Willmore’s podcast ‘Black on the Air’ and he’s interviewing Isabel Wilkerson on her new book ‘Caste.’ Now I’m upset. Why is this the first I’m hearing of ‘Caste’? After her last book ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’ which has been locked in as my favorite book ever, how come ‘Caste’ isn’t coming out with a bang like many of the others this summer? I read it and I get it. 

From her introduction she shared a James Baldwin quote…

Because even if I should speak, no one would believe me and they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true. 

So, after reading ‘Antiracist’ and ‘Caste,’ I figure I’d create a literary ‘versus’ battle pitting one against the other. I’ll let ‘Antiracist’ go first since I read it first, and like a DJ, I’ll give my short overview mixed in with some passages and then do the same with ‘Caste’ before naming my winner in the end. 

How to Be an Antiracist’ – Ibram X. Kenti

The entire premise of this book is the notion that the opposite of a racist is not someone who would call themselves not racist. That’s a claim that signifies neutrality. It says you’re not a racist but it doesn’t say you are aggressively against racism. It’s like being on a team that wins a championship even though you sat the bench the whole season. You can say your team got the trophy but you didn’t contribute to a single appearance at the plate. 

Kenti writes the opposite of racist is antiracist and uses the entire book to identify every morsel of racism and how it can be combatted with action deemed antiracist toward that particular morsel. Here’s an example of how these dozens of morsels are repeatedly presented:

  • Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximate equal footing. Racial equity is an equitable percentage where two or more racial groups are standing on a relatively equal footing. 
  • A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. 

It’s this simple format he drills in your head repeatedly that makes it easy to understand even if the simplicity of the format seems somewhat elementary. But, for a lot of people, they need elementary instruction on what racism is and that’s why I believe this book is so popular. 

I have to honestly say, other than the chapter on capitalism, the book didn’t have many a-ha moments for me. I appreciate the way he broke racism down into its lowest common denominators to keep a dedicated focus on one form at a time. That was valuable. 

What I enjoy most about the book was how he weaved his own upbringing into his journey and progressive learning about his issues with race and the continuing adjustments he’s made as he’s aged. I didn’t know he had gone to Temple University to study under the father of African American studies, Molefi Asante. The book reminded me a lot of Ta Nehisi Coates’ first book ‘A Beautiful Struggle.’

Here’s a passage where he describes white supremacy.

  • White supremecist are the ones supporting polices that benefit racist power against the interest of the majority of white poeple.
  • White suprematist claim to be pro-white but refuse to acknowledge that climate change is having a disastrous impact on the earth white people inhabit.
  • White supremacy opposes affirmative action programs despite white women being their primary beneficiaries.
  • White suprematists rage against Obamacare even though 43% of the people who gained life saving health insurance from 2010-15 were white.
  • White suprematists heil Adof Hitler’s Nazis even though it was the Nazis who launched a world war destroying the lives of more than 40-million white people and ruined Europe.
  • White supremacy defend confederate flags and monuments even though the confederacy started a civil war that ended with 500,000 white American lives lost – more than every other America war combined.
  • White suprematist loves what America used to be even though America used to be, and still is, teaming with millions of struggling white people.
  • White suprematist blame non white people for the plight of white people when any objective analysis of their plight implicates the rich white Trumps they support.
  • White supremacy is code for anti-white and is nothing short of an ongoing program of genocide against the white race.
  • White supremacy is code for anti human. It’s a nuclear ideology posing an existential threat to human existence. 

Caste’ – Isabel Wilkerson

This is the latest book in Oprah’s book club. She said it may be the most important book she’s ever endorsed. You know that’s huge coming from the Queen herself. 

I described the book to a guy this way… ‘It’s one thing to know it’s all by design. It’s another thing to read the blueprint.

This is about the American caste system and how racism is layered on top of it. She compares and contrasts the American caste system with the ones in Germany and India to clearly describe that racism only plays second fiddle to the bigger issue of caste in this country. 

Her prose is so pure, I’m better served tossing up her quotes…

Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks. It is a notion. It is a state of mind. No one escapes its tentacles. No one escapes exposure to its message that one set of people is presumed to be inherently smarter, capable and more deserving than other groups deemed lower. 

She explains the difference between cast and caste…

We are cast in a role and we are not ourselves. We are performing based on our place in the production not necessarily on who we are inside. We are all players on a stage that was built long before our ancestors arrived in this land. We are the latest cast in a long running drama that appeared on this soil in the early 17th century. 

How does black and white play in…

The challenge for our era is not nearly the social construct of black and white, but seen through the many layers of a caste system that has more power than we as humans should permit it to have. 

In a world without caste, being male or female, light or dark, immigrant or native born, would have no bearing on what anyone was perceived of being capable of. We would all be invested in the well being of others, in our species, if only for our own survival and recognize that we are in need of one another more than we are led to believe. 

We can be born to the dominant caste but choose not to dominate. We can be born to a subordinated caste but resist the box others force upon us. We can all practice powers of discernment to see past the external value the character of a person rather than demean those who are already marginalized, or worship those who where born to false pedestals. 

A win is not legitimate if whole sections of humanity are not in the game.

Here’s a few of her points on slavery…

  • Americans are loath to talk about slavery because it goes against our perceptions of our country as a just and enlightened nation, a beacon of democracy for the world. Slavery is commonly dismissed as a sad dark chapter in the county’s history. The greater the distance we can create between slavery and ourselves the better to stave off the guilt or shame it induces. 
  • Slavery wasn’t an unfortunate thing that happened. It was an American innovation and institution created by and for the benefit of the elite of the dominate caste and enforced by poor members of the dominant caste who tied their lot to the caste system rather than to their consciouses. 
  • In dehumanizing these people as regarded as beasts of the field they dehumanized themselves. 

What’s so great about this book is it takes you on a journey around the globe with important stops in India and Nazi Germany to best understand how the U.S. caste system is so different from the other two. In fact, she explains how the Nazi’s built their playbook on how to handle the Jews from the American system of oppression but couldn’t bring themselves to be so brutal. The book is so current it brings us right up to coronavirus America after a long and detailed dive into the history that brought us here. I love how she included some of her own personal experiences and how it relates to race and caste. 

It would be almost impossible to read any book on race without first internalizing the study of caste in America. Wilkerson claims she read everything she could get her hand on in researching this book and it doesn’t seem much has been written on caste for a few decades. 

I’m still sticking with ‘Warmth of other Suns’ being my favorite book of all time because I love great story telling, but ‘Caste’ is the most important book to understand race. As she puts it, caste is the framework upon which race sits. 

Who Wins the book battle?

They both are great books. Kenti introduces a simple but powerful way of consciously positioning yourself as either a racist or antiracist. You have to take action either way and to be race neutral is not an option in terms of seeking equality. 

They both are great books. Kenti introduces a simple but powerful way of consciously positioning yourself as either a racist or antiracist. You have to take action either way and to be race neutral is not an option in terms of seeking equality. 

I gotta give Wilkerson the win for her out-of-the-box perspective on how we can better understand race in America by clearly defining what the caste system is. Wilkerson’s book will survive the ages.